Olympic long jumper Brittney Reese works with a team of medical professionals, including Dr. Monique Burton, physician and chair of the USA Track and Field Sports Medicine and Science Committee. Not only does Dr. Burton ensure that Reese and other track & field athletes can perform at their highest levels, she also addresses any medical issues they may have both on and off the field of competition. “Changing the Games” is a 10-part video series produced in collaboration with Lyda Hill Philanthropies.
Changing the Games – Track Doctors on the Front Lines
KATHRYN TAPPEN reporting:
It was the jump seen ‘round the world.
BRITTNEY REESE (Olympic Gold Medalist): When you're hitting your last two steps and you're flying, oh, you definitely know. And the crowd lets you know that they know.
ANNOUNCER: Seven-twelve for Brittney Reese!
TAPPEN: Brittney Reese is one of the most successful long jump athletes in the world. At the 2012 Olympic Games in London, she captured the gold medal in the long jump, becoming the first American woman in over 20 years to accomplish this feat.
REESE: Winning that was honestly one of the best days of my career because I know how hard I worked to get there. And just to succeed and have that opportunity come towards me I felt nothing but blessed for that day.
TAPPEN: Four years later, Reese claimed a silver medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Now she’s determined to go for the gold again at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
REESE: So, the same approach that I took in 2012 will be the same approach that I’m taking now in 2020. So, getting faster, getting stronger will be a big part of my plan.
TAPPEN: And a key player in that plan is Dr. Monique Burton. She knows what athletes need from personal experience. As a teenager, she had been an elite gymnast who competed at the national level with dreams of competing in the Olympic Games. After suffering from a shoulder injury in high school, she was treated by a pediatrician who was also into sports medicine.
Dr. MONIQUE BURTON (Physician, USA Track & Field): And I said, “Wow, this is the first person who was really able to help me with my injury.” And so, from that point on I decided I wanted to go into medicine, become a pediatrician, become a sports medicine physician, and that's how my pathway evolved.
TAPPEN: In addition to her work as a medical doctor at Seattle Children’s Hospital, Dr. Burton volunteers as the chair of USA Track and Field Sports Medicine and Science Committee. There, she is part of a dedicated team of medical professionals that provides round-the-clock care for athletes like Reese, from the practice field to the Olympic stadium.
BURTON: We're working on lot of projects as well as anything we think may be beneficial for the athletes. So, continuity of care, addressing any injuries or illnesses that come up, and making sure that their health is well cared for, so they can optimize their performance.
TAPPEN: Dr. Burton acts as a rapid responder, constantly checking in with the athletes and staying alert. Competition days are crucial. She, and medical experts like her must quickly assess an athlete’s condition at a moment’s notice. Whether it be a minor sprain or a torn tendon, they need to decide if it should be treated on the field of play or at a medical facility.
BURTON: As a physician, we make sure that we're positioned in a place that we're able to be available at their first line of sight when they come off of the track after competing. So that if there's something that came up, that we can address it immediately, and communicate with the rest of the staff to make sure that they're cared for as quickly as possible.
TAPPEN: Off the competition field, Dr. Burton meets with Reese regularly so that she feels comfortable discussing any problems that may arise during training.
BURTON: Tomorrow's a hard day.
REESE: Yeah, the 150s.
The first time I think I worked with Dr. Burton was in Birmingham. And, you know, it was-- she’s a lovely lady and real fun to talk to.
TAPPEN: One of the first things Dr. Burton does when meeting with an athlete like Reese is conduct an extensive medical screening. This makes Dr. Burton immediately aware of anything that could impact an athlete’s performance. During Reese’s screening, Dr. Burton learned she suffered a hip labrum injury in 2013 which had required surgery and rehabilitation.
BURTON: If something were to come up or if we see her in some way struggling, then we would be able to say, “Okay, she has this history of this injury. Is there anything that we need to do to support that?”
TAPPEN: This information could lead to more thorough examinations, including imaging studies, like an MRI, which Dr. Burton would use to help troubleshoot the issue. For Reese, physical therapy-like exercises included in her training help limit the possibility of a re-injury.
BURTON: My interactions with Brittney have been great in the sense that Brittney takes such good care of her body. And if we need to address anything, we can take care of it as quickly as possible. And have that familiarity and connection with her already established.
TAPPEN: After going into medicine, Dr. Burton thought that she would never make it to the Olympics. Fortunately, that was not the case.
BURTON: And although it's not as an athlete, I have the opportunity to go as a physician and support people who are competing as athletes. It's just really such an honor to have been able to do.
REESE: The medical staff for team USA at an Olympics event is always top notch. We rely on heavily on those people.
TAPPEN: Thanks to the medical expertise of Dr. Burton and people like her, Reese will be ready to take on the world at the 2020 Olympic Games, one jump at a time.
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