Shen trainer helps Olympic hopefuls go for gold
A Shenendehowa High School athletic trainer is in Russia right now, helping American athletes gear up for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Rick Knizek learned early on when opportunity knocks - don't say no. A rotation with the U.S. Olympic Committee at the USA Training Center in California 10 years ago, led to a relationship with the medical staff at the center in Lake Placid.
That led him to where he is for two weeks this month - working as one of the medical trainers for the U.S. bobsled and skeleton teams in Russia.
When the training room at Shenendehowa High School gets slammed, an already in demand guy becomes even more popular. Rick Knizek doesn't mind. He's enjoys being wrapped up in his work as the head trainer at Shen.
“It's nice to be able to come back to where you grew up and give a little something back,” says Knizek.
The students love him, but they're learning to share him. Knizek spends a lot of time with the U.S. bobsled and skeleton teams at their training facility Lake Placid. Right now, he's traveling with those Olympic hopefuls to Russia - as they get acquainted with the brand new track at the Olympic Facility in Sochi.
“They're opening up the facility for an international training week,” explains Knizek. “A big part of the sport is being familiar with all the turns and everything associated with the track,” he adds.
It's the only time they can really get a feel for the track before they try to glide for gold in February.
The athletes will be racing like it's the real deal. And in these 15 days, anything can happen - including injury. It's Knizek's job to make sure the bobsled and skeleton athletes are eating well, getting rest and taking care of their bodies.
“They're pushing a 1,000 pound sled and sprinting on ice all at the same time, so it's a lot of shoulder, upper back, lower back, that just gets really stressed,” says Knizek.
There's also concern about traumatic injuries like concussions. And the fear of facial injuries.
“Skeleton is one of the these sports where you run the risk of jaw fracture because the chin/face is inches off the ice,” says Knizek.
This time of year, Knizek says there are also worries of cold and flu.
“We'll have antibiotics, over the counter stuff, anything you could possibly think of with us - it's a big deal,”
A very big deal for the athletes who are training, and a big deal for Knizek - who feels lucky to have landed this opportunity.
“It really is an honor. This is really their practice before the Olympic Games,” he says.
He won't be going to the Olympics in February, which he says is fine - winter high school sports will be in full swing and he doesn't want to miss too much.
After what he calls a once in a lifetime kind of experience in a foreign place, he knows it will feel good to be home where he got his start, with his Plainsmen again.
“I try not to treat them any different then I would the Olympians when I work with them. They're all your stars. They're all stars in their own right,” he says.
Knizek returns to the Capital Region on November 20th - we plan to catch up with him about his trip after he has a few days of rest.
When Knizek was a kid his dad took him to the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, where by chance, they watched the four-man bobsled competition. Seems like it was meant to be.