As you may suspect, I’m back in the states now, but have been too busy to finish posting my trip! I will jam in the end to a few posts so we can all move on with our lives…
Germany Ice Hockey Federation
This morning I met with the Michael Pfuhl, Technical Director of the German Ice Hockey Federation (Deutscher Eishockey Bund, DEB). Kevin McLaughlin of USA Hockey recommended I sit down with him. Kevin has really sunk his teeth into the concussion issue, and last week USA Hockey voted to raise the checking age in boys hockey from 11 to 13 and have more training programs involving learning how to control one’s body with contact so they can avoid concussions. Needless to say, concussions weren’t yet on the radar screen in German youth hockey, although they don’t hit as much in Europe and hits to the head are heavily penalized.
I then caught a train from Munich to Lausanne to meet with Patrick Schamasch, head of sports medicine for the International Olympic Committee (IOC). I have to thank women’s ice hockey legend Angela Ruggiero for setting up the meeting. Angela and I were at Harvard at the same time, and she’s medaled in every Olympics since the late 90’s. She was recently voted onto the International Olympic Committee’s athlete’s commission, and she’s always been very supportive of the concussion cause.
It was an adventure getting there – while Swiss trains run like clockwork, German trains do not. And apparently they don’t tell you when they do track construction in the middle of the day, so I nearly missed the meeting because we had to change trains in the middle of nowhere, travel for 20 minutes on the new train, then take a bus for 20 minutes, and then catch a different train. I called Sabine and had a car waiting for me at Avis at the next stop so I would still have a chance to make the meeting, but luckily a friendly conductor informed me that a different connection through Zurich would still get me there with 5 minutes to spare. I am pretty helpless without the internet on my phone here. 7 hour trip total.
Dr. Schamasch picked me up at the hotel and offered to take me anywhere to eat. He said, “Do you like exotic food?” I said, “Absolutely. Anything but schnitzel. I’ve had too much!” We went to his favorite Chinese food place – it’s better in the states. I learned that Dr. Schamasch was a former goalie for the French national team and then went to medical school to be an orthopedic surgeon. He ran a clinic near Albertville, France, and got involved with the IOC for the winter games there in the 80’s. He was asked to become the first medical director for the IOC and has now held this position for over twenty years, and has guided them through the doping era well. The IOC was also one of the organizations that has supported and signed onto the concussion consensus statements, including the 2008 Zurich guidelines, along with FIFA and the International Ice Hockey Federation. I shared with him our work and we discussed where the next steps are in the process. We also discussed his leadership style and management responsibilities with an organization that presides over every country in the world. Needless to say, it’s complex. Dr. Schamasch said it might be a good idea to attend the meeting for the next consensus statement, which will take place in Zurich next March. I’m there.
Hockey Doc Geneva
This morning I caught a train to Genevea, on the western edge of the country and minutes from France, to meet with the neuropsychologist of the Geneva pro hockey team. Dr. Catia Beni invited me into her office and we talked shop. I can’t go into too much detail on her relationship with the team, but she is not able to do much. Only two players have reported concussions in five years, and they asked to go right back for fear of losing their jobs. Not a good situation.
I got right back on the train and connected back through Zurich to go to Bad Ragaz, a resort town. When I contacted the IIHF, they first recommended I see the head of their concussion work, but he’s in Canada, so they recommended Dr. Beat Villiger. I had no real idea what I was getting into. Dr. Villiger is the director of a medical center at the Grand Resort, which I was informed, was voted the number one spa/resort in Switzerland. Over email he recommended I stay as his guest – I didn’t have to be asked twice. When I arrived I was walked to my suite overlooking the mountain by my butler. Enough said. Dr. Villiger recommended I enjoy that afternoon and we could meet for breakfast, so I grabbed a mountain bike and rode down the Rhein river for a few hours. I followed that up by hitting a bucket of balls at the driving range. I was a little tired from all that exercise so I took a dip in the thermal spring pool. Could be worse.
My breakfast meeting with Dr. Villiger got pushed back to lunch because he had to do a press conference. The Grand Resort just made a deal that if the Swiss Alpine Team performs well at an upcoming competition, they will get to recuperate at the resort for free. When we finally met, I felt like I found a kindred spirit. Along with advising the IIHF, Dr. Villiger is the top Swiss Olympic doctor and on the boards or medical committees of it seemed 50 organizations. He didn’t need any convincing that the issue was serious. He pulled out a folder from his, “Respect the Head” campaign. He had developed a program similar to CDC’s Heads Up program, and had gotten it distributed to all ice hockey players, coaches, and parents in Switzerland! He’d been working on the idea since the mid 90’s, and they finally broke through last winter. His program was even better than CDC in some ways – instead of parents getting a one-pager on concussion, they got a eight page packet. He pulled no punches. Dr. Villiger said a few of his athletes retired from concussion in the mid 90’s and he’s always felt some guilt. He also told me that while some organizations only pay lip service to this issue, the IIHF is working hard to get this information out there. He said I shouldn’t let my German experience taint my trip – they are late adopters. As I reflected on the meeting from the hot tub later in the day, it seemed the stop in Bad Ragaz was rejuvenating in multiple ways.
Traveled to Milan and was joined by my girlfriend Nicole!