Monday Medical: SportsMed celebrates 20 years

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SportsMed reunion

All past and present patients are invited to share memories at SportsMed's 20-year reunion from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday at Yampa Valley Medical Center. The event features special guest Bob Carlson, SportsMed's first director. Those unable to attend can send greetings or messages to sportsmedreunion@yvmc.org.

You could say I learned about SportsMed the hard way by becoming one of its first patients.

In October 1989, I fearfully entrusted my damaged knee and newfound sense of mortality to Bob Carlson, the physical therapist who founded SportsMed and served as its first director. That's when I learned firsthand that "PT" is a profoundly healing science and art.

Fast forward to this week, when SportsMed will celebrate two decades of serving the community. Director Susan Ring looks back on the many changes that have occurred since she joined SportsMed in 1993.

"The growth has been remarkable," Ring said. "I remember when SportsMed had one clinic staffed by three therapists and a couple of aides. Now we are a team of 45, including 24 therapists, working in five clinics in Steamboat Springs, Oak Creek, Hayden and Walden."

Rehab itself has evolved dramatically in that time. Ring recalls when surgical repair of an anterior cruciate ligament required a hospital stay of two or three days, a cast on the leg, six weeks of using crutches and a lengthy recovery.

"Now it's day surgery, a quick return to weight-bearing and a visit to rehab just two or three days post-surgery," Ring said. "The importance of physical therapy early in the healing process has become well-recognized."

Ring describes the primary role of physical therapy as "returning people to a higher level of function than they could achieve on their own." Each patient's needs and personality are taken into consideration.

"We have to understand what a patient wants and how active they want to be as we help someone regain function," Ring said. "Their chosen lifestyle might involve anything from walking their dog to skiing in the Olympics."

SportsMed has provided rehab for many members of the U.S. Ski Team, and SportsMed therapists have accompanied the athletes on their international travels. Scott Blair serves the U.S. Nordic Combined team, Jen Kerr works with the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team and athletic trainer Frederica Manning takes care of the U.S. Snowboard Team.

Education also plays a pivotal part in the therapy process. Ring said therapists take the time to get to know each patient and help them to understand what their body can and can't handle.

"We have to encourage some to speed up their rehab, and we have to make others slow down," Ring said. "It is very individualized."

SportsMed provides numerous specialized therapy services for all age groups. Occupational therapists, speech/language therapists and physical therapists work together at the Doak Walker Care Center to assist primarily elderly adults, while the therapy team at "The Little House" on Pine Grove Road serves pediatric patients.

Then there is hand therapy. Sue Winters, the region's only certified hand therapist, ably cares for that complex and crucial body part that we rely on to do countless everyday tasks.

SportsMed has had a Cardiac Rehab program since 1991 and more recently teamed up with YVMC's Respiratory Care department to provide Pulmonary Rehab. Cancer and trauma patients who develop lymphedema count on SportsMed to treat this condition.

Other SportsMed services include custom orthotics, fitness classes, bike fit sessions, performance enhancement assessments for athletes and incontinence treatment for adults and children.

Like many SportsMed patients, I didn't stop at just one rehab. My other knee required surgery in 1998, and I also have taken advantage of $10 injury screenings to address minor aches and pains.

Each time, I have been buoyed not just by my therapists' skills but by the upbeat atmosphere that pervades the clinic. We call it the "SportsMed spirit." And we are inviting everyone who has been touched by SportsMed to celebrate the spirit at our 20-year reunion celebration from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday.

I'm especially looking forward to seeing Carlson. SportsMed is bringing him back from his home in Oregon, giving me and many others another chance to say thank you.

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