Nathan Gonzalez considers himself a football aficionado. Baseball is also his thing.
So Gonzalez, a 20-year-old Whitworth University student studying to be an athletic trainer, was a little out of his element Thursday as he learned how to tend to an injured figure skater.
He learned the ice can be a tricky – and slippery – place to tend to an injured athlete.
“It’s something completely different than what I’m used to,” Gonzalez said. “I didn’t realize how in-shape and flexible” skaters have to be.
Gonzalez is among 14 students from Whitworth and Eastern Washington University who will work alongside doctors and other professionals with the Group Health medical team, the official medical provider for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships that begin next week.
The college students, all juniors and seniors in the undergraduate athletic training programs at each school, spent part of the day Thursday learning about figure skating by skating themselves, and then watching a local figure skater in action.
The day wrapped up with a hands-on triage simulation on ice at the Spokane Arena, meant to help the students prepare to treat the possible injuries faced by the 1,500 skaters competing in the national championships. .
They practiced walking on the ice, and using a spine board to tend to an injured patient. They also learned what to watch out for, like stray beads or sequins on the ice that could cause a skater to fall or be injured.
“I was blown away,” Gonzalez said.
Before the start of, and during, next week’s championships, the ice rink will become the classroom as students learn about injuries unique to figure skating, as well as the emotional and psychological effects that a world-class athlete experiences when preparing for competition.
Typically, the local venue provides the medical care for the skaters.
Whenever a skater takes the ice, there will be a medical team rinkside. There also will be doctors, sports therapists, trainers and nurses to tend to skaters’ needs 24/7 during practices, as well as a team at the Davenport Hotel, where competitors are staying during the event.
“What we learn from an event like this you can’t teach in a class,” said Russ Richardson, the director of athletic training at Whitworth.
For its January term, Whitworth faculty created a figure skating course to coincide with the championships. EWU students were invited to participate in the course.
Part of that includes the hands-on experience of working with the athletes and the Group Health medical team. It’s a rare opportunity for college students to be able to work with top-level athletes, officials said. The championship in Spokane determines the U.S. teams for the Winter Olympics, which begin in Vancouver, B.C., just a week later.
“We are dealing with the best skaters in the United States,” said Dr. Ed Reisman, the medical director for the championships.
Reisman, a family physician and a traveling doctor with the U.S. Figure Skating Team, was the medical director for the event in 2007. He also knows a little something about figure skating, having finished second in the junior pairs division with his sister as a partner at the 1976 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
“It’s a great opportunity for the students and the medical community,” Reisman said.