By Wendy Sarubbi | November 20, 2015 1:42 pm

Two Olympic sprinters, an NFL lineman and a pro surfer shared with UCF medical students November 13 how their physicians play a key role in their sports victories and their quality of life. The world-class athletes spoke along with Dr. Gideon Lewis, a UCF grad and sports medicine specialist, at the second annual All-Star Sports Medicine Panel sponsored by the student Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Interest Group,

“In sports medicine, you have to incorporate a lot of creativity, as opposed to rigid, textbook answers,” said Dr. Lewis, the student group’s advisor. “That requires understanding the sport, and not just the injuries and conditions.”

Panelists showed the range of athletes Dr. Lewis treats: Olympic Gold Medalist Justin Gatlin, Team USA sprinter Kaylin Whitney, retired NFL lineman, Tra Thomas and former pro surfer Shea Lopez spoke at the event emceed by WFTV-TV Sports Anchor Christian Bruey.

The athletes emphasized the importance of working with physicians who use a team approach with other medical professionals such as chiropractors, athletic trainers and physical therapists. They also talked about having a personal connection with their doctors. “I always like the doctors who treat me like I’m not just a number or a form on a paper, I want us to get to know each other,” said Thomas, who battled a major back injury during his career, and sought physicians who were just as concerned about his quality of life after football, as they were with getting him back on the field.

Gatlin explained how sports medicine specialist had to think outside of the box, after many track athletes started getting the same Achilles injury one season. They eventually determined that the plates on the side of the athletes’ new running shoes were too stiff. “It actually short-changed a lot of athletes’ dreams of going to the Olympics” he said of the equipment-related injuries. “You have to have good medical staff to do research and determine if a shoemaker is pushing the envelope too far.”

The panel also warned students to be cautious about using “fad” treatments without proper scientific review. Gatlin recalled one such trend — cryogenic chambers used to treat foot and leg injuries through extreme cold. Gatlin said he received frostbite on his Achilles tendon just before a major race because technicians didn’t know he needed to dry off before entering the chamber.

Most of the students in attendance are considering sports medicine as a future specialty, and said that the event allowed them to view the science and clinical skills they are learning in class from a whole new perspective. “I really got insight into how an athlete’s body is different from the general population,” said first year student, Ravi Patel. “Seeing how a doctor’s approach changed based on the sport or the circumstances was really interesting.”

Lopez encouraged students to try and view healthcare from the athlete’s perspective and understand the pressure to perform. He explained how a devastating tear in his knee stemmed from his insistence that he could compete despite a nagging toe injury. “Every other time, I had the strength to support this leg, but that time, it wasn’t there, and it just gave out,” he recalled of how the knee tear happened. “I wasn’t at 100 percent, but I was competing like I was at 100 percent.”

Gatlin, who is gearing up for the 2016 Olympic trials at nearly 33 years old, said his longevity has much to do with his medical team. He encouraged future physicians to take the same approach. “They’re your biggest fans, and they want to see you do your best in life,” he said of his healthcare providers. “For that reason, I’m always willing to listen to what they say.”

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