Ski team doctors have Valley ties
Landing a medical position with the U.S. Ski Team for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, doesn’t grant physicians and trainers with an all-access ticket.
Far from it.
Although Terry Orr, of South Lake Tahoe, and Isaiah Tannaci, of Carson Valley, are honored that the United States Olympic Committee has selected them to represent their country, they realize they won’t see much of the Games.
“It’s more work than a regular 9 to 5er,” said Tannaci, an athletic trainer at Tahoe Fracture Clinic who will work his second Olympic Games. “It’s 6 a.m. to midnight every day. We’re up on the hill all day and then we spend an hour each with eight or nine guys afterward.”
But the prestige of representing their country at the world’s biggest sporting spectacle more than makes up for the extra work and inconvenience in their personal lives.
“It’s neat to be a part of the whole Olympic environment and competitiveness,” Tannaci said. “Being a part of a team like that, it’s just another race. It doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal. It is for the athletes. It’s a lot of their personal goals, and it is rewarding to help be a part of their goals.”
As a volunteer for their country, the doctors and trainers don’t receive any compensation. They are paid by their employers back home, but the U.S. Ski Team covers travel expenses, food and lodging.
Orr, a well-known orthopedic surgeon in the area, annually spends four to seven weeks with the men’s ski team, draining time from his practice and family.
“I’ve got some great partners. I mean, Steve Bannar, I trust him to take care of my family, so I should trust him to take care of my patients,” he said. “It’s a long time to be away and a bit of a strain that way, but fortunately I have an understanding wife. She’s a skier and understands the sport.”
Both men worked the Salt Lake City Games in 2002. Orr is destined for his second straight appearance as the head physician for the men’s Alpine team and Tannaci returns as a support trainer for the men’s ski team.
With the Olympics in his homeland in 2002, Orr was treated like a VIP, receiving use of a car and a universal pass to attend the events of his choice. The close proximity and easy access of the venues allowed him to watch some hockey games while tending to his duties on the hill. Not all of his memories, though, were satisfying.
“I remember Bode’s two silver medals and being on the hill and having a lot of hopes for Daron (Rahlves),” Orr said. “I was at the first jump at the downhill and when he hit the jump he got about 20 feet of air and you knew it wasn’t the right path to go.
“Having that many people out in the USA for a skiing event was pretty special. The stands were packed and the energy the fans brought to the whole event was a pretty neat deal.”
But Orr won’t have the same privileges at the Olympic skiing venue’s remote location in Sestriere, Italy.
“It’s a 90-minute drive from Torino on a good day. With a single lane each way, they are estimating three times the travel time to Torino,” Orr said. “I don’t think I’ll see anything else.”
Being nearby during training and races is the Orr’s main role.
“If an athlete is injured, it depends on the degree of the injury. If it’s a crash, but they can ski away from it, we’ll take care of them later,” he said. “But if it’s something where they need medical attention, we head down the hill and get to them and help with the triage.”
During his association with the U.S. Ski Team, Orr has grown close to several local competitors: Rahlves and Marco Sullivan of the men’s team and Jonna Mendes and Kirsten Clark on the women’s squad. Naturally, he’d like to see each do well in Italy.
“Daron is such an all-around good guy. I think if you asked all of the coaches who they would like to see get a medal, that would be Daron. He’s very deserving. The wins that he’s had over the course of his career – the World Cups and world championships medals – are impressive enough, but everybody in the U.S. focuses on the Olympics.”
Orr is respectful about giving the elite skiers their personal space.
“I’m not one to intrude on people if they are independent. Bode is a lot more aloof at times, and that’s all well and good,” he said.
At the last Olympics, Orr didn’t have to deal with serious injuries. There was a concussion and a couple of facial lacerations from competitors slamming into a gates.
“We haven’t had any terrible accidents on my shift,” Orr said. “We’ve had athletes who’ve had the whole gamut of injuries from blown out knees to tibia fractures to grade-three concussions.
“Part of my responsibility as a head physician is keeping in communication with our trainers who are on the road as well, so if people are being injured we are formulating a plan that goes through the medical director and then it’s decided where somebody needs to go for ongoing care.”
Tannaci grew up as a ski racer in Mount Shasta City, Calif., and later became interested in athletic training while attending Southern Oregon State in Ashland, Ore. He spent four years (1998-2002) with the U.S. Ski Team, and was the men’s ski team’s head trainer during the Olympics in Salt Lake City.
The pull of the mountains, however, has kept him from becoming a trainer for a college or pro team.
Back pain and tender knees following surgery are the most common discomforts that Tannaci treats on the road. Soft-tissue massage, stretching, ice and heat are their most common treatments. Trainers are also responsible for post-race maintenance, so team members can be ready to go for the next race.
“Our job was to keep on the road so they didn’t have to come home, Tannaci said.
The worst injuries Tannaci has seen during his tour with the U.S. team was when Rahlves dislocated his hip during the 2002 U.S. National Championships at Squaw Valley and a broken back to Chip Knight during training.
Both men plan to stay involved with the U.S. Ski Team, but Orr wants to see other deserving doctors go the Games.
“I thought the last one would be it. We’ve got a large group of physicians who do work and this is definitely a terrific event to be involved with,” Orr said. “In many ways I’d like to see it passed on to other guys that are involved with coverage for the U.S. Ski Team.”