Helping them climb on |

Helping them climb on

Melanie Wong
Vice President of Howard Head Sports Medicine Nico Brown (right) treats a USA Climbing athlete at the IFSC World Youth Championships in Arco, Italy in August. Howard Head formalized a partnership with the USA Climbing team this year as the team's medical provider.
Photo courtesy of Nico Brown |

VAIL — Vail is a hotspot for a number of professional athletes, a connection that mostly centers around the area’s medical specialists and facilities. Now, the Vail Valley will have a connection to another sport — climbing.

Howard Head Sports Medicine will be the USA Climbing team’s official medical provider, offering physical therapy support at both major international events and domestic events. The sports medicine clinic is also the medical provider for the U.S. Ski, Snowboard and Free Skiing teams.

USA Climbing head coach Claudiu Vidulescu said the partnership is a big step for the team. Almost every other country has a dedicated medical staff and traveling therapist for their climbing team, he said.

“I can’t stress enough how important it is for us to have a therapist working with us on a regular basis. It helps the athletes and coaches, and it can really help prevent injuries,” he said.

Vice President of Howard Head Sports Medicine Nico Brown has not only been a climber for years, but he also has a longstanding relationship with the climbing teams. Upon formalizing the partnership, he traveled with the U.S. Youth Climbing Team to Arco, Italy, for the World Youth Championships in August to provide medical support. Over the course of nine days, he administered more than 40 treatments and many more assessments to the American athletes.

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Vidulescu said that Brown’s experience as a climber and therapist was invaluable to the team. He described how Brown was able to turn the fortunes of one of the team’s top climbers, a national champion in bouldering and sport climbing who was expected to do very well.

“He got a small finger injury during training before Arco, and as we got into the event, his finger was feeling worse and worse. He was feeling down and like he wasn’t able to perform his best,” Vidulescu said. “Then he talked to Nico, who taught him how to tape the finger, how he could warm up better to avoid the injury and explained what the injury was in a way he could understand. The athlete came to me and said, ‘I didn’t think talking to a therapist could make such a difference.’ He continued doing better and better throughout the competition and ended up doing really well.”

Climbing specialists

The partnership with the climbing team can also help Howard Head Sports Medicine improve and specialize its care for climbing injuries in general, just like it has for skiing injuries, hospital officials said.

“The therapists at Howard Head are some of the best in the nation, and working with the teams’ climbers will help them treat similar issues these types of athletes face on a recreational basis,” said Doris Kirchner, president and CEO of Vail Valley Medical Center, of which Howard Head is a department.

Climbing and bouldering because of its dynamic movements and specific demands creates unique injuries not commonly found in other sports. Among the more common are growth plate injuries in young climbers, and finger injuries. The partnership is a chance for Howard Head to develop expertise in that particular field, Brown said.

“There are not a lot of therapists who can take specialized care of rock climbers,” he said. “We’re really excited to work with these guys, and I think it’s important to get our youth climbers the attention that they need.”

Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.

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