When the Paralympics begin in Rio on Sept. 7, a Kazakhstan swimmer – Anuar Akhmetov – will carry the flag for his nation, a symbol that represents freedom, power and the flight to the future.
When Akhmetov takes to the pool, dozens of UCHealth employees will be cheering him and his teammates. In August, only weeks before the games, clinicians at UCHealth examined seven Kazakhstan Paralympians during their recent three-week stay at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. The team wanted to train at high altitude before heading to RIO and also have medical check-ups completed by medical experts from the United States.
The medical check-ups give the athletes confidence in the health of their bodies.
“I want to be here. I want to do my best, and I want my body to be the best and fast in the water,’’ Akhmetov said.
The visit to an international training facility is the first for the Kazakhstan Paralympic team, said Yerik Ilyassov, fundraising manager for the National Paralympic Committee of the Republic of Kazakhstan. After completing the second of their three-week training regimen at the OTC, the team scheduled visits with UCHealth medical experts.
“Colorado Springs is very nice to train at before Olympic competition because of its highlands – the altitude. We will go to sea level in Brazil, and it will feel very easy,’’ Ilyassov said.
He said the team wants its athletes to have medical examinations that “meet international standards,’’ to determine how the athletes can grow stronger, healthier and improve.
“The physicians are very polite, they have a good approach. The physical examination takes one hour, not 10 minutes. The doctors are focused on each part of the body, and it is very important for us. They are using best practices,’’ Ilyassov said.
While at UCHealth Memorial Hospital, the team was examined by Drs. Brittney Jergovich, D.O., and Paolo Bahr, D.O., both part of Colorado Health Medical Group, UCHealth’s provider group. The team also met with physical therapists and had EKGs and blood work completed by the laboratory. The results of those tests were reviewed by Jergovich and Bahr.
“As long as the results are kosher, then they are safe to participate,’’ said Jergovich, who joined UCHealth this summer and works at UCHealth Primary Care in the Printers Park Medical Plaza.
She said that the team was especially interested in how their bodies adapted in the high altitude. She said training in high altitude increases the number of red blood cells, which improves blood flow to the tissue and lung capacity.
June Besler, clinical manager for the Primary Care facility located at PPMP, said the clinic often sees athletes from the OTC who come for ear infections, flu-like symptoms and minor ailments.
Akhmetov, a swimmer who has been visually impaired since birth, says the opportunity to receive medical care in America and swim in the same pool where Olympic legend Michael Phelps trained was exhilarating.
“I’m very happy to be here,’’ he said during an appointment at an outpatient rehabilitation session where Justin Doerner, a physical therapist, completed a Functional Mobility Screen with Akhmetov.
“This is a simple test where we are trying to see what his range of motion is and then when we find discrepancies we create a plan on what needs to be focused on for training,’’ said Jacques Tajuna, a physical therapist. “What we are basically looking for are limitations and then we analyze it and develop a routine for strengthening specific areas to improve performance.’’
Akhmetov said he will take what he learns in the United States and apply it to his training. He competes in several swimming events – all the strokes – but his favorite is the 50-meter freestyle.
Having a strong performance in the Olympics, Ilyassov said, is a big step for Kazakhstan. In London, the team finished 12th among 200 countries.
“We want to improve and get better,’’ he said. “We will take what we learn here back with us.’’