The opportunity of a lifetime was years in the making for Ben Towne, lecturer and clinic coordinator of athletic training at USM, who returned to Maine just last week after traveling with the U.S. Olympic teams to Sochi, Russia.
Towne was chosen to be one of 17 athletic trainers to travel to the 2014 Winter Olympics with team U.S.A. The application and selection process takes years, to ensure that they have the best medical staff possible to travel with Olympic athletes.
For Towne, the process actually began eight years ago when he applied for the U.S. Olympic Committee’s volunteer sports medicine program––the very same year he began working at USM.
“They either accept you or they don’t, and you complete a two-week stint at one of the Olympic training centers,” said Towne. “You work with all the athletes, physicians, chiropractors and massage therapists, [and] as you cycle through they evaluate you. Everybody is evaluated, from the coaches and the athletes, even down to the permanent sports medicine staff.”
According to Towne, after passing the first level of evaluations, medical staff members are given the okay to travel with the teams within the United States, during which they are evaluated again. If approved, the staff members will then be given the chance to travel internationally with the U.S. teams to World Cup and World Championship events.
After having traveled multiple times with the team and passing all evaluations, Towne was entered into the pool to work on the Olympic Team’s medical staff. “Thankfully for me it all worked out with Sochi,” said Towne. “They offered me a chance to travel with the team in the regular season, so I was actually gone for a couple of months and then moved seamlessly into the Olympics.”
Towne was assigned specifically as an athletic trainer for the U.S. skeleton and bobsled teams, which provided him with a challenging and learning experience. “I realized that experience is important and getting to know the athletes for the last few years, getting to know the sport and the physical demands of it was something that I didn’t have when I first started, especially with bobsled and skeleton because it’s not like I’m covering bobsled and skeleton events throughout the year,” said Towne.
Although he spent the majority of his time with his assigned teams, Towne was also able to work with other athletes.
“You end up treating various athletes as they come through the sports medicine clinic, so I ended up working with some ski and snowboarding athletes who came through,” he said.
This wasn’t Towne’s first time traveling with the team outside of the United States, having also traveled to France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. “Those were all two-week stints so I’d just leave for two weeks, work with them and then come back,” said Towne. “It was different this time–and much longer–but it was kind of nice because you get to work with the athletes for an entire two months so you really get to know their bodies and they get continuity of care.”
Towne explained that while the athletes are on tour, they typically have a new athletic trainer every two weeks. “So they have to start the process over again, or if one trainer was handling an injury you have to hand it over to the next person cycling though,” he said.
This was Towne’s first Olympic experience. Although his work schedule didn’t allow him to watch many of the events other than bobsled and skeleton racing, he was given the opportunity to march with Team U.S.A. in the opening and closing ceremonies. “I was really fortunate that the team voted for me to march with them and that was really cool because I got a chance to meet a lot of other people from other countries whether they’re medical staff or athletes, and to chat with them and sort of have a front row seat for all that,” said Towne. “Watching the opening ceremonies was one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever been through—it was incredible.”
Originally from the small town of Denmark, Maine, and having attended public universities for his bachelor and post-graduate studies, Towne explained that it doesn’t matter whether you went to a public or private university or whether you’re from a small town, you can still reach high level of professionalism in a given field.
“I remember when I was in college I really wanted to work with elite level athletes–that was a goal of mine–to be able to that is incredibly satisfying.” And he did just that.
Towne expressed that he is very grateful for all of the support he has received from his mentors, colleagues and students within the USM sports sciences community.
“Without them being supportive of me traveling over the last several years, I wouldn’t be talking to you about my experience at the Olympics,” said Towne. “But because they were so supportive and understood––converting classes to online for a week or two at a time––I just feel really blessed to be a part of something like that.”
“I feel like I get to have my cake and eat it too,” he said. “I get to teach, and I still get to practice as an athletic trainer,” said Towne. “It’s always good when you have a faculty member that still has to go out there to manage concussions and make difficult return-to-play decisions.”
Towne proudly mentioned that both of the U.S. teams he was with medaled in every event. “Men’s and women’s skeleton and men’s and women’s bobsled all took home at least bronze, so it was a really, really successful Olympics,” he said. “It’s been awesome––really the coolest experience I’ve had so far in this profession, so I’m really fired up.”