The US Olympic Training Center: Behind the Scenes with Physical Therapist Scott Weiss
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Posted by: Carla Rosenbaum
Scott Weiss is a member of the NYPTA and a long-time volunteer with the United States Olympic Committee. Over the last 16 years Scott has worked at three Olympic Games and two Pan Am games. Most recently Weiss spent two weeks at the US Olympic Training center in Colorado, working with Paralympic athletes.
Check out the NYPTA’s Q & A with Scott Weiss, PT, to learn more about his incredible experiences as a Physical Therapist to these elite athletes.
1. How did you get involved in working with Olympic and Paralympic athletes?
I was a competitive Tae Kwon Do athlete in my teens and early 20’s and almost made the Olympics for Tae Kwon Do when it was a demonstration sport in 1988. Unfortunately, it was not in my cards and I lost at the Olympic trials. Obviously being crushed at never having a chance to go to the games as an athlete meant something else was in store. After that day, I vowed to myself that if I could not win an Olympic medal myself, then I would help others achieve that dream. Somehow the universe was on my side and I was able attend 3 Olympics and 2 Pan Am Games as a sports medicine physical therapists and athletic trainer. Most recently, I helped prepare the Paralympian athletes for their games. This is my 16th year with the US Olympic Committee.
2. How long were you at the Colorado training center, and what did a day in your life at the center entail?
I was there for 2 full weeks. A regular day was waking up at about 5:30-6 am, doing a 15-20 minute meditation and an assortment of bodyweight exercises with a scenic mountain backdrop. After that was shower and get some breakfast. The cafeteria at the USOC training center is perfect. Any food you want almost any time of the day, and everything is steamed, baked or grilled. I think I even lost a few pounds eating perfect every day. It was almost like a training camp for me.
By 8 am all sports medicine staff must be at the clinic ready to work. There were 3 other interim staff members like I - a massage therapist, an athletic trainer, a chiropractor, and me the PT/ATC. Some of us had to cover practices and other stayed at the clinic. Since most athletes were in Rio, we worked with many winter sports athletes, and some athletes that were injured and couldn’t go to Rio, and of course many of the Paralympians. I did everything from sports specific rehab with a wrestler, and manual therapy on a judoka, to aiding in the proper fitting of a prosthetic for a triathlete. Furthermore, every other day you were on call, which meant any injuries on the campus are directed to you. The USOC provides the on-call medical professional with a phone, and from 6pm to 8am the next day you are the first aider. This was a big responsibility and I am glad nothing catastrophic happened on my shifts this time.
Lunch was from 12 -1 which consisted of another healthy meal. The last part of the day at the clinic was 2-6pm and this consisted of athlete walk-ins and to cover 2nd practices. Any athlete needing a flush from a workout, questioning a lingering injury, needing a massage or chiropractic adjustment used this time.
3. You said you have been to 3 Olympic Games, and 2 Pan Am games - how do you balance your time in your daily clinic job with experiences like being away for these events?
I am very fortunate to have a great business partner that balances me out in every way. Of course, a support staff that makes me feel like I won the gold upon my return helps as well. If it was not for them I would never be able to travel and do such amazing things. You must truly get to know your staff and treat them well if you would like to make lasting relationships.
4. How is working with Olympic or Paralympic athletes the same and/or different than standard athletes or patients?
Athletes know their bodies extremely well and the para’s are just the same. They kind of know what they need already and watch you adapt. You must be patient be a great listener but also realize they may be dealing with comorbidities and other issues which means a full health history & examination is imperative. Concomitantly, appreciating that the treatment is usually modified in some way and their responses to treatment may be enhanced, such as a guide dog can be laying on the side of your table, to positioning adaptations you may make for comfort.
5.Can you tell us some things you have learned from your experiences with Paralympic athletes?
Working with the Paralympic athletes sheds light on the true depth of what the human spirit can accomplish through adversity and loss. They are able to develop a positive internal dialogue and forge forward in life at the top of their sports but also on top of their lives…they are all my inspirations. One major point that stands out is the perseverance to get things perfect.
6. Do you have any advice for others who aspire to work with Olympic/Paralympic athletes?
Start off as a volunteer if you must. Try to gain experience in any way possible. Shadow a prosthetist and orthotist. Follow an orthopedic surgeon on rounds or be lucky enough to be invited into to the surgical room. We all proceed with a bit of extra caution when working with this population and rightfully so. What we don’t know can and may affect treatment. The PT must be comfortable with their knowledge base, and what they lack in experience they must make up with intensity and curiosity.
7. When you’re not working in the physical therapy field, what do you do in your free time?
Well, I am a true enthusiast of body movement and expression in any way, and I am also a big reader. I actually wrote a biography on an old boxing manager and trainer named Cus D’Amato, called www.confusingtheenemy.com. My hobbies are magic, the martial arts, and gymnastics… My latest project is tap dancing. Always had a love for it and felt like I could do it. I also am a proud parent of boy/girl twins that are about 2 y/o. They both do pushups, pullups and head stands, with my help of course but teaching ‘em young.