February 22, 2010 / 3:18 AM / 8 years ago

Olympics-Medical team emerges from mountain's shadows

WHISTLER, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Only once Rachel Crook got off the ski course did she realise that millions of people had watched her do what she had done hundreds of times before in relative obscurity -- rescue a fallen skier.

The skier is “a patient who needs our help,” but he is also an Olympic athlete on race day, thrusting Crook and her fellow mountain medical team members on to the world stage.

“When we got down for debrief, our chief of patrol said ‘Wow, you guys did so great ... you were in view of 6,000 people in the stands and how many millions of people on TV’,” said Crook.

“It did not occur to me once,” said the accountant by weekday and ski patrol member by weekend from Calgary, Canada.

Crook, like the 60 ski patrol members and doctors on the Whistler Alpine medical team, has volunteered for the Feb. 12-28 Winter Games.

They form a close-knit crew who relish the challenge of working on the cold, steep slopes. They are also known to have a good time when the working day is over.

The Alpine skiing events on Whistler mountain have featured some spectacular crashes, bringing out an instant swarm of bright blue coats and red backpacks with white crosses to the snowy piste.

With some two dozen of them on the course for a race, Crook and her colleagues will “assess the patient and probably package them and get them to the next, higher level of care.”

Canadian skier Emily Brydon took a nasty fall in the women’s super-G on Saturday and said the medical team “is so well organised, they were beside me before I stopped moving, I think.”

In these Games, after the team’s initial response, athletes may be pulled off the piste by helicopter, hoisted up on a long line that leaves them swinging like a tea bag.

The helicopter, however, does not mean severe injuries are involved. Rather, it is Canada’s way of getting hobbled athletes off hard-to-reach slopes and letting the race continue.

‘A REALLY GOOD DAY’

The busiest day for this team was the women’s downhill last week. Several racers careered off the treacherous course into netting, toppled and rolled down the steep finish or caught too much air on the final jump and landed with a thud.

It was a day full of adrenaline, and relief.

“As much as nobody likes anybody to get hurt, it is one of those things where they want to be able to help and put their training into practice,” said Joan Maguire, who manages all the medical services for Whistler’s venues.

“So for the team, it was a really good day for them because no one got really seriously hurt.”

That has not been the case over at the Whistler Sliding Centre, where the medical team there had to deal with the worst tragedy of these Olympics, the death of a Georgian luger in a horrific training crash hours before the Games opened.

Maguire said that team was at the crash site “within seconds” and did everything they could. Counselling services were brought in and many team members have used them.

“It was a very sad way to start the Games, but I am proud of the way in which they dealt with it,” said Maguire.

One of the reasons these medical teams work so well is that they have a great sense of family, in work and in play.

“That is why I can get these people to come out here for three weeks,” said Maguire.

For Crook, working at the Olympics is “the biggest honour that there is,” but she is not intimidated by the spotlight.

“All your training -- and we do a lot of training and practice -- really kicks in and you go with it and you are not even thinking this is an Olympic athlete and the world is watching me.”

Editing by Ed Osmond; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com

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