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Dr. Michelle Donaldson to Travel with Olympic Ski Team

Havre, Montana – Dr. Michelle Donaldson, Orthopedic Surgeon, will be traveling with the US Olympic Snowboard Team to Andorra in January of 2014. She will be there to serve as a team physician for a Boardercross competition.  This will be her 13th year traveling with the team. Her first trip in 2001 was to Japan. She is the only female physician covering the US Ski team, or any world Olympic team. She travels 1-2 times a year with the team and estimates she has made 17-18 trips so far.

Boardercross is a type of freestyle snowboarding where snowboarders race 4 abreast down multiple terrain features and jumps. Andorra, located in the eastern Pyrenees Mountains and bordered by Spain and France, is an ideal location for this type of event.

In a time trial or qualification round, every competitor boards down a course that is built to encompass both naturally occurring terrain and artificial features like jumps, rollers, or banks. After the time trial, the fastest 32 boarders compete in a knockout-style series in rounds of four. A group of four boarders start simultaneously and attempt to reach the end of the course. The first two to cross the finish line will advance to the next round. The International Olympic Committee decided on November 28, 2006, to include Boardercross in the program of the 2010 Winter Olympics at Vancouver. January’s Boardercross Event will be a prelude to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games to be held in Sochi, Russia in February.

In 1968, Dr. Robert Oden, an Orthopedic Surgeon from Aspen, Colorado initiated the “U.S. Ski Team Doctors Pool” by recruiting and training doctors to travel with the ski teams and provide medical assistance. The U.S. Ski Team Doctors Pool assured that our athletes had availability to American doctors in all the events held in Europe or out of the U.S. His work inspired international skiers and athletes of other sports to seek out orthopedic doctors for advice and treatment.

Team physicians provide care for athletes at their events in order to provide immediate emergency assessments.  Dr. Donaldson scouts out the local hospitals before the events to determine what the action plan would be to get the athlete safely to a care facility. Team physicians and ski patrol are strategically stationed along the course, ready to provide care at a moment’s notice. “We stay with the athlete from the moment they get hurt throughout the entire medical process.” says Dr. Donaldson. “My main role is to triage the skier and act as their representative and advocate.”

Exotic locations aside, the ski events are no vacation; they require a lot of work and preparation. In order to volunteer with the ski and snowboard teams, physicians are required to take an on-snow trauma course taught by the full time medical staff, and must re-certify every four years. Their physicians must also be certified through the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“My training in the on snow trauma course is fun and challenging.  You have to be a good skier to even get down some of the hills they compete on.  Once you get down, you have to perform all of the emergency procedures and assessments that you would normally do in a warm indoor environment, outside on the snow and at a significant pitch.  You also have to figure out how to get the injured athlete safely off the course.”

Providing care for the world’s best athletes and traveling to international competitions are the biggest perks of working for Team USA. Dr. Donaldson counts New Zealand, and anywhere in South America as her favorite trips. But the job has its disadvantages. A physician has to balance his or her commitment as a team physician with the demands of a full-time medical practice. Dr. Donaldson adds, “My busy practice prohibits me from being away for more than a couple of weeks, but I have an excellent group of providers I work with that help to cover the patients; that gives me piece of mind.”

Physicians are with the athletes around the clock. They attend practice and events, eat meals and stay in the same hotels as the athletes. With all that time together, the team becomes very close. “The best part of traveling with the athletes is getting a glimpse into their dedication to their dreams.  Being a part of the US Ski and Snowboard teams have been a great honor and a wonderful adventure. I look forward to doing it for years to come. ” says Dr. Donaldson.

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