Olympics Brings Recognition to Pedorthics

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By Miki Fairley

What was it like to be part of the first-ever pedorthics team to volunteer at the Olympics?

Excitement and enthusiasm overflow from Donna Robertson, CPed, ATC, as she describes her experiences during the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. The ten pedorthistseight from the US and two from Canadaworked with the foot and ankle medical team at the Polyclinic in the Olympic Village. Says Donna, All the physicians were very receptive to us as pedorthists and eager to see what we had to offer. When they did evaluations, they would bring us in and ask us what we saw and what we would recommend. We were really able to use our expertise.

Olympic athlete Coby Miller poses with Donna Robertson, CPed, ATC.
Olympic athlete Coby Miller poses with Donna Robertson, CPed, ATC.

The athletes too were very appreciative, Robertson says. "We had such positive results; some came back wanting a second pair of orthotics or wanting information on what to request when they returned to their home countries." Many of the athletes gave the pedorthists pins from their countries as a token of thanks; the pins were popular for giving and swapping during the events as tokens of friendship and appreciation. "I probably have about 30 pins from athletes I treated," says Robertson.

Athletes Keep Team Busy

The team was consistently busy. The foot and ankle team overall treated about 1,300 athletes; the pedorthists cared for 481 patients. "Often we would be treating one athlete while one or two more were waiting," says Robertson. The athletes needing pedorthic care were about equally divided among men and women and represented a wide variety of sports, including swimming, softball, basketball, men's and women's volleyball, judo, and weight lifting. "We never got bored--we were always thinking of new ways to meet their needs and understand their sport and its mechanics," she adds.

The pedorthists did not make any long-term corrective orthotics, according to Robertson. Overuse injuries were the primary problems seen, including tendonitis, heel pain, stress fractures, hallux ridges, and callus formation. Adding to foot problems was the 100-plus degree fahrenheit heat and concrete floors and walkways, with many of the athletes walking around in flip-flops, Robertson notes.

"It was fun learning new techniques and using the materials available to us--learning from one another," says Robertson. Tools and workspace were limited. The workspace was small compared to the large labs some of the pedorthists normally use. There was a small convection oven, a three-inch grinding wheel, and prefab EVA blank shells from which the pedorthists could design and fabricate orthotics using available materials.

Communication was a challenge; gestures and "sign language" helped, plus translators also helped communication with Russian, Italian, Mexican, Chinese, and Greek athletes, as well as others. At least three podiatrists and three orthopedic surgeons, who came from all over the world, were always in the patient care center. "The physicians were wonderful--so receptive," Robertson enthuses.

The foot and ankle team treated about 1,300 patients during the Olympics. Pictured are some of the team members: front row, from left, Maria Mavrou, senior podiatrist from Australia; an orthopedic surgeon from Greece, whose name was unavailable; and David Cardillo, CPed. Grouped around them in the back row, from left, are Brian Billings, CPed; Donna Robertson, CPed, ATC; Trnka
The foot and ankle team treated about 1,300 patients during the Olympics. Pictured are some of the team members: front row, from left, Maria Mavrou, senior podiatrist from Australia; an orthopedic surgeon from Greece, whose name was unavailable; and David Cardillo, CPed. Grouped around them in the back row, from left, are Brian Billings, CPed; Donna Robertson, CPed, ATC; Trnka "Hans" Hans Jorg, orthopedic surgeon; Mike Forgrave, CPed (c), CPed; Bill Meanwell, CPed; two unidentified nurses; and an unidentified clinic receptionist.

Robertson's adventure started as she got off the plane: "Just communicating and finding out where I needed to go from the airport was a challenge," she laughs. The pedorthics team was lodged in a beautiful four-level rented house on the beach. One of the highlights of the trip for Donna was being able to get to know her colleagues better. "Many of us only see each other at national meetings or when we're serving on boards. It was so pleasurable living and working with colleagues for over three weeks." The pedorthists worked out schedules and also worked with one another to enable everyone to attend some of the competitive events. "It was fun to see athletes competing that we had worked with," she says.

Just the excitement and adrenalin rush of the Olympic environment was very stimulating, Robertson says. "And it was wonderful to be part of it, making a difference." As an athletic trainer, she had worked with athletes as they prepared for the Olympics, but this was her first chance to actually experience the Olympics as part of a medical team. Robertson would like to see more certified pedorthists have a chance to participate in working with athletes. "They need to be exposed in order to understand these sports and the demands they make on bodies, in order to be effective pedorthists for athletes of this caliber."

Open Doors for Pedorthics

Robertson expresses appreciation for the work of Steven Mirones, CPed, and Matthew Mirones of Arimed, Brooklyn, New York, for their diligent work in getting pedorthics accepted into the Olympics medical spectrum. "As far as we know, pedorthics will be part of the Olympics foot and ankle medical team from now on. This has helped pedorthists to become recognized as professionals and to enhance our profession."

As she returns to her work at the Pedorthic Care and O&P Center, Birmingham, Alabama, Robertson looks ahead: "I can hardly wait to see what opportunities this opens up to pedorthists. There's the World Games, the Pan America Games, the Winter and Summer Olympics--this is just the beginning of how much pedorthics will be involved!"

Other pedorthists on the team included:

  • Brian Billings, CPed, Billings Orthotics & Footwear, Guelph, Ontario, Canada;
  • David Cardillo, CPed, The Foot Performance Center, Rochester, New York;
  • Mike Forgrave, CPed (c), CPed, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada;
  • Dane LaFontsee, CPed, Orthletek LLC, Waterford, Wisconsin;
  • Bill Meanwell, CPed, Rx Orthotics, Okmulgee, Oklahoma;
  • Steven Mirones, CO, CPed, president Arimed Orthotics, Prosthetics and Pedorthics, Brooklyn, New York;
  • Jessica Sanchez, CPed, Arimed Orthotics, Prosthetics and Pedorthics, Brooklyn, New York;
  • Fred Toenges, CPO, CPed, Toenges Shoes & Pedorthics, Ft. Wayne, Indiana; and
  • Louis Winskowski, CPed, Foot Support, St. Cloud, Minnesota.

Benchmark Medical Inc., headquartered in Malvern, Pennsylvania, also assisted in providing and coordinating information for this story.