Proctor, Cooper are U.S. Ski Team’s quiet heroes
It is an unquestionable privilege to be among the ranks of the U.S. Ski Team.
Stuck behind the scenes, but no less honored, are those named as medical support for those elite athletes. Enter Jenny Cooper and Chris Proctor of Emerald Bay Physical Therapy in South Lake Tahoe. Each spent parts of the winter chasing the “white circus” of World Cup ski racing.
In the first season of what U.S. Ski Team medical director Melinda Roalstad calls a test year, these two physical therapists joined a rotating pool of highly regarded “physios.” Dr. Terry Orr of the physicians pool, recommended the two. Both previously have worked with local team skiers like Jonna Mendes and Brooke Ballachey.
Proctor, who has been employed at Cooper’s clinic for three years, pulled the first tour of duty over the Thanksgiving holiday.
“It was pretty amazing, mostly since neither of us really knew what our duties would be,” he said. “Basically, you’re on hand to treat an athlete if an injury occurs or an ongoing problem crops up. But you don’t just sit around the hotel waiting for customers. I was up at the start to help each of our guys prepare for their run.
“The part most people don’t realize is just how firm they get the race course. So here I am a snowboarder, and I put on skis for the first time in a couple years and I’m expected to slip down a hill firmer than anything you can imagine. It got a little interesting,” he said with a chuckle.
While Proctor was initiated into the realm of World Cup on North American soil, Jenny Cooper experienced a more hectic freshman tour.
“I was supposed to go first to Mammoth to get an introduction to my duties, but the lack of early season snow canceled that event,” she said. “I was on a family trip back east when I got a call asking me to head directly to Europe.
“I left right from New York without even going home to pack; my husband did that and shipped stuff over to me. I ended up borrowing ski gear from the medical director – and I hadn’t been on skis any more than Chris in the past few years. It was a bit of a whirlwind.”
Once in Europe – a first for Cooper – adjustments began as she met the elite players and adapted to therapy work outside an organized clinic.
“It’s a very different thing to do PT on world class athletes that are traveling, versus seeing people who are systematically working on an injury in a clinic,” she said. “These racers need to be able to compete the next day.
“At EBPT, I like to set up an environment that facilitates healing – the right equipment, the right music, the right table. When you travel with the team, you have your hands and your brain. You have to think on your feet; plus at this level of athleticism, it’s a completely different psychology towards rehab. But I think challenges like this allows you to grow and stretch as a person.”
Chris Proctor agrees.
“After the Beaver Creek downhill, my next trip was to Europe for one of the classic men’s races at Wengen, Switzerland,” he said. “Traveling is such a nightmare with so much gear and all the coaches and medical staff. Then add to that the jetlag and language problems and there’s definitely a few challenges. Keep in mind that someone like Daron Rahlves travels with about 25 pairs of skis and Wengen is a car-free village.”
Schlepping heavy ski bags and working out of cramped hotel rooms is different enough, add to that the language barrier and things get more interesting.
“In Switzerland, most people spoke English on some level, so it was easier to get by,” Cooper said. “In Italy, they didn’t know English and there were no interpreters around, so we just prayed that no one would get hurt in Italy.
“That part worked out all right, but Italy is where our hotel burned down. Just after the opening ceremonies for the Europa Cup season, we were driving back up to our lodgings, when we saw smoke just billowing out. There were Italian military guys running around with fire extinguishers – it took over an hour for the fire trucks to arrive! Actually, it was just a kitchen grease fire, but there was smoke everywhere and we were locked out of our rooms for some time. A big snow storm had started and we had to wait outside before going in by flashlight to pack and relocate. It was about 2 a.m. when we finally got done.”
While Cooper fought fire, Proctor battled ice. At the Wengen course, he admits to being a bit intimidated by the grip-proof texture, but got lost taking a short cut.
“We carry these huge bags for the athletes,” he said. “With all the spare jackets, they measure about four square feet and weigh 70 pounds. If you even roll your eyeballs while skiing down, they shift on your shoulder and you change direction.
“Anyway, when I got to the finish, I told the coach I just didn’t think I could ski the bag down the race hill. They were amazed that I’d considered trying! Here I’d been feeling like a sissy, but it turns out everyone on the medical staff had war stories of skiing out of control into the fencing at some time or another.”
With war stories of their own, how did Cooper and Proctor react to their first taste of the World Cup? Cooper summed things up, “I got to travel through Europe, and go through these small towns before the height of the season. Standing in the start area is a wonderful bonding time, to watch how physios behave from other countries. Challenging myself, venturing out of my comfort zone, helps me interact better now with my patients. And it was an honor to travel with athletes that were so very directed and motivated about their sport.”
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