By Sarah Marshall
/ Published February 26, 2018
Dreams were realized, records were shattered, and memories were made this month in Pyeongchang, South Korea, by the 244 members of the U.S. Olympic Team who competed in 15 disciplines across seven sports ranging from snowboarding to ice dancing to curling.
But there was another select U.S. team in Pyeongchang, working out of the spotlight and not going for the gold. This team was charged with caring for the blisters, pulled or strained muscles, cold-related and other illnesses, broken bones, and all of the other potential health care needs of our nation’s most elite athletes – and a Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences sports medicine fellowship alumna was among them.
Dr. Allyson Howe served as the head physician of the U.S. Olympic women’s ice hockey team, which won the goal medal against Canada in this year’s games. This was Howe’s second trip to the Olympics; she supported the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, where she served as a general physician for U.S. Olympic Committee staff, family members and former Olympians.
Although Howe was the only USU program graduate to provide support to the international athletic competition this year, she’s not alone in her support for the Olympic Games. Retired Army Col. (Dr.) Kevin DeWeber, Army Col. (Dr.) James Lynch, Army Col. (Dr.) David Haight – all alumni of the Primary Care Sports Medicine Fellowship at USU -- worked behind the scenes to care for those competing for medals during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Haight and fellow alum Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Peter Muench supported the 2014 Sochi games with Howe.
Howe, a former Air Force physician, was selected for the National Capital Consortium's Military Primary Care Sports Medicine Fellowship based at USU in 2005. She went on to teach family and sports medicine in the Air Force at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, and later at the Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine, after leaving the Air Force in 2008. She joined the Air Force Reserve, and later the Air National Guard, retiring with 20 years of combined military service.
Howe also worked as a team physician for American University, the U.S. Naval Academy, the University of Southern Maine, St. Joseph’s College of Maine, and for the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League. In 2010, Howe started working with Team USA as a team physician for the International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 Women’s World Championship, and has since worked with the U.S. Women’s National Team. In 2014, she transitioned to her current position as the head team physician for the women’s program.
“I wanted to be a hockey player when I was 10. I tried to get my dad to let me, but it didn’t fit in our family plan,” Howe recently told the Portland Press Herald. Instead, her path ultimately led her to Sochi, and now, South Korea. “This is a very special trip,” said Howe. “It’s a dream come true to work with such dedicated and high quality athletes and people. It’s been quite inspiring to see how the team and staff have prepared every day over the past four years to reach the ultimate goal.”
For years, DeWeber shared similar dreams, aspiring to care for the best of the best as an Olympics physician. A 1992 USU School of Medicine alumnus, he was selected to serve as medical director of the High Performance Training Center, a 10-acre complex near the Olympic Village, where a number of USA teams trained and lived for several weeks for the 2016 Summer Olympics. He was chosen out of hundreds, he said, because of his experience over the years as a volunteer at the Olympic Training Center.
As the medical director in 2016, he served alongside several other providers who stood by to provide care for American athletes, officials, and delegates from wrestling, fencing, taekwondo, archery, boxing, judo, rugby, diving and gymnastics. He said the Olympics committee chose him for this position because he had graduated from a military fellowship – they liked that he had “excellent training” in addition to having the experience that helps military members think outside the box, problem-solve and embrace hardships while working as a team.
While on active duty, DeWeber served as director of the NCC Military Primary Care Sports Medicine fellowship at USU from 2007 to 2014. He was also responsible for the health and well-being of military athletes from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force during the 2007 Military World Games in India, which are modeled after the Olympics.
In 2011, he was the medical director for the military games in Rio de Janeiro. He retired from the Army in 2013 after 25 years. Today, he practices as a family and sports medicine physician in Vancouver, Washington, and, as he told The Columbian, his next big dream is to work as a physician for an Ultimate Fighting Championship event.
Lynch, an active duty Army physician and NCC Military Primary Care Sports Medicine fellowship graduate, also supported the 2016 Summer Olympics as a team physician for USA Swimming. He applied for the Olympics volunteer program in 2011, and his first assignment was to support an international competition in Russia and Germany.
Sports Medicine Physician
He has stuck with swimming ever since, treating chronic conditions, performing a variety of procedures, and assessing musculoskeletal injuries. He also now works as a sports medicine physician for U.S. Special Operations Command and, prior to this role, served as a command physician for U.S. Special Operations Command Africa.
Muench, also an active duty Army physician and NCC Military Primary Care Sports Medicine fellowship graduate, supported the 2014 Sochi Olympics, running the Team USA Medical Clinic, along with another physician, an athletic trainer and a chiropractor. They were available 16 hours each day at the mountain site, providing U.S. athletes “sideline” medical coverage at all alpine skiing, ski jumping, snowboarding, and “sliding” -- skeleton, luge, and bobsled -- events.
“We worked on a rotating basis in the clinic, so if I wasn’t at the clinic, I was on the mountain covering an event,” Muench said. “Being part of Team USA as a team physician at the mountain site during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, was truly the experience of a lifetime. It was incredibly busy, absolutely rewarding, and unbelievably fun.”
Haight, a former Army World Class Athlete Program physician and NCC Military Primary Care Sports Medicine fellowship graduate, supported the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio as a primary care physician for the Olympic Village, managing respiratory and gastrointestinal issues as well as mosquito-borne infections – even treating migraines caused by glaring lights and camera flashes.
He’s also had the privilege of supporting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games, and will soon cover USA Wrestling in Zagreb, Croatia, for the World Championships this summer.
‘Something Else Entirely’
At the Olympics, Haight said, he provided basic sick call and evacuation management assistance, as needed, and he also took advantage of his military training to provide basic tactical combat casualty care training to other providers. His journey started with a simple two-week internship at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center, he explained, working for the sports medicine directors, Dr. Bill Moreau and Dr. Dustin Nabhan. He was invited back to help provide medical coverage for the Sochi Winter Olympics. There, he said, he had the unique opportunity to care for athletes in the mountain village, providing daily medical coverage on the mountain for skiing, snowboarding, bobsledding and other events.
Haight said he was first hooked on operational sports medicine after he supported the Council Internationale Sports Medicine World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 2008, during his sports medicine fellowship. The CISM was created during World War II as a way for countries to come together through sports. Traveling with athletes and providing ringside, field-side and poolside coverage of sporting events is “amazing” – and a noble calling – but the opportunity to interface with international peers and athletes is “something else entirely,” he said. He cherishes the many fond memories and friendships that he made around the world.
“As military physicians, we have a unique perspective on ‘operational sports medicine.’ … You might find yourself serving your country in a means you never imagined,” Haight noted. “If you have an interest in sports medicine and are serving as a provider in the armed forces, you should not just consider the Armed Forces Sports Medicine fellowship, you should apply immediately. If you are an Armed Forces Sports Medicine fellowship-trained provider, you should take the time to coordinate a two-week elective Internship with the U.S. Olympic sports medicine department at one of their Olympic training centers. You won't regret it.”