August 2012

Out on a limb: Olympic inspiration

Jordana Bieze Foster, Editor

Images from the London Olympics were everywhere in late July and early August—on our televisions, our radios, our computer screens, and our smart phones. Flags were flown, national anthems played, and countries ranked by medal count. In so many ways, the Olympics are about the achievements of individual nations. But a closer look reveals a more complex picture.

Here in the US, of course, Olympic coverage tends to be all about the red, white, and blue. We are made to feel as if Team USA embodies the best that America has to offer in terms of talent, training, injury management, and coaching. But in reality, few US Olympians are 100% American-made.

Many, for example, immigrated from other countries. My own favorite US Olympian, imposing beach volleyball player Phil Dalhausser, was born in Switzerland. Others who compete for Team USA despite being born elsewhere include marathoner Meb Keflezighi (from Eritrea), gymnast Danell Levya (Cuba), water polo player Tony Acevedo (Brazil), and track athlete Sanya Richards-Ross (Jamaica).

Other international connections are even more likely to influence an athlete’s success. There are coaches who hail from other countries—the best known being Bela Karolyi, head coach of the US women’s gymnastics team, who was born in Hungary and retains dual citizenship in both the US and Romania. Athletes in sports that are not revenue generators in the US—such as team handball, most martial arts, indoor volleyball, and even soccer—regularly go elsewhere to train or to compete against tougher opponents.

So in many ways the successes of Team USA are anything but all-American. They’re actually the product of international experiences, ideas, and innovations.

The same can be said for the successes of American lower extremity practitioners.

As part of your training, you’ve all studied the findings of researchers and innovators from outside the US: Benno Nigg, Gert-Peter Bruggeman, Greta Myklebust, Gavriil Ilizarov, Ignacio Ponseti—the list goes on.

But not many practitioners seem willing to actually leave the safety of their home country to better immerse themselves in the global healthcare experience. I’ve attended six international conferences outside the US in the last three years and am constantly amazed at how infrequently my fellow attendees are also my fellow Americans.

That’s too bad, and not just because some of the most interesting research never ends up being presented in the US. The clinical discussions that take place among colleagues from various countries during platform sessions, during the breaks between sessions, and during conference-related social events can be equally enlightening. And companies exhibiting at international events, some of whom approach clinical challenges from a completely different perspective than an American company might, often are willing to find ways to work with customers in the US even if they don’t have a formal market presence here.

I know international travel typically requires a considerable investment of both money and time that not all of us have at our disposal. But being open to the best that other countries have to offer never made anyone less successful. Not in the Olympics, and not in healthcare.

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