Where Aches and Pains and Anxieties Are Put To Rest
July 27, 2012
LONDON – Tucked away behind the constant action of the approaching Olympic competition at Eton Dorney, away from the noise and the tension of the training and coaching, is a double row of small white tents.
Outside one tent in particular are two circular ice tubs. Inside are dual medical tables, a handful of cots, water, medical supplies and physical therapists Marc Nowak and Reiko Takahashi.
At any time of day athletes come in to get their aches and pains worked out or just to relax and escape the tension of the coming Olympics. And to just say they appreciate it falls short.
“It’s awesome,” said Will Miller (Duxbury, Mass.) who is competing in the men’s eight. “We work with Marc and Reiko a lot and they’re great. They really do a great job back there. They just really take what they do really professionally and really help out with the team so that everybody can do well.
“I haven’t been there yet this year, but I’m sure I will at some point. Just to have the facilities there is great,” he said. “You don’t always need them, but it’s awesome the way they help and it’s nice to have a little place just out of the main stream where you can go and chill out for a while after a race or where you can go and just stretch out and have a little bit of isolation away from all the craziness. It’s awesome.”
This is Takahashi’s first Olympics with the team. She has been working with the men’s team in Chula Vista, Calif., and was at the World Rowing Championships in Bled, Slovenia last summer.
Nowak, on the other hand, is on his third Olympics and was instrumental in the development of the idea of having physical therapists travel with the U.S. rowing team.
As he tells the story, it all began back in the 1990s through his association with team physician, Dr. Tim Hosea. Hosea began sending a few injured rowers his way to help them work out their aches and give them ideas of how to prevent them from reoccurring.
Then, when Nowak moved his clinic to Princeton where both the men and women’s national team trained, he began to see more and more rowers.
In 2002, he was asked to take care of four of the women’s team that were having back problems.
“I started taking care of them specifically and then I started seeing more and more rowers and it started being that a good part of my schedule was rowers coming in.”
The next year, as the U.S. team was preparing to travel to Milan, Italy for a pre-Olympic regatta and the athletes asked if Nowak could come on the trip.
“That was successful and I really enjoyed it,” he said. “It was different doing things out in the field rather than in a clinic and from that point on we stared seeing more and more rowers in the clinic,” he said.
As the 2004 Olympics approached, Nowak was instrumental in the lives of many of the athletes.
“I was kind of trying to keep as many people feeling good and keeping them going as possible. Then in 2004 I was invited to go to Athens.”
He’s been a fixture with the team ever since, covering seven world championships and two Olympics before coming to London. For Nowak, the job is more than just icing muscles and working on strains and joint pain.
He’s a combination of a good set of hands and a good pair of ears, listening to the athletes concerns and anxieties as he improves their fitness, or just giving them a place to escape.
“We have things set up at the venue where we can do soft tissue work, work by the physical therapist, get them in an ice bath, or just laying down on cots taking it easy.
“A lot of times, when they are on the table, they just start to talk and you know that there are certain anxieties and they’re getting it off their chest and kind of expressing themselves. It’s a nice safe environment where nobody is going to tell anybody else and you can trust that whatever we’re discussing, it isn’t going to go anywhere.”
It isn’t always easy for Nowak to be away from home for weeks at a time with a young family back home. Last summer while he was in Bled, Hurricane Irene blew into Princeton and leveled the foundation of his home.
“It was the first day of racing and I knew the hurricane was coming so I called home. It was 10 o’clock in the morning at home and I knew the hurricane was supposed to come through so I picked up the phone and called my wife and she was hysterical and said ‘Why don’t you pick up the phone.’ Usually I just have it off because I’m involved in racing and nobody calls me.
“I asked her what happened and she told me the basement wall had collapsed and it was full of water and the house had been condemned and the electricity had been shut off and she was out of the house.”
While the athletes appreciate what Nowak does, so does USRowing and team manager Fred Honebein and high performance director Matt Imes had him out of the hotel and on his way back home within a few hours. He was in Philadelphia by 3 p.m. the next day.
“They were able to handle that even with the fact the Philly and Newark airports were closed down the day before. I was really fortunate to get home.”
Nowak was able to get things under control and had his family back in their home within two weeks.
And now he is back with Team USA at the 2012 London Olympics. And he is building more good memories.
“My first favorite moment was Athens, seeing the men and women on the podium,” he said “It really doesn’t hit you, the magnitude of what just went on, until you see that and all of a sudden it’s ‘Oh my God, this is the Olympics.’
“You’re so involved, you’re so into it for a period of time, and then it’s wow, this is something.”
For 2012 Olympic Games news, features and daily quotes from Team USA athletes, coaches, staff and family members, visit http://www.usrowing.org/Pressbox/2012Olympics.aspx