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UI Health at the Olympics: Hutch’s Road to Rio

Dr. Mark Hutchinson in Rio for the Olympics 2016

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Dr Mark Hutchinson

Mark R. Hutchinson, MD
Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine at UI Health

Dr. Mark Hutchinson’s path to the 2016 Olympics Games in Rio de Janeiro was not that different from that of a world-class athlete: It was the result of decades of hard work, determination, and peak performance.

Hutchinson, professor of orthopaedics and director of sports medicine at UI Health, currently is in Rio part of the official medical staff for Team USA. The selection was the latest milestone in Hutchinson’s nearly three decades of service to Team USA.

How He Got Involved with Team USA

Affectionately referred to as “Hutch,” the head physician for UIC’s athletics teams got his start with Team USA after attending the first International Olympic Committee World Congress on Sports Sciences in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 1989. Connections there led to opportunities to serve as an onsite doctor at the facility, and he soon began traveling with various national sports teams. While Hutchinson continually sought opportunities to be involved with Team USA, a UIC connection also proved pivotal in his transition to the next level.

“Before the ’96 Games in Atlanta, I was bit by the bug, I wanted to get involved,” Hutchinson says. “I looked all around Chicago. ‘Where could I potentially volunteer to help?’ The Rhythmic Gymnastics team was training in Downers Grove. They had an open house. I put my CV in my back pocket, and I went to go knock on the door.

“I went in to go watch the open house, and across the gym this woman who came over and gave me this big hug and said, ‘Mark, what are you doing here?’ Her name was Gloria Balague. She was one of the (sports) psychologists from UIC. She’s worked with track and field, gymnastics, figure skating. She said, ‘Here, meet the president of USA Gymnastics, meet the house mom.’ And at that point, I was in.”

Hutch served as a physician for the Rhythmic Gymnastics team in 1996 and was on the Team USA medical staff for the 2006 Paralympic Games in Turin, Italy. Last summer he was invited to be a team physician for the 2015 Pan American Games, which is a sort of dry run for the Olympics.

“[The Pan Am Games] is their testing ground. Has been for years,” Hutchinson says, noting that the USOC staff wants to observe how well a doctor gets along with athletes but also how well they get along as part of a medical team. This winter, he formally was invited to be on the USOC medical staff for Rio.

What He’ll Be Doing at the Olympics

“I’ll do whatever I’m told to do!” Hutchinson jokes.

In reality, he’ll be part of a medical team of around two dozen people, six of which are medical doctors — three primary care MDs, three orthopaedic MDs. Athletic trainers and chiropractors also are part of the staff.

At the Games, the more high-profile sports like basketball and gymnastics, which have national governing bodies, will bring their own team doctor. But for the number of smaller sports that won’t have a team doctor, the USOC serves as a sort of safety umbrella.

“I call them the ‘orphan sports,’” Hutchinson says. “One example is equestrian. This year, equestrian will not be bringing a doctor to Rio. However, they’re at high risk. When they’re jumping, they could break their neck. [A doctor] will be at all the jumping sports for equestrian. But on top of that, let’s imagine gymnastics just has one doctor. Trampoline is practicing over here, they’re at risk. And the women are competing over here. The [team] doctor … can’t be in both places at one time. If they’re at risk, one of the USOC core doctors will be there.”

In the evenings, the team also will staff a medical area, where athletes can get aches and pains checked out and get recovery treatments like icing, compression, and massage.

What He’s Most Excited About

Despite all the travels and events with Team USA over the years, Hutch says he’s often so busy doing surgeries and seeing patients that it’s not till he’s on the plane that the excitement of covering an event hits him. But the Olympics?

“It’s just different,” he says. “Ever since I knew six months ago that I was formally going, every time somebody asks, I get a little more excited. It’s a little bit of that component of that dream, that goal that you’re accomplishing is finally going to come true. It’s different because it’s built up like that.”

Favorite Olympic Memory

“One of the memories I have as a kid was there was a slide on the playground, a big metal slide. And we’d get on the top of that thing, and we’d hold onto it, and we’d jump and slide down on our feet like ski jumpers. I was Yukio Kusaya of Japan. Why? Because at the [1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo] Yukio Kusaya won a gold medal for Japan, and it was this humongous story because it was this hometown guy that won.”

Fast forward to last summer, when Hutch was asked by the IOC to participate in an injury-prevention study in Lausanne, Switzerland, where the Olympic Museum is located.

"When I was at the museum, I was looking around. They have all kinds of paraphernalia and different things. They had his shoes there. They didn't have everything in the world, [but] they had Yukio Kasaya's shoes. Which is amazing to me, in terms of my youth," Hutchinson says.

How He's Personally Preparing

Hutchinson says his personal prep for the Games is pretty straightforward — "I'm comfortable with packing my own bag," he says — but the Rio Olympics will be unique.

"This has been a very weird Olympics Games," he says. "Remember, I am an orthopedic surgeon, and so I figure I'm going to tell my residents and students when I come back here to UIC all kinds of stories about sprained ankles and sore knees and sore shoulders. But, we're talking about polluted water. Atypical bacteria. Zika virus. It may very well be an infectious disease Olympics. So you're going to tell stories about were the concerns we had real? What happened with some minor illnesses that occurred? These are major concerns for the medical team."