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Holmes offers helping hand to Olympic skaters

MIDDLEBURY — When most people think about vacation, they don’t imagine giving massages and taping up injuries on three hours of sleep a night. But when Judy Holmes takes her three weeks of vacation this year, she’ll be doing just that.
Holmes will spend most of February in Vancouver, British Columbia, as the official physical therapist of the U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Team. The Weybridge resident has been a physical therapist in sports medicine for 27 years. In that time, she has attended the Olympics as a therapist for individual athletes and has traveled to championship events with the national team about once a year since 1992, but this will be her first Olympics as team therapist.
The position as team PT is solely volunteer, although at the more elite levels the team will pay for travel and a small per diem. To Holmes, though, the trip is worth it.
“It’s continuing education,” she said.
Over her years working with figure skaters, she has met most of the key players in the sport and has been to elite competitions all over the world, including in Japan, Italy, Bulgaria and Sweden.
“Anyone who’s been skating from the ’90s on, I’m pretty well acquainted with,” she said.
Holmes started out working primarily with dancers. Her introduction to figure skating came in 1990, when her boss in San Francisco was pregnant and couldn’t travel with a figure skater client so Holmes filled in. From there, Holmes went with the team to the world championships in Oakland. Later she worked with the team at the national championships. as well.
“One thing just led to another, and I got involved with the sport,” said Holmes.
After so much time on the road with figure skaters, the jump from national team PT to Olympic team therapist might seem easy — the team is made up mostly of the same skaters, and Holmes is a longstanding member of the U.S. Figure Skating Association. But getting to the Olympics is a little more complicated. After working at a certain number of junior- and senior-level competitions, the team officially nominated Holmes to come with them to the Olympics. And before she could become an official member, she had to be sanctioned by the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Holmes went through a background check before spending a rigorous two weeks at the Olympic Training Center in her hometown of Chula Vista, Calif. There, she worked in the training room under observation and, with her experience as an EMT, covered the BMX bike team.
“They get you ready to work with athletes in high-level competition,” she said.
High-level competition is, indeed, stressful. Once the Olympic Games start, Holmes will barely have a moment to rest. She will be warming skaters up and stretching them out during practices, which run from 6 a.m. to midnight. After that, she and the team doctor will treat injuries, which, she said, usually takes about three hours. As part of her commitment to the Olympic Committee, she’ll also have to be on staff in the training room at the Olympic Village for a certain number of hours a week.
But she can’t necessarily predict all that she’ll be doing.
“Weird things come up,” she said. “I’ve sewed costumes back together, and my kit has strange things like bobby pins and scrunchies in it. You’re never sure what you’ll need.”
For all the stress, though, the best parts of traveling with the team is seeing the practices.
“The performances are really nerve-racking,” she said. “Watching the practices, you’re watching all the different countries together. They’re competing, but there’s so much camaraderie between the different countries.”
Holmes is also looking forward to seeing the members of the U.S. team again — over the years she has gotten to know the athletes well.
“When you hang out with these people, they’re just people. They’re great athletes, but at the end of the day they eat and sleep like any of us do.”
While some might be awed by the extensive media coverage of an event like the Olympics, to Holmes the camera’s glow is not what it’s about. In fact, as a PT she goes out of her way to avoid it.
“You’re not there to be seen, you’re not there for the limelight,” she said. “You’re there for the athletes.”

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