Naresh Rao, DO, giving a thumb up on the far right, celebrates the gold-medal win of the U.S. men’s water polo team at the Pan Am Games in Toronto last July.
The Summer Games

Road to Rio: DOs help Olympic athletes go for the gold

Three DOs headed to the Olympic and Paralympic Games for the first time discuss what’s involved in caring for elite athletes.

The crowd cheers for their favorite team, whose members are jockeying for a place on the winners’ stands and a medal. Standing on the sidelines among the coaches and teammates is the DO, ready to sprint onto the field and tend to an injured Team USA athlete.

At the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, this scene will become a reality for Naresh Rao, DO, who will be attending the Olympics for the first time as the medical liaison for water polo to the U.S. Olympic Committee. He will be joined there by Rebeccah Rodriguez, DO, and Jeffrey P. Anthony, DO, who are also first-time Olympic physicians.

All three have devoted many hours toward the goal of obtaining an Olympic appointment.

“It’s always been one of my career goals and dreams to be part of Team USA,” says Dr. Rodriguez, who will be running an Olympic training center. “I’m so honored and excited that the years of hard work toward education and training have paid off.”

Rebeccah Rodriguez, DO, practices with kinesiology tape at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California. (Photo provided by Dr. Rodriguez)

High-performance training

Dr. Rodriguez will provide medical care for some of the more than 500 American athletes headed to Rio in August.

As medical director at one of Team USA’s three high-performance training centers, she explains that they serve as home bases for medical personnel where U.S. athletes can seek treatment for injuries, illnesses or conditions.

The high-performance training centers appeal especially to top athletes—those who are No. 1 or No. 2 in their sport—who don’t want competitors from other countries seeing them receive treatment, Dr. Rodriguez says.

Her venue will oversee care for athletes who play a number of different sports, including men’s basketball, table tennis, judo, gymnastics and triathlon.

Caring for body, mind and spirit

After working with USA Water Polo since 2009, this year Dr. Rao is accompanying the teams to the Olympics.

When working with Olympic hopefuls, Dr. Rao draws upon the osteopathic training he received to care for a patient’s mind, body and spirit. Once, in Romania, when an athlete had a badly cut upper lip from a head butt, Dr. Rao quickly realized that the youth’s concerns went beyond his physical condition.

“I managed the emotions and expectations of this young athlete, who was about 19 years old,” says Dr. Rao, author of the book, “Step Up Your Game.” “I made it clear to the coaches and teammates that this wasn’t a case of putting a butterfly bandage on and letting him continue in the match.”

After helping him call his parents back in the States to keep them apprised of his injury and treatment, Dr. Rao addressed another concern that was weighing heavily on the player’s mind. “I assured him that his girlfriend would still want to kiss him,” shares Dr. Rao.

Jeffrey P. Anthony, DO, treats a member of the U.S. men’s Paralympic volleyball team. (Photo provided by Dr. Anthony)

Pure amazement

Jeffrey P. Anthony, DO, started working with Paralympic athletes four years ago. In September, he’ll be a team physician for U.S. athletes at the Paralympic Games in Rio.

“These parathletes are amazing, especially when you think about what they’ve had to overcome as a result of their physical challenges,” says Dr. Anthony.

His work with these athletes led to his involvement with the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which strives to ensure that people with physical challenges have opportunities to enjoy sports.

Since 1994, the foundation has raised nearly $70 million and fulfilled 11,000 funding requests from athletes around the country to help pay for their sports equipment and prosthetics. At the Sochi Winter Paralympic Games, more than half of Team USA received funding from the foundation.

Everyone should watch the athletes compete so they can be amazed firsthand, he says.

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