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Injuries can be ‘crushing’ for athletes

Published: Aug. 5, 2021 at 9:04 AM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - It’s an unfortunate, but inevitable side of watching the Olympic games. Athletes who pour their heart and soul into a sport only to be injured and no longer able to compete.

This year, it’s not only the physical side of things but the mental aspect that has taken center stage.

Swimming is a year-round sport. That’s why former UofL swimmer and Olympian Kelsi Dahlia was at Blairwood training like she always does.

Dahlia swam for UofL and competed in Rio as part of the 2016 4x100 meter medley relay that took home gold. So she knows better than anyone the toll it takes on a person’s body to be an Olympian.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever had a day or a week that I’ve had my body feeling 100 percent. Even at the competition, at the Olympics, I doubt that there’s an athlete there that feels like their body is perfect,” she said.

It’s something most of us sitting at home watching can’t fathom. Never feeling 100 percent yet competing at that level.

“We’re always trying to fix some sort of ache or pain, and for me, it’s my shoulders that are always hurting,” Dahlia said.

For her, that means a lot of dry needling, stretching, foam rolling always working on recovery.

“Some of the most common injuries tend to be what we call soft tissue injuries. So sprains, strains, bruising,” UofL Health sports medicine medical director Dr. Jennifer Daily said.

Daily helps some of our local athletes ready for the games.

“The Olympic year, everybody is just on a whole different level of awareness, are we rested, what’s our nutrition like, what’s our conditioning like,” Daily said.

Their team takes care of UofL athletes before they leave, getting them ready and prepped before another medical team takes over once the athletes arrive in the village.

“It’s like the culmination of all the work you’ve done over four years with the best of the best,” Daily said.

Daily said it’s important to remember that none of the athletes get to this stage alone. So an injury is crushing.

“They have their family, they have their coaches, their medical staff, their strength and conditioning, nutrition, sport performance all of that. So that injury, if it happens, is devastating,” she said.

But daily said because of the prep work, injuries are actually pretty rare. She said in 2016, of the 11,000 athletes who competed only 8 percent had injuries, with BMX being the highest. And with the world this year talking about Simone Biles and mental health, the athletes who’ve been there say it’s a conversation a long time coming.

“On the mental health side of things too, I’m really proud of the way the Olympic movement and sports, in general, are really emphasizing mental health. Because it’s a lot of pressure,” Dahlia said.

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