Vail therapists keep ski racers ready
Vail, CO Colroado
VAIL ” On-call 24/7. World travel required. Must be willing to be cold.
That could be the job description for Eagle resident Brandie Yeik, an athletic trainer with Howard Head Sports Medicine Center who just spent the ski season traveling with the U.S. women’s alpine ski team.
This year, Yeik’s work with the team took her to Italy, Switzerland, France, Germany, New Zealand and Alaska, as well as snagged her front row seats to watch U.S. skiers such as Sarah Schleper and Lindsey Vonn come screaming across finish lines.
“As an athletic trainer, I could not think of a better job,” said Yeik, who works in Howard Head’s Eagle clinic during the off-season. “I am traveling and working with professional athletes half the year and the other half is spent working with a world-renowned physical therapy clinic.
“I don’t think any other country’s ski team has such a strong network of physical therapists and athletic trainers working with them.”
Yeik is one of several trainers and therapists that the Howard Head clinic, which sponsors the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, sends to work with the teams. Their jobs include helping racers prevent on injuries, attending practices, massaging and stretching the athletes, and being available for any other medical problems.
It isn’t uncommon to be woken up at 3 a.m. in the morning if an athlete isn’t feeling well, Yeik said.
The job can also involve four or five hours on the mountain for practices and eight or nine hours on race days.
“It can be some long hours,” she admitted, laughing. “But I have boot warmers.”
The job brings the therapists around the world. Yeik said she’s been able to tour places that were on her dream list, including Venice and Milan.
Edwards resident Shannon Irish, a physical therapist who worked with the U.S. Boardercross team at several World Cup events, made her first visits to Japan, Korea and Chile this season.
Working with the team adds variety to the job and is a good balance for time spent working in the clinic, Irish said.
“(The teams) are lot of fun to work with, and it’s so different from working in the clinic, which I also enjoy, but this really adds variety,” she said. “I mainly snowboard, too, so it’s really interesting for me.”
The job also requires adapting to new environments and unexpected situations, the trainers said. Yeik remembered being at a race this season in Alaska during the volcanic eruption ofs Mount Redoubt and a blizzard.
“There were 103 inches of snowfall over those few days,” she said. “It was just crazy to see ash and snow falling at the same time. They just tried to get as many races off as they could.”
Despite the demands of the work, both specialists said the best reward is to see their teams do well in competition.
After days of working with the boardercross team, treating sore muscles and attending early morning practices, Irish watched her team stand on the podium to receive the sport’s top honors.
Under the lights, U.S. snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis took first place and several of the men’s snowboarders also took podium spots at the world cup event in Austria this January.
“It’s exciting to be there with them,” said Irish. “When one of our athletes wins, it’s great just to be there and know that you’ve helped them.”
While the trainers and therapists work out of the spotlight, their specialized treatment and medical expertise is key for the teams, said Richard Quincy, medical director for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.
“(Howard Head’s) staff support and rehabilitation expertise has proven to be invaluable time and time again,” he said. “They are instrumental to the success of our athletes in the rehabilitation process as well as their return to the sport and placement on the podium.”
Yeik said that watching the women on the team claim championships after all their hard work is an amazing experience.
“When I see (ski team members) Hailey Duke and Sarah Schleper come down the hill and finish well, I can tell that I have done something for the girls,” she said.
Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.