Feb. 11, 2013
Nolan Kasper on the slalom course at Vail. Photo Credit: Tommy Ford, Olympic ski team member that is studying journalism at Dartmouth when he's not competing.
By Drew Edwards
It's not unusual to find John Dean on the slopes. But it's definitely out of the ordinary to find Tennessee sports medicine's Director of Rehabilitation working with world-class skiers instead of football players.
Yet for two weeks this fall, Dean traded Knoxville for a Colorado ski resort, helping members of the U.S. Ski team prepare for their upcoming season.
"I grew up in Utah, so I've skied my whole life," said Dean, who has been at Tennessee for seven years. And I've always had an interest in assisting with our Olympic teams."
That interest met the United States Ski and Snowboard Associations' (USSA) need for expert medical coverage during its equivalent of baseball's spring training, where skiers from the U.S. Alpine teams that compete on different levels all train together in Colorado.
Based on recommendations from physicians, coaches and his peers, Dean was selected to work with Chris Antinori and the USSA's Men's Alpine team for two weeks in Colorado at Copper Mountain and Vail. Or, as Dean joked, "because I work in sports medicine and I'm not a complete fool on skis."
Dean spent his time working with seven members of the men's technical team, which competes in the Slalom and Giant Slalom events. It's known as the technical team because it involves more technique -- and less speed -- than the Downhill and Super G. Their members are referred to as the speed team.
His time in Colorado was anything but a vacation, though, even if he did sometimes have 45 minutes a day almost to himself on some of the best slopes in the world.
"A typical day started on the mountain by 8:30, and it's awesome because it's your mountain," Dean said. "The lift is open for you and the seven guys on the team. For about 45 minutes, they would set up the gates that they use as the obstacles. So I would just be free skiing or warming up."
Once the training runs began, Dean was stationed at the starting gate with a trauma pack and a radio, on call in case of an injury. When practice ended, post-practice treatments and rehabilitation preceded an afternoon session of "dry-land" conditioning in the weight room or gym. Another round of treatments and the day would finish around 8:30 at night.
His two weeks on the mountain went without any major accidents, and aside from a couple small falls, most of his time was spent doing pre- and post-practice rehab and treatment.
Dean, who is employed by Knoxville Orthopedic Clinic (KOC) to assist Jason McVeigh and the UT Sports Medicine Staff, is dual credentialed as both a certified athletic trainer and as a board-certified clinical specialist in sports physical therapy. As the Director of Rehabilitation at UT he provides physical therapy services to student athletes from all 23 of UT's sports.
"This experience was more athletic training related, which I did for 10 years before shifting to my current role (at UT)," said Dean. "It's more like what I would have done for football here. You have to be on the mountain skiing with a trauma pack and ready to respond, so more of the emergency response-type coverage that we do in athletic training."
Working closely with an Olympic team for the first time in his career left Dean with an appreciation for what it takes to compete at an elite level.
"It's just awesome to do something totally different," Dean said. "These are world-class athletes, and they have no egos.
"And they love being home in the U.S. watching college football. They thought it was so cool that I worked at Tennessee. Sometimes we idealize our Olympians as if they're not real people. But spending time with them humanizes them. They're just normal guys."
Dean, who returned to UT in early November, said it was also beneficial to talk shop with his peers in Colorado.
"Anytime you get an opportunity to work with a staff like that, the physicians and their head athletic trainer Chris Antinori, you get to share treatment ideas and techniques, it's a great opportunity," he said. "It's just a chance to learn from and share ideas with really talented and skilled clinicians. That's probably the best part professionally."