Shapiro honored to be hands behind Olympians

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

Staff Writer

Dr. Ira Shapiro (l) helped many of our Olympic athletes remain healthy in Torino, Italy, including gold medal snowboarder Shawn White. Dr. Ira Shapiro (l) helped many of our Olympic athletes remain healthy in Torino, Italy, including gold medal snowboarder Shawn White. Behind every Olympian are the good hands of a chiropractor.For the second time in his career, Dr. Ira Shapiro, director of Plaza Chiropractic Center in Old Bridge, had the privilege of serving on the medical staff of the U.S. Olympic Team at the recent Winter Olympics.

Shapiro spent more than a month in Torino, Italy, site of the 2006 Winter Games. It was his second stint at the Olympics having been a member of the USOC staff at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Greece.

This time, however, Shapiro had a better feel for the Games. In Athens, he was stationed at the U.S. Training Center, which was an hour and a half from the city. In Torino, he worked in the Olympic Village at the Main Olympic Training Center, which was in the same building the USOC was using. Although he worked exclusively on U.S. athletes, he met athletes from all the nations of the globe who stopped by the center.

“The training center was their [athletes’] sanctuary,” he said. “They could get away from the press. No one else was allowed there.”

In the Olympic Village, Shapiro pointed out, the Olympic ideal rules. Cultural and national differences just melt away.

“Everybody is the same, an Olympian,” he said. “Everyone was sitting next to each other showing mutual respect. Being an Olympian gets you in the fraternity. It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s that you are an Olympian and you competed. It’s an extreme honor to have represented your country.”

A typical day for Shapiro went from 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. as he and the staff worked on athletes before competitions or practices and after. He was able to get away for a brief period of time to take in short track and long track skating, and to watch the men’s bonze-medal curling match, won by the United States.

Although the Winter Olympics, for obvious reasons, are much different from the Summer Games, ruled by track and field and swimming, Shapiro noted that athletes are athletes and no matter what the sport, the injuries are the same.

“The only difference is heat-related to cold-related injuries in the winter,” he said. “The athletes are still using muscles, putting a lot of wear and tear on them. You see the overuse injuries like sprains and strains.”

By working on the athletes at all times, before or after competitions, or treatment of an injury, Shapiro noted that he could get a read on the athletes.

“You could tell when they were anxious and keyed up, and when they were more relaxed,” he said.

The biggest difference, besides the snow, between the Summer and Winter Olympic Games are the number of athletes participating. In Greece, the count was 10,000 while in Torino, it was about 2,500. The U.S. contingent in Greece was 550 while in Torino, 213.

“It’s an amazing experience,” Shapiro said of the Olympics. “It’s the highlight of my sports chiropractic career. You are up close and personal 24/7 with these athletes. They are ordinary people who do extraordinary things.”

Behind the scenes, Shapiro gets to the see a different side of the athletes, one that may surprise most.

“They know we are there to help them out, and they are appreciative of what we do and the sacrifices we make,” he said. “We’re there to help them to do their best and reach their optimal potential.”

Among the athletes that Shapiro worked on were short track speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno, speed skaters Chad Hedrick, Shani Davis and Joey Cheek, who all won gold medals, and figure skater Michelle Kwan.

“Michelle Kwan was very approachable,” he pointed out. “Chad Hedrick was very down to earth. They [Olympians] are personal people.”

Shapiro said that the way the feud between Hedrick and Davis, who both won Olympic gold medals, was portrayed “a lot worse than it was.”

Shapiro also worked with a rather famous doctor, Eric Heiden – the Golden Boy of the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid, where he won an unprecedented five gold medals in speeds skating.

Without a doubt, the highlight of his stay was marching into the Olympic Stadium with the U.S. team.

“I don’t walk into stadiums in front of 50,000 or 60,000 people,” he said. “When we marched in, it was an adrenaline rush. It was very exciting.

“It was like going to your prom,” he added. “Everybody got together and were taking pictures. We got into the buses that took us to the stadium and then we all marched in.”

Shapiro was planning on attending the Closing Ceremonies as well, only he had to do a favor for one of the Games’ young stars, snowboarder Shawn White.

White was flown into Torino for the Closing Ceremonies, but he didn’t have the required uniform. A USOC member asked Shapiro if he would give up his uniform so that White could participate. Shapiro said yes, but on one condition, that White sign a picture for his daughter, Rachel, which the Olympic champion did.

“It worked out,” he noted.