1984 Flashback Friday: Memoires From The Amateur Olympian’s Physical Therapist
By Dr. Mark McCoy, PT, DPT
I volunteered at the ’84 Olympic Games in L.A. for over a week and worked (as a P.T.) in the medical clinic in the Olympic Village at UCLA. We had the privilege of giving treatment as needed to the Olympic athletes. I sat watching the 2016 Opening ceremony on opening day and thought I would just catch a few minutes. I ended up staying up until the wee hours watching all of it. I found myself both excited and melancholy about it…
I was often asked when I got back home how many famous people I saw and treated. Imagine their shock when I said none. I “saw” them walk through with their entourage of coaches, therapist, masseuse, trainers, dietitian, and agents on their way to use our rooms (the likes of Carl Lewis, Sebastian Coe, Edwin Moses, and Evelyn Ashford). The famous ones for me were from poorer European countries and third world countries. The athletes who were the best in the country and proud to be representing their country. It was usually one heat or match and their whole life dream: competing in the Olympics was over. There was a runner from Zimbabwe who gave me a shirt from his village for helping him. A boxer from Northern Ireland who was so angry to come to America and be surrounded by GUNS on swat, army, etc. because he had that at home every day, and just didn’t think he would see that here. Trying to calm him, I told him that it was for his protection and to come back after the Olympics to visit…but not to L.A. Then there was the Brazilian volleyball player; he thought I hated him as I put electrical stimulation on his blown out ankle in a bucket of ice water! Rhythmic gymnasts from Portugal with badly injured backs (who sold off their clothes to make room in the suite case for peanut butter that they couldn’t get back home – Skippy creamy for them andtheir family and friends). That runner from Batswana who was injured on his first heat. After the games he was going back to his small village as the hero that competed at the Olympics! They knew little about diet, training and sports medicine. ALL of the athletes we treated were very appreciative for what we did with them. I found out that week, that the Olympics are competed at two levels, and we as spectators have no idea what happens with all these participants. The TV coverage doesn’t cover their incredible stories, and unless you look close at the heats or matches – you will miss the last place efforts.
The Olympics used to ONLY be for the amateur. Any indication of payment for competing and you would be banned as a professional. What a stark contrast from the Olympics of today. Basketballs dream teams, soccer, track, and of course our professional golfers on display. You are hard pressed to find true amateur athletes anymore. I miss that true amateur spirit…. Thus my melancholy.
My excitement and joy comes from watching those third world countries parading in and seeing “true smiles of joy” as they represent their country with honor and pride. They are the BEST in their country and they are on the world’s greatest athletic stage. And while most won’t stand on the medal stands, they have done their sport and country PROUD. Today, my hat is off to all of them.