In the small towns in Nebraska and Illinois where Joy Anderson grew up, folks used to hose down the high school tennis courts and their backyards to make rinks in the winter.
The makeshift ice provided hours of fun as Joy and her friends played hockey and tried to do skating tricks they had seen on TV. But they were a long way from figure skaters in shimmering outfits, spinning and jumping on ice.
Every four years, the Winter Olympics would return and Joy, like most Americans, glued herself to the TV to see the skaters, skiers, and sliders compete.
“They were my favorite sporting events growing up. I always thought the ultimate sporting achievement was to be an Olympian and to be on Team USA,” Joy said.
Now she gets to go to the Olympics herself. She will serve as the team physical therapist (PT) for U.S. Figure Skating.
“I am the most unlikely person you would ever think of being a figure skating PT. We had rodeo and basketball where I grew up. We didn’t have figure skating. The only exposure I ever had was watching it during the Olympics,” said Joy, who is a PT and a certified athletic trainer at UCHealth Sports Therapy Clinic – Colorado Center.
Supporting skaters for years – Now headed to the Olympics
She has been working with athletes for more than 25 years and first started supporting skaters while working in a PT clinic in the athletic training room at the University of Denver. DU, long known for its powerhouse ice hockey teams, also had a strong figure skating program.
When a national-level skater was injured, his coach brought him to Joy for treatment. Fortunately, the skater got better and Joy found herself caring for a whole new group of athletes.
As she learned about their sport and the types of injuries that are common in skating, Joy started working with the U.S. Figure Skating Association in Colorado Springs. Eventually she started traveling to competitions around the world to provide physiotherapy services to junior, then senior-level skaters.
She has traveled throughout Asia and Europe, volunteering her time, but getting to see the world, and meet and treat the world’s top skaters
“I’ve been able to do some really cool things through my association with U.S. Figure Skating. I’ve spent time at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, traveled around the world, met great people and worked with some amazing athletes.”
Over the years, Joy has attended every type of competition – except the biggest one of all.
She learned about 18 months ago that U.S. Figure Skating had picked her as the official PT for the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Supporting the skaters 24/7 will be a marathon job, but the pinnacle of Joy’s career.
A beautiful coastal venue
“It’s a huge honor to be chosen to be on Team USA. For a sports medicine practitioner, it’s a highlight of your career, the cherry on the sundae so to speak,” Joy said.
“My job, along with the doctor, is to take care of the athletes. I’ll be at all the practices and competitions, and working with them in between. That will pretty much be my life for the three weeks I am at the games.”
Joy traveled with the team to South Korea last February for a trial event at the official Olympic venue. There are two Olympic village complexes, one in the mountains, and one closer to the coast. All skating events take place in the coastal village, while the skiing events take place in the mountains, about a 30-minute train ride away.
“The rink is beautiful and not freezing cold, which is a bonus when you are there all day,” Joy said.
At events like the Olympics, when the pressure is so great, Joy said her job is to keep things as normal and as low-key as possibl
“I’ve been in contact with most of the skaters’ providers to see what treatments they are receiving at home,” Joy said. “I do exactly what they want me to do. I’m not a drama queen. My job is to be even keeled and not add to the craziness.”
Joy works with both the men and women, including ice dancers and pairs.
“Some are very healthy and some need work,” she said.
In general, the injuries Joy deals with most often are hip, back, and foot and ankle issues. For the pairs and dancers, shoulder injuries are more common.
Her go-to treatments when athletes are in the middle of big competitions center on soft-tissue techniques.
“At that point, you’re not trying to do rehab, you’re trying to keep them feeling good and staying healthy so they can perform. I do a lot of manual therapies like joint mobilization, stretching, and soft-tissue work.”
Joy can’t dish about her favorite competitors, but she’s excited to see if Nathan Chen can pull off five quad jumps in his program, if Mirai Nagasu will become the first American woman to land a triple axel at the Olympics and if the U.S. ice dancers can bring home a medal.
Lessons from Olympians for everyday athletes
Joy said Olympic athletes can teach all of us some important lessons. Among them:
- Set a goal and be willing to do what it takes to accomplish it. Success doesn’t happen by accident.
- Hard work and determination make all the difference. “It’s not uncommon in sports, and I’ve seen it at the elite level this year, you can’t count anyone out. People are injured, then they work and work and refuse to give up and they’re back in it.”
- Surround yourself with a team who can help you accomplish your goals. No elite athlete succeeds on his or her own. They depend on support systems they have built over time. Create your own networks of support. Enlist others to help you achieve your goals.
Joy said she’s incredibly proud to be part of Team USA.
“I’m part of getting them where they need to go,” she said. “It’s going to be a lot of work and it’s stressful. But, it’s going to be a blast.
“The athletes get to have their big moments and we get to be in the middle of the action.”
And there’s one other big bonus.
“I’m looking forward to getting all my Team USA gear.”