LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - Dr. Alecia Gende, a sports medicine and emergency medicine physician at Mayo Clinic Health System, cared for athletes at the FIS Nordic World Championships for the second time.
The 42nd FIS Nordic World Championships were held from February 22 to March 7 this year in Oberstdorf, Germany. Dr. Gende traveled with the U.S. team last year but this year was different she said.
"COVID changed a lot of things for us and kind of affected the event itself. There were no spectators there this year whereas typically I believe this would draw 40,000 or more spectators," said Dr. Gende. "There were no concessions and they had fake fans in the stands."
She explained that there was an announcer and music so they very much kept the event alive but it was very different without screaming fans. Last year she said while she attended the World Cup event, this was World Championship so there were more days of competition.
Gende got involved with the ski team through her work with the Iowa Hawkeyes. She said some of the doctors that trained her were involved and they told her the process they went through. It involved an application process and then if accepted trainers can travel with the team as often as they can.
"It was an honor to serve Team USA in that way as their team physician. It was wonderful being in Germany, small town Germany, traveling through the mountainside, that was amazing, the weather was great, overall it was an honor," said Dr. Gende.
Last year she cared for just the women's ski team, but this year her role increased to the entire Nordic Team. She was there for a full week of the two week competition. As a team physician, they do many things for the athletes.
"One of the most important things we do is provide event coverage," said Gende. "I sit at the landing zone which is the most dangerous time for the ski jumpers so if they were to crash or fall unfortunately, I would be there to support local EMS medical crews in providing emergent onsite care in the event of a traumatic injury. I would also be there to accompany the athlete to the local hospital and to discuss the plan of care with the local physicians."
She said her job is to advocate for the athlete and navigate the healthcare system of a country that isn't their own. Dr. Gende said while it's an awesome experience, it's a bit overwhelming.
"There are so many high level athletes and rockstars and superstars of ski jumping and Nordic combined. There's a lot of people, a lot of security checkpoints," said Dr.Gende. "With COVID this year we had to be tested every two days along with symptom check lists every day."
Masks were required at all times she said even when by yourself. Gende believes this event showed that there is truly a light at the end of the tunnel with this pandemic.
"Being at this event allows a great sense of optimism and hope for our future, not just in America but in the world really. As events like this are able to happen and we are able to kind of conquer, side step and work around some of the things COVID restrictions place upon us," said Gende. "Being outside at this world competition, really gives us hope that things are going to be back to normal at some point."