Fifteen years ago, Saratoga Springs chiropractor Dr. David Gabay worked with the U.S. Olympic team at the training center in Colorado Springs, Colo., before the Atlanta summer games in 1996.
Now, in a move rarely afforded twice, he’s doing it again.
“Usually you get to do one location in a career or lifetime but I was absolutely thrilled when they called me to do another rotation in Lake Placid,” said Gabay, who recently got a call from the Olympic Committee.
Gabay will spend the last two weeks of October treating athletes in training for the 2014 Winter Olympics at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid. He doesn’t have a full schedule of which teams he’ll work with, but sports like bobsledding, the luge, skeleton and ski jump typically train up north.
“My function is team chiropractor at the [U.S.] Olympic Training Center. I’ll be handling lower back injuries but also all muscular skeletal injuries,” said Gabay. “I’ll be on call, setting up, working on patients, evaluating and treating their injuries.”
Gabay will work with a team of other doctors chosen by the U.S. Olympic Committee, including a medical doctor, orthopedist, massage therapist and athletic trainers. For many of the athletes, this October training session will determine the future of their Olympic dreams.
“I’ll be ascertaining which ones will continue to train, which will be sidelined, what tests need to be done and balancing the aspirations of the athletes for their goals in competition and what is safe for them,” said Gabay. “We don’t want to send an athlete out for competition in the Olympics and have them dealing with a lifelong injury that will affect them for their remaining years. Sometimes you’ve got to make that unpopular decision and say ‘You can’t compete.’”
The U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid opened in 1982, and the present facility opened in 1989.
There are only about 130 chiropractors that have the certification required to be considered by the Olympic Committee for a training center gig, which are unpaid.
“A lot of young guys and gals are not doing the certification because it’s an additional three years, you’ve got to be published, do practical exams, written requirements, it’s a lot of work,” said Gabay, who thinks that might be a reason the committee is pulling second rotations from doctors like him.
Gabay has been practicing for 30 years and said he was one of the first chiropractors to get the extra certification. The first time he was asked to train athletes before the Olympics in Atlanta, he said he was excited.
“I was thrilled the first time because it’s the cream of the crop that really gets chosen to do these assignments. It’s a feather in your cap,” said Gabay. “I had been practicing for 15 years, I had cut my teeth.”
Many of the athletes he treated during his first go-around were suffering from chronic overuse syndromes and plagued with past injuries. For example, when the weight lifting team arrived at the training center in Colorado Springs, four out of the 12 individuals were slated to sit out the Olympics. With Gabay’s help, though, they made it to their dream.
“We got them to the point where they could compete and they went to Atlanta and competed,” said Gabay. “That was a wonderful feeling and to get the phone calls and letters afterward saying ‘Doc, thanks for your help,’ that’s what it’s all about. That’s what the training is all about. It’s good to give back.”
Treating Olympic athletes isn’t much different than working with his everyday patients, said Gabay.
“When I have just the average individual coming in as a patient and dealing with debilitating back pain, there’s pressure to try and do your best for every patient get them better because they’ve got to maintain a job and family,” said Gabay. “That’s the same with Olympic athletes but it’s cranked up a little more.”
The pressure at the U.S. Olympic Training Center is eased a bit because the doctors work collectively to find solutions.
“That’s why we use a team approach. We all sit down and talk,” said Gabay. “We’re seeing that change in practice where everybody’s a part of the bigger team in working with patients and their best interests. We try to leave egos at the door.”
He’ll have to close his practice for his two weeks of Olympic work but it’s worth it, said Gabay.
“I’m looking forward to it. It’s real tough losing your practice for two weeks because there’s no income and an interruption in patient care,” said Gabay. “I try not to take any new patients for two weeks before.”
The 2014 Winter Olympics will be held in Sochi, Russia.