Race Day Track Meet Treatments
This past weekend I worked my 18th annual Mt Sac Relays. It is my favorite weekend in the track and field season. You track junkies do not need to be told Mt Sac is short for Mount San Antonio College, or that it is the premier track event in the southwest United States. It is where the elite meet athletes from high school, college, other professionals and aspiring Olympians. It is where Olympic dreams are formed or renewed, scholarships cemented and records redefined. This track is fast and has been scrutinized as to why. It is considered the fastest all weather track in the world and a long distance runner’s best forum.
The Mt Sac Relays is a non profit meet that is successful due to hundreds of volunteers and supporters, of which I am one. My perspective on the event comes from the medical tent. I am not a spectator in the audience or an aspiring Olympian. I am a technician to these elite participants and rarely ever see a race even though I am less than a 100 meters from the track at all times. My joy comes in helping the athletes’ dreams come true primarily with the skills, techniques and therapies I have honed throughout my entire 35 year career.
At the medical tent you see 20 tables with global competitors side by side from 50 local and distant high schools, an equal number of national colleges including UCLA, USC, University of Wisconsin, UNLV, BYU, University of Houston, LSU, University of Tennessee and many countries including Mexico, Nigeria, Egypt, Trinidad, Jamaica, England, Spain and even Latvia to name a few, all getting therapy, taped, stretched, massaged and adjusted. Rival high schoolers and Olympians are all pursuing the same extra edge to help get them to their goals. This is what I love and why I love donating my time being an instrumental part of this unique and special athletic experience.
As I move into my fourth decade as a treating sports doctor, researcher and educator, I work in my practice to be able to donate this time at the track meets. Someone once asked me what it is like at the Mt Sac Relays? My response was, “It’s like the Ringling Brothers & Barnum Bailey Circus.” Imagine 300 pound gorilla strength shot putters, gazelle like hurdlers, lanky cheetah like long distance runners and muscularly ripped powerful locomotive Rhodesian Ridge Back sprinters. Yet, they all need basically the same thing from me. They all need their bodies to be physically fine tuned from the feet to the head for that one race or one event. Ironically, some of these athletes are so talented they do multiple events, different distance races and are part of relay race teams. These truly unique athletes need repetitive treatments before and after these multiple events, many times 3-6 treatments over a 6 hour time period. I did 75 or so treatments Saturday in 11 hours, with a constant waiting line five deep!
On race day my cell phone and text messages start beeping before dawn, “Are you here yet, Doc?”, “Can you see me at 11:00?”, “Can’t you make it here any earlier?” These athletes at this caliber have more than likely already experienced the lows of defeat. They have a better understanding of their bodies. I liken them to Ferraris and I am their race day pit stop mechanic. It is an awe inspiring thing to be part of intense euphoria and sometimes agonizing disappointment. Many times their bodies can be treated, altered, fixed, tuned up or relaxed, but some injuries are game stoppers and we may have to ‘shut them down.’ This is when I am glad to be a D.C. and not an M.D. I like to usually leave the blood, dehydration symptoms, dislocations and snapped achilles tendons to others. I prefer helping the athlete gain the extra .01 seconds and inches achieving personal records (PRs) and personal bests (PBs).
Many of the philosophies and techniques I use in my everyday practice to help my patients apply at the track meets. I look at everyone from bottom to top, starting at the feet. I am 100% confident that foot alignment is the most important issue to be discussed because without it, optimum balance and weight distribution vertically from the foot up the tibia (shin bone), function and performance can not be possible. The abnormal foot pronation at foot mid stance causes the tibia to rotate inward. Improper foot and tibia alignment can cause stress fractures, patellar tendinitis (runner’s knee), knee tracking issues, groin strains, iliotibial band symptoms. Any misalignments or asymmetry in the feet and legs can even cause hip pain and increased pressure on spinal joints, or create bulging low back disc issues. These abnormalities can continue up the spine to create havoc with the upper back and shoulders or neck and can ultimately lead to headaches. This confirms and substantiates my focus on the need for balance from the bottom up. The biomechanical forces need to travel equally throughout the human chassis to avoid degeneration.
This is where the power of orthotics comes in. Orthotics are the stabilizing tools allowing a more balanced transfer of weight in the gait cycle. Without correcting the foot and leg imbalances, most therapies or treatments have limited longevity and probably at best last only temporarily. This is why many of these high level athletes who do not have corrective orthotics need almost daily care to offset the physical demands on their bodies. When my patients and athletes ask, “Why do you think my back or knee pain can be corrected with orthotics?” I might reference the old child’s nursery rhyme, the foot bone is connected the leg bone, the leg bone is connected to the hip bone and so on. Athletes usually experience and learn this much sooner than non athletes. In fact, most people take many years to feel the body’s physical imbalances. The reality is, many of these track athletes push their body to 50 different gears of physical effort, where most of us only have a few to maybe six gears. By pushing the body intensely, athletes are essentially condensing years of effort into days! One question I always pose, “Have you ever seen a fat track sprinter?”
I am appreciative to have had the opportunities the last 20 years in track and field treating many race day athletes and record holders to include Santa Monica TC athletes like Carl Lewis, Mike Marsh, Jon Drummond, Johnny Gray and many other world champions and Olympians, including disgraced Marion Jones. In the end, I gain much more satisfaction working with the young and emerging athletes of the future, trying to promote not only good physical conditioning and training habits, but germinating friendships and experiences that will have lasting positive effects on future Olympians and role models.
Dr. Paul Copeskey, D.C., C.C.F.C.