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On the road with the U.S. Ski Team

Veronica Whitney
AP Photo/Marco TrovatiVail's Sarah Schleper passes a gate during a World Cup women's giant slalom in Germany in February. When Schleper injured her back, physical therapists from the Howard Head Sports Medicine Centers were there to help her recover.
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VAIL – Last January, when U.S. Ski Team member Sarah Schleper injured her back, local physical therapists were there to help her recover. A month later, Vail’s Schleper took second upon her return to the World Cup in Italy.”They were very thorough,” Schleper said. “They kept me on track while I was mentally down.”Once again this ski season, a team of four physical therapists from the Howard Head Sports Medicine Centers and Vail Valley Medical Center will travel around the world to help Schleper and her ski team colleagues prevent and treat injuries. “We need them to follow us around,” said Lasse Ottesen, the U.S. Ski Team ski jump coach. “If you’re skiing or playing golf, some small things can happen, so you need a physical therapist to help you out to perform. It’s an important part of trying to be the best in the world.”

Increasing performance Having a team of physical therapists on hand when she’s competing is vital to her performance, said Schleper, 25.”Skiing is very hard on your body and having them around can keep us on track. They’re as important as our coaches,” she said.”We’re very happy to have somebody to work with us now,” she added. “In the past, a lot of times we didn’t have anybody and it was hard to see the other teams that had therapists with them.” Input from physical therapists’ – or PTs as they’re called by the team – is important not just in the winter, but throughout the year, Ottesen said. “The boys do a lot of training through the summer months and it’s important for them to avoid the wrong movements when they’re training,” he said. “In the winter, we have several two-day competition weekends so it’s important to have the athletes recover for Sunday’s competition. That’s when a PT comes and does some massages. A PT helps with preventing injuries and treating things like back problems.”

In January, local physical therapist Karyn Thull traveled to the World Cup in Japan where she worked with cross country skiers Todd Lodwick and Johnny Spillane, both of whom are from Steamboat Springs and are now ranked No. 7 and No. 20, respectively. “Our goal is to make sure that they’re working at their optimal level before the Olympics in 2006 in Italy,” Thull said.Local help The new team of therapists joins physicians from Vail’s Steadman Hawkins Clinic who have been working with the U.S. Ski Team. “As I look at it, it’s a win-win situation for all three groups,” said Topper Hagerman, founder of Howard Head Sports Medicine Centers.



“From Howard Head’s perspective, it provides an opportunity to experience a national and international affiliation while being able to utilize the therapists’ expertise traveling throughout the world,” he added. The U.S. Ski Team chose the Howard Head Sports Medicine Centers because their therapists had been working with ski team athletes for a long time, Ottesen said. “We’ve had a good relationship and we’re getting the service we need,” he said.”They also enjoy traveling with us, because it’s a long winter.”Staff writer Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or vwhitney@vaildaily.com.Vail Colorado


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