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Arnold Sports Festival Medical Team: What I Learned Taking Care of 23,000 Athletes

At the end of February (yes, this has taken me almost 2 months to finally write), I had the incredible opportunity of working on the medical team for the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, OH for the first time. Imagine a group of less than 600 people responsible for the medical care of 23,000+ athletes and hundreds of thousands of festival attendees, workers, and spectators, all being coordinated via HAM radio. If you think that sounds insane and nearly impossible to accomplish, you'd be right. It took a massive amount of planning by our medical director and leadership team, and no shortage of hard work. To be honest, I was just proud to be a part of it! When I wasn't running around like a chicken with my head cut off, I tried to take in the true scale of the undertaking and bring home some knowledge that I can apply to my own patients, athletes, and followers. So here's what I learned from four days of ordered chaos...

First of all, I learned (again) the valuable lesson about doggedly pursuing things that you are passionate about. Although I was absolutely thrashed by the end of the weekend, it was a massive spiritual recharge. Combining my two biggest passions in one place was AWESOME. I felt like I was doing what I was put on this planet for, and that is a great feeling. In fact, it was such a great feeling that I can honestly say that I barely noticed the back pain and sciatica I have been dealing with for months. Pain is a tricky phenomenon (and very psychological). In any case, no matter what you do for work, find time for your passions. These are what will sustain you when you are putting your nose to the grindstone. I can not stress this enough, and working at the Arnold was a great reminder for me.

Second, I was reminded of the importance of adequate sleep, nutrition, and hydration, even when one is not competing. By the end of the weekend, I was absolutely exhausted and so were my colleagues. However, I noticed that I tended to fare better than many of them throughout our 16+ hour work days. It could be that I'm crazy passionate about strength sports and sports medicine (strength sports medicine?) and I was HEAVILY caffeinated at all times, but the biggest difference that I observed was the structure of my intake throughout the day. I was constantly drinking water and had a large amount of snacks in my backpack. I spaced out my protein, fat, and carb intake every few hours and didn't just hammer large, heavy, greasy meals when we got one of our minimal breaks. Little things like keeping your calorie/carb intake spaced out can really make a difference when you have long work days like that. Unfortunately, I didn't plan my sleep quite as well and had quick turnarounds from our late nights to early mornings. I paid for this the following week when I got a serious man cold. And yes, I was a total baby about it and my wonderful wife took care of me.

I was also reminded that the "health" part of the health and fitness industry is a VERY small proportion. Pseudoscience, ineffective (and occasionally dangerous) supplements, and promotion of lifestyles that have hazardous effects on your heath are an infection at these type of events. Booth after booth of vendors hawking worthless products using videos and images of athletes who have dieted down for months to look a certain way but feel like absolute garbage. What's even better, few of these models actually use the products they are selling. The dirty secret about this industry is that it is built on the backs of poor body image and misunderstood (but well-marketed) pseudoscience. As a strength athlete myself, I recognize the unhealthy aspects of our sports, but the supplement companies take it to another level. Unfortunately, without their dollars, we couldn't have the money or spectators necessary to build our respective strength sports (even if the throngs of people made it tough to watch said sports most of the time). In any case, all I ask is that when you attend these expos or similar events is that you think critically before buying into the hype. If it sounds too good to be true, IT IS. If the person hocking it to you looks like they might be taking something a little more potent than the latest and greatest BCAA/creatine/goat milk blend, the supplement they're selling probably wasn't the secret to their success. And PLEASE support the actual sports at these things instead of spending all your time at the expo booths.

Speaking of those sports, these were some awesome athletes to cover. From weightlifting to kettlebells to jiujitsu to powerlifting to amateur and pro strongman, it was incredible to watch. And these were just the sports that I covered! Jiujitsu was probably the craziest, with athletes everywhere from 4 to 70 years old, all of whom were very impressive. Watching this sport and seeing the injuries involved was a good reminder of the importance of technique, mental toughness, and mobility as an athlete. These lessons can be applied to all sports, and were echoed in each of the other sports that I covered. I would make the argument that these are some of the FUNDAMENTALS of success as an athlete. Technique makes you stronger, more efficient, and less prone to injury. Mental toughness helps you push through exhaustion and pain something the Wheel of Pain really brought out in every athlete! In addition, this helps to delineate the difference between "hurt" and "injured." The pediatric grapplers were shining examples of this dichotomy. Some of them got it, and some of them did not. I bet you can probably guess which ones went home with trophies. The importance of mobility is obvious in a sport like jiujitsu, but one needs to be able to achieve all the necessary positions for their sport safely, and should not even consider competing until they are able to do so.

All in all, covering a massive event like the Arnold Sports Festival was an amazing experience, one that will be difficult to replicate. I learned a ton more than I wrote here, and will probably realize more as I continue to reflect back on such an incredible weekend. I will absolutely be back in Columbus next year! Keep an eye out for me in the medical areas, but if I'm not there, I'm probably competing! Stay healthy and strong, folks.

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