Army doctor attends to Olympic athletes behind the scenes

By Tim HippsAugust 17, 2016

Madigan doctor cares for Olympic athletes
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Former U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program physician Col. David Haight had no idea of the essential role he would play during the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympic Games.

Haight, a physician currently serving as the chief of family medicine and primary care sports medicine director at Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, was honored when he was asked to join Team USA's march into Maracana Stadium on Aug. 5.

"Day in and day out, we are surrounded [in Rio] by past and future Olympians. It is an amazing experience," Haight said. "But when I changed into the Ralph Lauren Opening Ceremonies outfit, and walked downstairs into the crowd of Olympians … I really felt like I was a part of something special."

Haight is accustomed to being around world-class athletes, but he had never been among so many amateur and professional athletes all mingling together.

"We have athletes being treated in the medical treatment facility and watching other athletes on the TV," he explained. "It's really surreal to have athletes from different disciplines cheering for the other athletes and going on about their heroes."

On their way to the stadium, Haight decided to introduce some of the stargazers to the stars.

"For opening ceremonies, I got on one of the buses with the fencing team and, like many of the other athletes, they were gushing about players from the NBA [who were] standing outside," Haight said.

One of the women on the fencing team was on the verge of fainting with excitement, Haight remembered.

"I walked out and asked [NBA stars] Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Kyle Lowry, Harrison Barnes and Jimmy Butler to come over to the bus," Haight said. "It was absolutely hilarious to see the reaction from the bus. It was one of my prouder moments."

Haight later put his medical expertise to use when he realized the uniform shoes Team USA wore for opening ceremonies weren't exactly designed for comfort. For the nearly four-hour show, Haight carried some basic taping supplies and limited over-the-counter medications into Maracana Stadium.

"I was pretty proud that I was able to help out several athletes and even one team physician with timely tape applications as we walked in," he said.

When one athlete approached him complaining of a severe migraine caused by the glaring lights and camera flashes, Haight pull out his sunglasses from his pocket to reach for some Motrin, but she grabbed the sunglasses instead and thanked him.

"I hadn't planned on using my sunglasses as a medical device, but was glad to be able to help her through the opening ceremony," he said.

Haight said the lion's share of the treatment of athletes during the Olympics is conducted by the exceptional physical therapists, massage therapists and chiropractors of the U.S. Olympic Committee and national governing bodies of the respective sports.

However, in Haight's role as the primary care physician for the Olympic Village, he manages respiratory and gastrointestinal issues as well as mosquito-borne infections. While most of the teams have physicians assigned to them, Haight gets to help care for the triathlon team as well.

"I'm really looking forward to that as I was a triathlete back in the day," said Haight. "These folks are on a different level."