Wrestler Adeline Gray makes her sport look easy, but after a shoulder injury kept her from winning an Olympic medal in 2016, she hopes to prevent re-injury. Sarah Wilson is a research engineer at the Steadman Philippon Research Institute in Vail, Colorado, working at the forefront of biomedical engineering and injury prevention using the Dynamic Stereo X-Ray System (DSX). “Changing the Games” is a 10-part video series produced in collaboration with Lyda Hill Philanthropies.
Changing the Games – Preventing Injury With a World Champion Wrestler
KATHRYN TAPPEN reporting:
She's literally wrestled her way to the top. Five times.
ANNOUNCER: Adeline gray is a winner in all-caps!
TAPPEN: For freestyle wrestler Adeline Gray, it's more than just winning, it's breaking barriers.
ANNOUNCER: And great success again for the American who reaches uncharted territory for a United States wrestler!
ADELINE GRAY (5-Time World Champion): I am the first one to win five world titles for Team USA, male or female.
TAPPEN: Wrestling is a tough sport, but Gray makes it look easy, and it's in her blood.
GRAY: I started wrestling when I was six years old. My family, mom and dad, really loved the sport. And my dad got me into it and got me out on the mat, started showing me a few moves. And didn't realize it was going to be my entire life.
TAPPEN: By the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Gray had already won three world titles, and had been undefeated the past two years. But an injury to her shoulder plagued her Olympic debut and her dreams were smashed.
GRAY: I just had a lot of pain going into it. And I thought it was something minor. And it did prevent me from kind of giving my best wrestling on that day.
ANNOUNCER: Those dreams of gold go by the wayside.
GRAY: The MRI really didn't show what I thought was going on, until I went into surgery a few months later, and they were, like, “Oh, you have a lot more happening here than we expected.”
TAPPEN: Her injury stemmed from a fall she had months earlier, but the damage to her shoulder was worse than she thought.
GRAY: Wrestling is a very physical sport. And you do have bumps and bruises, and injuries. And it takes a support team to kind of figure out and identify what is hurt, and what is injured. “Hurt” you can work through, “injured” you should probably, you know, get it checked, and get it worked on.
TAPPEN: Sarah Wilson is a research engineer at the Steadman Philippon Research Institute in Colorado, working at the forefront of biomedical engineering and injury prevention. For Olympic athletes, injuries can be life-shattering, and it's Wilson's goal to help them after recovery to keep them from happening again.
SARAH WILSON (Steadman Philippon Research Institute): We're really trying to help prevent injuries, and improve treatments, for all athletes. In this lab, we have an incredible spectrum of tools and technologies, but we can see really fine details something that you might not even notice in your body after you've had an injury or a surgery.
TAPPEN: To help athletes like Gray with injury prevention, Wilson turns to a state-of-the-art technology called the Dynamic Stereo X-Ray system, or DSX. Unlike a typical X-ray at the doctor's office, the DSX shoots in super-high speed.
WILSON: We can take images as short as one millisecond. So 1/1000 of a second. And we can take up to 250 of those per second. So 250 images per second as short as one millisecond each. And then on top of that, we're taking X-rays from two angles, simultaneously.
TAPPEN: The two series of X-rays are then combined to create 3-D images of the joint.
WILSON: When we zoom in on that joint, the camera system will still be tracking everything else. So we can see what her whole body is doing, and the fine detail inside the joint.
TAPPEN: To prepare for the X-rays, data markers are taped all over Gray's body.
WILSON: These are little silver balls and that allows the camera system to see where the person is in the lab at all times. That camera system is synchronized with the X-ray system. They'll do a couple practice jumps so that we can make sure that they're lined up, that the X-rays are pointing the right direction, and then we'll go ahead and fire.
Set, and go!
TAPPEN: If the doctors know exactly how the muscles in the joint are supposed to move, any changes in the way the muscles move becomes instantly apparent. That’s the red flag for potential injury.
WILSON: By working side-by-side with the doctors at the research institute, we're able to take the problems that the physicians see and find solutions to them in a very hand-in-hand, kind of immediate sense.
TAPPEN: Gray is now fully recovered from her injury, and she's back and stronger than ever and doing what she can to prevent another injury in the future.
GRAY: All this work that I'm putting in, day to day, and all the right decisions that I'm making, are going to give me the best possible chance to win.
TAPPEN: Thanks to the work of engineers like Wilson, Gray's chances of preventing an injury are much greater, preparing her for when she's in a bind, and to claim victory.
GRAY: I am a great wrestler. It’s pretty special that I get to call myself an Olympian for the rest of my life.
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