Local sports chiropractor heading to Rio as part of Team USA
EAGLE COUNTY — The Olympic spirit carries on after Sunday’s closing ceremony with the Paralympic Games. Local sports chiropractor Joel Dekanich is heading to Rio de Janeiro to help American track and field para-athletes reach their dreams.
“It’s no different than any of the (events) we’re watching on TV right now,” Dekanich said of the Paralympic Games. “First and foremost, we’re just going there to represent Team USA.”
For years, Dekanich, of Vail Integrative Medical Group, has been working toward this opportunity, not truly knowing if it would ever come. Now he says he is “humbled and honored” to join the sports medicine staff for the U.S. Paralympic track and field team.
Dekanich will join the rest of the track and field sports medicine team as the only sports chiropractor, providing soft tissue work, rehabilitation, dry needling and more for the athletes. The team includes a medical doctor, physical therapists, massage therapists, coaches and other medical staff.
“We work together, and that’s what’s cool about the concept of Olympic training, it’s a team approach,” he said. “It’s imperative. It’s no different than any able-body.”
The first Paralympic Games took place in Rome in 1960, and athletes compete in many of the same sports as their able-body counterparts. The Paralympic track and field team will compete in events including track, throwing, jumping and marathon.
“It’s a real honor to work with America’s finest athletes to help them achieve their goals,” Dekanich said. “There’s really not a lot of differences between able-body and para-athletes — they are all Team USA athletes. They train just as hard, they do everything the exact same and there’s no difference at all.”
Dekanich, who is also a registered nurse, has been brushing up before heading to Rio and going over the logistics of an international work trip. He’s worked with many of the staff and athletes before at international events, including the Para-Pan-Am Games.
“You become a little family,” he said. “You spend three weeks of your life together.”
While his work days will be long, at least 12 hours a day, Dekanich hopes to get his family down to Rio to enjoy the experience, although he said they would most likely be hanging out with other Americans while he works.
“It’s been interesting because I’d love to take my wife and kids,” he said, “but our days are very long. We are there for the athletes.”
At Vail Integrative Medical Group, Dekanich’s peers are excited for his opportunity.
“It’s definitely an honor to be asked to go to any of the Olympic Games,” Dr. Mark Pitcher said. “I’m sure it will add to his already impressive list of accomplishments.”
With Olympic athletes reporting being robbed at gunpoint and water quality an issue, Dekanich said he has “zero” concerns heading to Rio, where he will stay in the Olympic Village and rely heavily on bottled water. Up first on the itinerary is the Paralympic Opening Ceremonies on Aug. 29.
“You just start getting goose bumps,” Dekanich said.
Reporter Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2915 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.