The athletes competing in the Olympic games are the best of the best. However standing close behind, just off screen, there is another elite group; the trainers, physicians, and support staff who are also the best in their fields and who travel and train with our elite athletes helping them achieve their goals. This past August, two Findlay natives, Dr. Andrew Gerken and Amanda Wittenmyer traveled to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in these support roles.
Strength and Conditioning Coach U.S. Swim Team
“There’s something special about team USA,” says Amanda Wittenmyer “the pride and honor we have to represent our country, it runs deep.” Wittenmyer, a strength and conditioning physiologist for the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), travelled and trained with the U.S. Swim Team this summer. A former swimmer herself, Wittenmyer is Findlay born and raised. She was connected with the USOC during an internship in 2007 while completing her Masters at the University of Toledo. “I loved the athletes, the passion for the organization, and Colorado,” says Wittenmyer who began working full time for the organization in 2009.
As a strength and conditioning coach, Wittenmyer works with athletes to use exercise to improve their performance in competition and minimize the risk of injury. “Competitions are won by tenths of seconds. I look at athletes holistically to improve areas of weakness or muscular imbalances, to enhance physical characteristics which boosts performance and gives them a bit of an edge against the competition.” The 2016 Rio Olympics were Wittenmyer’s third Olympic experience, previously attending the games in London and Sochi in various strength and conditioning roles.
Wittenmyer worked with the U.S. swim team for a month prior to leaving for Rio, travelling with the team for training camps at different swim facilities. She worked directly with all the swimmers and their personal coaches to ensure they were able to implement their training routines on the road and had everything they needed to be prepared to compete. “The Olympic games are an experience I’ll never forget,” says Wittenmyer “there’s a lot of excitement, some nerves, and a lot of team pride. Everyone was supportive of every swim, lots of cheering, shouting USA! The passion and excitement are palpable. ”
Dr. Andrew Gerken
Head Physician U.S. Triathlon Team
As head physician for the U.S. triathlon team Dr. Andrew Gerken has had the opportunity to travel to elite sporting events around the world, but says nothing compares to the experience of his first Olympic games. “When I left Rio, I knew I had to find a way to get to the next Olympics.” Gerken, the medical director of Blanchard Valley Hospital’s emergency department, says he got involved with the United States Olympic Committee through a Sports Medicine colleague at The Ohio State University. A former triathlete himself, working with the triathlon team was a natural fit and provided Gerken with particular insight into the medical needs of the athletes. To prepare for the Rio Olympics, Gerken had a few concerns specific to the Brazilian location: water quality, Zika virus, overall safety. Gerken says these were a “non-issue.” The team wore long clothing and bug repellent, kept windows closed, and slept with special bug repelling blankets to prevent Zika. None of the athletes got sick from the water and safety concerns were not as bad as had been forewarned.
In reality, the biggest issue Gerken faced in Rio was traffic. Gerken and the team opted to stay in a hotel because transit time from the Olympic village to the competition site was over 2 hours each way! This year the U.S. women’s triathlon team celebrated its first ever Gold Medalist, Gwen Jorgensen, an athlete with whom Gerken had been working with. “She was able to compete the way she has trained.” The pinnacle of his experience in Rio was the closing ceremonies, “It is truly the epitome of the Olympic spirit, athletes from all the countries were mingling, celebrating and congratulating each other. I knew then that I had to experience this again.”