Sports medicine team represents Duke at World University Games

Jul. 17, 2013 @ 09:53 PM

The Duke Sports Medicine staff is used to treating fractured fingers and torn ACLs of athletes stateside.

But this month, four Duke medical experts have taken their practice to Kazan, Russia, where they’ve monitored players from the sidelines at the summer World University Games.

Doctors Ron Olson, Blake Boggess and Jeff Bytomski, along with physical therapist Robert Bruzga, have spent more than two weeks overseas, where they started the month of July in Kazan. The sports they’ve witnessed have ranged from rugby and beach volleyball to synchronized swimming and fencing.

The Duke team shot Fourth of July fireworks off the roof of their Marriott hotel, which overlooked the centuries-old Kazan Kremlin. They’ve brushed shoulders with the U.S. ambassador of Russia and the president of the Republic of Tatarstan.

This is the first time the U.S. has competed in a multi-sport event in Russia since President Jimmy Carter’s boycott of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics, according to Duke Medicine.

The U.S. summer delegation is comprised of 270 athletes, with about 10,000 athletes total participating from more than 160 countries. It is second only to the Olympics in sporting event size.

Olson said that in 2009, he heard about the winter World University Games held in Harbin, China, inquired about being a part of the event and eventually submitted an application to become a worldwide representative of the sports medicine field.

He formed his U.S. medical team: Bruzga handled physical therapy needs of the athletes. Bytomski was responsible for men’s and women’s Team USA basketball and Boggess coordinated a medical symposium for all participating medical teams. Olson served as medical director for Team USA.

The symposium, held at the beginning of July, brought together international speakers in primary care sports medicine, orthopedic surgery, athletic training and physical therapy, as well as provided the international medical staff with networking opportunities. There were 46 people who participated in the symposium, from countries such as Egypt, Malaysia, South Africa, Korea and Finland.

“There’s a collaboration of spirit and a sharing of ideas that you couldn’t get elsewhere,” Boggess said.

During the opening ceremonies on July 6, 50,000 people packed the central stadium, and Russian President Vladimir Putin was in attendance. Team USA circled the track, listening to the cheers.

“There’s no feeling like that, to hear your name, Team USA, called,” Bruzga said.

The Duke team had to bring over their own equipment, to include a musculoskeletal ultrasound machine that’s as small as a laptop, a compression and cooling device and examination tables. During their visit, they had the opportunity to treat international athletes as well as visit Russian clinics.

They’ve noticed differences between countries when it comes to rehabilitation practices, and Russians tend to hospitalize people quicker and longer, Olson said. The Duke team held a spirited debate with Australian physical therapists and physicians about treatment options.

Even the tiniest difference, such as Americans using a metal splint for a possible fractured finger instead of casting material in a Russian clinic, helped bridge understanding between medical cultures, Olson said.

They’ve had the opportunity to meet with Duke student athletes who are participating in the University Games, such as Tricia Liston, a guard on the Duke women’s basketball team, and James Belshaw, a goalkeeper on the Duke soccer team.

In-between games, student athletes and staff gathered outside the Universiade Village, the residence hall for athletes, to trade each other’s uniforms in a showing of camaraderie. Boggess said they’ve traded Team USA shirts for Chinese uniform pants and a Lithuanian jersey.

“Everyone’s trying to get their favorite uniform, from their favorite place or a place where they have heritage,” Boggess said.

The Duke team heads home this week after Wednesday’s closing ceremonies, and a few of them go back to clinic duty as early as Friday. Boggess added that wearing the Team USA uniform has been an honor, and they’ve given Duke Sports Medicine T-shirts to international teams. The name “Duke” has been recognized by medical staff from around the world, he said.

“We’re team Duke Sports Medicine, but we’re also Team USA.”