TELLURIDE -– Chosen by Team USA to serve as its chief medical officer in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, Gloria Beim, M.D., has been working behind the scenes to help construct a world-class sports medicine facility for American athletes in Sochi, reviewing medical histories and visiting the site of the Winter Games to inspect the facilities.
“It’s the biggest honor I’ve had in my life,” said Dr. Beim, founder of Alpine Orthopedics, which serves patients in Gunnison, Crested Butte and Telluride. “I am taking the task very professionally.”
So professionally, in fact, that she’s been learning Russian in anticipation of the 2014 Winter Games. She hopes to use her Russian when she acts as a liaison between Russian Olympic and medical officials and Team USA medical staff.
“Hopefully, we won’t need to resort to using Russian facilities, but if we do, I’ll be there and will be able to speak to the hospital staff directly,” she said.
So far, she is pleased with how much of the language she’s been able to pick up.
“I’ve gone through nearly 90 units, with each unit spanning up to two hours,” she said. “Russians that I’ve spoken to on my visit to Sochi, their eyes light up when I begin speaking the language to them. They’re so pleased to see an American speaking their language.”
During the four-and-a-half weeks she spends in Sochi, Dr. Beim will be working with a 50-strong medical staff of physicians, chiropractors, athletic trainers, physical therapists and massage therapists to ensure the health of the team’s athletes.
“It’s all about getting the athletes to be able to perform at their maximum ability,” she said. “The medical staff acts as a team as much as they do; that’s what I love so much about these sporting events.”
Acting as chief medical officer for the team has required substantial preparation. From managing routine colds and infections to treating injuries sustained during competition, Dr. Beim and her staff have constructed an athletes’ medical and training facility capable of treating all conceivable needs. “What we’re trying to do is create a mirror image of the Olympic medical facilities at the Olympic training centers in Colorado Springs, Colo. and Lake Placid, NY.,” she said. “These facilities have some of the best practitioners and recovery equipment in the world, and we’re hoping to bring that to our team in Sochi.
“Having our facility over in Sochi is a huge advantage for Team USA,” she continued. “Some teams don’t have the same level of care we can provide and they sometimes need to use the Olympic Polyclinics – which offer outstanding service, but sometimes the athletes need to wait to see a doctor, or the procedures might be foreign to them. In our facility, our athletes have ready access to a huge variety of care.”
Still, she added, unanticipated incidents arise when athletes are pushed to the brink, and hers may send those patients on to a Russian medical facility in Sochi. Should an athlete wind up in a Russian facility, Dr. Beim will be there to help.
“Even if my Russian plays any role in getting the athletes expedited care at Russian hospitals, it’s completely worth the time I’ve spent studying it,” she said.
Dr. Beim is also prepping for the games at the administrative level, by reviewing the complete medical histories of the athletes and making sure their documents are in order for everything from prescriptions to bureaucratic requirements. “I’ve also been reviewing all of the medical policies that the Olympic Organizing Committee puts out,” she said. “The Organizing Committee has its own protocol on health care, so we’ve been learning all the facets to that.”
The 2014 Winter Games is not the first Olympic event she’s worked on as a medical professional. In 2004, Dr. Beim served as the U.S. team physician for the cycling and taekwondo teams; in 2012, she served was the venue medical director and team physician for Team USA.
She was invited to the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, but declined, because she was pregnant with Jakob, now 5.
“Turning down the U.S. Olympic Committee was not easy,” she recalled. “I love working at the Olympics because it’s such a magical experience, and I love working with the excellent U.S. medical and athletic teams, and I also really like serving the country. So it was not easy” declining the offer.
In addition to working at the Olympics, Dr. Beim has worked as a team physician for a dozen U.S. track cycling teams, and a dozen national and international sporting events.
Her substantial background in athletic medicine began when she enrolled in college at age 14, earning her M.D. at the University of California, San Diego. She earned her orthopedic credentials at the New York Orthopedic Hospital at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, going on to complete her sports medicine, knee, shoulder and arthroscopy fellowship training at the University of Pittsburgh Center for Sports Medicine in 1996.
Dr. Beim is the author of 14 books, including The Female Athlete’s Body Workout: How to Prevent and Treat Sports Injuries in Women and Girls.
Other than supporting the athletes, one of Dr. Beim’s favorite aspects of working at international sporting events is interacting with doctors from around the globe. “Having worked at international games, I have brought back many practices and techniques,” she said. “Serving as the chief medical officer at the 2011 Pan-Am Games, I was introduced to diagnostic ultrasounds – using an ultrasound machine to diagnose, say, a tear of the tendon or ligament. You can see so many injuries with this machine, and you don’t need an MRI or more expensive modality.
“I was so excited about this. When I returned home, I bought an ultrasound machine, received the necessary training, and it’s totally changed the way I treat and diagnose patients.”
Per Dr. Beim’s request, the U.S. Olympic Committee has sent an ultrasound machine to Team USA’s medical facility.
Dr. Beim will be posting photos of her time in Sochi to her clinic’s website at alpineorthopaedics.com.