Dr. Scott Rodeo, An Olympic Hero Behind The Scenes

Dr. Scott Rodeo, An Olympic Hero Behind The Scenes

The Olympic athletes are supported by a number of staff, from coaches and physiologists to translators and physicians.

The pride in which the support staff takes in their role is visible and palpable. They wear their country’s uniform and colors just as proudly as the athletes themselves. They regularly go beyond the call of duty, quietly, patriotically and humbly.

Dr. Scott Rodeo is one of these unheralded individuals. A former competitive swimmer himself, he has been a member of the USA delegation at the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

The Daily News of Open Water Swimming asked the good doctor what he does.

Daily News: What is your role?
Dr. Rodeo: The overall role of the physician is to assure the health and safety of all members of the U.S. delegation. At the Olympic Games the team physician will treat both musculoskeletal injuries as well as medical illnesses. Common musculoskeletal problems include shoulder pain, low back muscle strain, and patellar (knee cap) pain. Common medical illnesses include upper respiratory tract infections, cough, sore throat, and gastroenteritis. Other issues that we address include jet lag, adjusting to new foods, dehydration, and problems with sleep. Swimming in new bodies of water with varying water quality, chemicals, and potential pollutants can lead to sinusitis and other upper respiratory symptoms. The stress of travel and international competition can also lead to transient alterations in immune function and result in some of these illnesses. The team physician’s job is to anticipate and treat all of these issues in a timely fashion.

Daily News: How long are you over in London?
Dr. Rodeo: I am in London for entirety of the Olympic Games. We will first travel to Vichy, France for a training camp, and then to London July 21. After swimming is completed I will stay as a U.S. Olympic Committee physician to assist other sports and athletes until the Closing Ceremonies on August 12.

Daily News: You have worked at the Super Bowl. I know they are two separate sporting competitions, but how does the Olympics compare in terms of athlete’s preparation, media attention, pressure?
Dr. Rodeo: I have had the good fortune to be on the sidelines New York Giants team physician for the 2008 and 2012 Super Bowls. Despite the obvious differences between these events, there are actually distinct similarities. The media attention and associated pressure are similar. Both events are likely the most important of an athlete’s career, and something that they have worked for years to achieve. There are similarities in the level of preparation and planning that goes into these events, both for the athletes and for the support team. Success in both of these scenarios comes from a team approach, with everyone (coaches, managers, physicians, trainers, etc) working together to guarantee the athlete’s success.

Daily News: In the days leading up to the Super Bowl and the Olympics, are athletes more sensitive to colds, injuries and perceived afflictions of various kinds? If so, how do you deal with the athletes, both physiologically and psychologically?
Dr. Rodeo: It seems that athletes may be more susceptible to mild illnesses in the time leading up to a major event. The stress associated with these events may lead to transient alterations in immune function, which could potentially contribute to minor illnesses. It is also likely that the athlete is simply more tuned in to any mild symptoms or abnormalities. The job of the team physician is to recognize these symptoms and know how to re-assure the athlete. It is important not to immediately assume that an athlete’s symptoms are merely due to “nerves”. We need to be sure that there is not, in fact, a significant illness. Not only do we have to correctly diagnose and treat any ailment, an even more important job is to know how to manage the athlete’s concerns about illness and to be able to re-assure the individual. Another important part of the team physician role is to communicate the information to coaches, managers, parents, etc. We also have to be able determine when an athlete might have a contagious illness, so that we can protect the other team members.

Daily News: Do you have anything special in your black doctor’s bag for marathon swimmers that you would not have for football players?
Dr. Rodeo: We have medications and equipment for things such as jelly fish stings, hypothermia, and hypoglycemia. My motto is, “If you prepare for problems you won’t have them”.

Daily News: What are some of the differences you see between Olympic swimmers and your average age-group or high school swimmer?
Dr. Rodeo: The elite, world-class athlete has both the physical, innate ability, but also the motivation and mental make-up to be successful at that level. At some level, champions are born. They “choose their parents wisely” as genetics certainly play an important role. However, I believe that is only part of the equation. The elite performer has the ability to perform at the highest level in the most important circumstances. In football, it is said that big athletes make big plays in big games. The Olympic athlete or successful professional football player is not afraid to take chances. They are not afraid to fail. To perform at that level, the athlete needs to be willing to risk failure. They have an innate will to win.

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