Only a select few athletes reach the pinnacle of international sports competition in the Olympic and Paralympic games. For elite athletes, years of commitment and training often culminate on a singular performance, where fractions of a second can serve to validate their dedication. And, for every successful athlete, there is an entourage of family, friends, coaches, and supporters behind them that have built the foundation for success. For many elite athletes with disabilities, however, access to expert sport medicine services are far more limited than their able bodied counterparts.
Few physicians in the world are more equipped to understand the unique needs and motivations of elite athletes with a disability than Dr. Cheri Blauwet. A decorated champion, Dr. Blauwet is a seven-time medalist at the Paralympic Games and a two time Boston Marathon Women’s Wheelchair champion. Having herself taken endless training runs before the sun rises, she keenly understands the needs of this athlete population. Moreover, as a clinician with a focus on sports medicine and the health of athletes with disabilities, she is now harnessing that background to bring forth new approaches in clinical practice, research, and innovation.
Even before completing her medical training, Dr. Blauwet transitioned from her role as an athlete to continue work with the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) as a member of their Medical Committee, which she now Chairs. “At Spaulding, the groundwork for excellence had already been laid by leaders such as Mary Patstone and our renowned Adaptive Sports program. Now, we’re building on that work to bring a greater understanding of outcomes related to adaptive sports participation and injury prevention, so that we can better support both community-based and elite level athletes,” said Dr. Blauwet.
While at Spaulding she was able to connect with Dr. Howard Knuttgen, a fellow member of the Department, former President of the American College of Sports Medicine, and longtime coordinator of publications for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Medical Commission. Dr. Knuttgen mentored Blauwet, facilitating her initial contribution of a recent chapter on athletes with disabilities to the IOC Handbook titled “The Female Athlete.”
“There is a significant opportunity to work with female elite athletes with disabilities and to investigate how the female athlete triad may impact their risk of injury and illness. The knowledge base is not yet where it should be to appropriately serve this population, and we are trying to change that,” said Dr. Blauwet.
Spaulding Adaptive Sports Centers, in addition to providing year-round programming for people of all abilities to engage in sports, has also served as an official US Paralympic Sport Club, recently earning designation as a bronze level club within the Paralympic Sport Club Excellence Program. Spaulding already sent its first Paralympian to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi in the sport of wheelchair curling. This year, a participant introduced to adaptive sports has qualified for the US Paralympic Track and Field trials in amputee sprinting, and is on track to make the team for Rio 2016.
This past year Dr. Blauwet was named as the Director of the Kelley Adaptive Sports Research
Institute at Spaulding Rehabilitation Network. The goal of the Institute merges all of her passions related to clinical care, research, and advocacy. “From investigating performance in elite Paralympic athletes, I’m energized to work with my colleagues to make a positive difference in the quality of care for all adaptive sports athletes.”
“Globally, adaptive sports and the Paralympic movement are on an incredible trajectory of growth. By developing a model of excellence in clinical care, research, and innovation, we know that we can lead the way in ensuring that all individuals with disabilities have opportunities to lead active, empowered lives through sports and physical activity. While we have much work ahead, the promise is endless” concluded Blauwet.
Spaulding is a remarkable pace with remarkable people and remarkable techniques. The program helped me in so many ways.
—A Patient with Remarkable Recoveries