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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Medical professionals ensure skaters stay lithe, healthy

Russ Richardson, left, and Kelly Fink were on duty for the Group Health medical team Tuesday morning at the Spokane Arena. (KATHY PLONKA
Russ Richardson, left, and Kelly Fink were on duty for the Group Health medical team Tuesday morning at the Spokane Arena. (KATHY PLONKA

Dr. Edward Reisman, 51, of Family Medicine Spokane, is volunteering at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Though he’s still athletic, he nurses some “war wounds” from his days as a pairs skater in the 1970s.

“I have sore knees that creak and groan, probably from absorbing too many jump landings,” he said. “I have a right toe that has a bit of arthritis, probably from putting my toe pick in the ice a few too many times.”

Reisman recounts his skating war wounds – and talks about his second-place junior pairs win at the 1976 nationals – only if athletes ask about his skating past.

He’s part of a collaborative medical team volunteering at the nationals, organized by Group Health. One physician must be ringside during practices and performances. But most of the real medical attention happens backstage in a cramped, but efficient, medical room.

There, doctors, nurses, physical therapists and massage therapists attend to the athletes, as do chiropractors, athletic trainers and residents training in sports medicine.

In the past week, medical team volunteers have helped athletes with lower-back spasms, sore knees and tendon sprains. They’ve treated hives, wheezing and stomach flu. They’ve dispensed bandages, ice packs and advice.

Amanda Evora, who finished second in the seniors pairs competition and is headed to the 2010 Olympics with partner Mark Ladwig, stopped by the medical room Tuesday to praise the team.

“Two days before (Spokane), I took a hard fall,” she said. “I came down from the air at an angle that kind of jarred my hips and lower back. I thought I was OK. After the first practice, my back was still hurting. Right away my coach said, ‘Go see medical.’ Medical was there for me. They did a few exercises to get my hips aligned. They did a little physical therapy. I made quite a few visits. They became my new buddies.”

The volunteers in the medical room smile a lot. They watch performances on a TV while waiting for skaters who need their help. They all agreed the championships have been a refreshing break from their regular routines.

“This is fun for me,” said Dr. Tom Schaaf. “I’m normally the medical director for all the Group Health clinics in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene. Here, I get to be a foot soldier. I show up, see the event and don’t worry about organizing the whole thing.”

The shift in the “doc seat” on the Arena floor can evoke stress, however. “Whenever they jump and whenever they are lifting each other, you can get a little tense,” Schaaf said.

The medical team volunteers also appreciate treating athletes at this elite level. If Spokane continues to build a reputation as a skating mecca, the expertise will come in handy, they said.

Physical therapist Karie Ike, who works at U-District Physical Therapy, said, “Some we only have five minutes before they get on the ice. Others, we have an hour. We say, ‘Come on back and we’ll show you some things you can do in your off time.’ They’ve actually come back.”

Ike volunteered for the championships, even though it meant returning to work a week early from maternity leave.

“We don’t see skaters like this every day,” she said. “It’s a privilege.”

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