Local sports chiropractor serves Team USA in Rio
EAGLE COUNTY — If you watched the Olympic or Paralympic opening ceremonies in Rio de Janeiro this year, you saw those athletes, coaches and team staff with their phones and cameras out recording the experience.
Local sports chiropractor Dr. Joel Dekanich was one of those people, arm raised in the air, recording every moment and representing Team USA in Brazil at the Paralympics opening ceremonies Sept. 7.
“My epic moment was I got to walk in the opening ceremonies, and that was so cool,” Dekanich said after returning home. That was probably the highlight.”
Dekanich, of Vail Integrative Medical Group in Vail, worked as the only sports chiropractor on the track and field sports medicine team, treating and working with athletes.
Overall, the U.S. Paralympic athletes won 115 medals, the most won by the team since the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Track and field athlete Tatyana McFadden was one of the most decorated athletes, winning four gold medals and two silver medals.
“She is a rock star,” Dekanich said.
Working with McFadden other athletes was another highlight of his trip. Paralympic athletes compete in every event the able-bodied athletes compete in at the Olympics, and in the same venues.
About 180 countries were represented at the Rio Paralympics, and there’s more and more coverage and stories about the athletes every time the Paralympics is held, Dekanich said.
“There’s able-bodied athletes and there’s Paralympic athletes, and there’s no difference,” he said. “I’m humbled and honored to help these athletes.”
As part of the Team USA medical team, Dekanich traveled to Houston for four days for team processing before heading to Rio. It was a time to meet the coaches, athletes and other medical staff members, as well as get fitted with the team’s red, white and blue attire. Items from Ralph Lauren, Nike and enough gear to fill three suitcases are provided to the team before showing up in Brazil.
“They’ve got all of your gear there and it’s all got your name on it,” Dekanich said. “It’s almost overwhelming.”
ALL WORK, Some play
In Rio, it was “all business,” Dekanich said. From 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., the medical staff was either at the clinic at the Olympic Village or at track and field events at the Olympic Stadium, a 40-minute shuttle ride from the village.
The rest of the medical staff for the track and field athletes included a medical doctor, two athletic trainers, physical therapists and two massage therapists.
“That was our team. We handled some bigger injuries and then some lacerations and stitches and stuff like that,” Dekanich said.
Out of his entire time in Rio, he had a two-hour window to go explore, when he went to see the Christ the Redeemer statue that overlooks the city and harbor.
“Otherwise, it’s all business,” he said.
A death in his family forced Dekanich to leave the team early, but he said he would “without a doubt” do it again, if asked.
For now, though, he’s back to work in the Vail Valley and enjoying his time with his family after some time apart.
“I was honored. It was just a great experience,” Dekanich said. “It’s not for everybody, to be able to dedicate that amount of time to be gone, but it was so awesome and so rewarding. The athletes bring you up.”
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.