Dr. Stuart Sanders serves as Team USA physician in Sweden
DEMOREST, Ga. – While the synchronized figure skaters for Team USA were on the ice competing last month for the Leon Lurje Trophy in Gothenburg, Sweden, Dr. Stuart Sanders of Clarkesville was standing nearby ready to provide medical treatment if needed.
“There were two teams competing for Team USA, a junior team and a senior team,” says Dr. Sanders. “Sixteen of the female athletes are on the ice rink at the same time. Synchronized skating is a beautiful sport.  The athletes are very fit and have completed years of rigorous training, but there is still a great potential for injury. Like other sports, there is a risk of knee injuries and concussions, but in ice skating you also have the fear of lacerations from the blades on the skates.  Fortunately, we didn’t have any major injuries.  I arrived on January 13th and worked the practice skating sessions before the actual competition on January 17 and 18th.  I did treat some minor lacerations from the skates and some cuts and scrapes from finger nails, resulting from when the athletes locked arms during the dance routines.”
The team physician is on-call 24/7 to provide medical care for the athletes, coaches and staff.  They have to be ready to treat non-sports related needs as well as colds and other minor illnesses. According to Sanders, “Gothenburg’s coastal location and closeness to the cold water of the North Sea make it normally very cold this time of year with lots of snow and ice, but they had an unusual ‘hot spell’ while we were there. Some days it was colder where we live in Clarkesville than it was in Gothenburg. The Swedish people loved it!  My wife, Lynne, was able to go with me on this trip and we tried to get out and about as much as we could, but Sweden only has about 6-7 hours of daylight per day and at  5 p.m. it is completely dark.”
Also, just prior to the competition, there were terrorist attacks in Paris. Dr. Sanders said that the team leader for Team USA, who both accompanied the athletes, strongly encouraged them not to wear their Team USA jackets in public.  “They were told to only wear them while inside the ice rink where there was greater security.  They are very proud to wear their USA jackets, but we wanted to keep them as safe as possible,” says Sanders. “There were 12 teams from four countries competing in this international competition, and you can never be too cautious.”
Dr. Sanders volunteered his time as team physician for Team USA and was selected after an evaluation of his medical training and experience by the U.S. Figure Skating Sports Science and Medicine Committee.  It is a very competitive process for the physicians selected to serve and they must leave their practices for several days to travel with the team. “They take care of my travel expenses and it is worth the long hours to have the opportunity to be a part of an international event and work with elite athletes. It is a unique experience and a privilege to serve.”
He also said, “The female athletes on Team USA ranged in age from 13-22 and were from Illinois and Michigan.  They were very bright, intelligent young women as well as very polite and appreciative for having a doctor there.”
This was not his first experience serving as a team physician.   Dr. Sanders has worked in much larger events.   He served on the medical team during the 1996 Atlanta Olympic and Paralympic Games as well as the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Vancouver, Canada.  A 2004 member of Olympic Team USA, Dr. Sanders was also on board with the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan, and in the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Dr. Sanders hopes to do it again. “There are many US Figure Skating events and I’m always willing to go when I can,” he adds. He has also served for many years as the team physician for Piedmont College and the Habersham Central High School football team.  Dr. Sanders says “God has opened doors for me with several international sports medicine opportunities.  However, I am also blessed and thoroughly enjoy taking care of Piedmont College athletes and standing on the Habersham Raider football sidelines.”