There are few teams lucky enough to have a former Olympic Champion and Tour de France alumnus as their doctor. For Eric Heiden, it certainly seems nothing succeeds like success.
After winning five Olympic gold medals for speed skating in 1980, Heiden moved on to try his hand at professional cycling. He and Jim Ochowicz helped form the base of the very successful 7-Eleven Cycling Team. During his time with 7-Eleven, Heiden raced the 1986 Tour de France though a bad crash five days from the finish prevented him from riding into Paris.
From elite athlete to academic
Having accomplished many of his sporting goals, Heiden moved back into his medical studies, earning his medical degree from Stanford University in 1991. Since then he has worked for the last several years as team doctor for the US National Cycling Team as well as the doctor for other teams in other sports. Now, along with Drs. Massimo Testa and Scott Major, Heiden, 50, guides the medical and training condition of the BMC Racing Team members.
“I always planned on being a physician so after I got all the competitive sporting out of my system, I settled into school full time in 1987,” Heiden said. “I spent a lot of time working with Max during his time with 7-Eleven and Motorola, which was so beneficial to me; it was almost like an internship.”
Conducting early season medical exams
The BMC medical team of Heiden, Testa and Major flew into Santa Rosa, California for the first weekend of camp in mid January to conduct all the necessary medical tests on the riders.
“Being a ProContinental team means that there is a lot of medical information which is required by the (International Cycling Union (UCI),” Heiden explained. “So on Saturday we took the riders to the Napa Valley Hospital and made cardiac ultrasound, stress EKG, pulmonary function test for the necessary TUEs, as well as basic physical and orthopaedic exams.” Following UCI protocol, the tests are intended to confirm that all the athletes are indeed healthy and fit to race. The blood parameter records are also augmented to reflect the latest test.
“Aside from the role the team doctor must play in educating the riders in the fight against doping, the doctor can make the largest contribution to success by imparting his or her knowledge of physiology and the best training methods,” Heiden said. “Over the last 20 years people have begun to understand better about how not to stress the metabolic system, how to keep riders from over-training.”
Keeping an eye on the riders with big potential
Two years ago Heiden agreed to work with BMC along with Testa as team doctors.
“The cycling community is really small, so when Och (Jim Ochowicz) asked me to work with the team it seemed like a really neat opportunity to join a young organization with a lot of talent,” Heiden said. “It’s fun working with young guys and seeing them grow into their potential.”
Looking at the history of testing the team doctors have made on many of the members of BMC, Dr. Heiden ventures to guess there are several who have the physical capabilities to reach the very top of the sport.
“There are four or five guys on the team at the moment who have very good potential,” Heiden added. “We can identify talent with the testing but there are so many other components that contribute to winning races that we can never be sure the talent will translate into results. But it will be fun to see them develop.”
Heiden sees changes, improvements in the sport
Nearly 30 years after he first raced professionally, Heiden has seen a lot of changes to the sport, but still feels very much at home in its atmosphere.
“The riders are a lot better taken care of these days than they were when I first was racing,” Heiden said. “The gear is much better too and there is a lot more stress on the safety facets of the sport with the mandatory use of helmets. But with the focus on targeted races, the racing season gets necessarily shortened, which is much different from how it was 30 years ago.”
In any case, the BMC team members certainly feel privileged to have a living sports legend as their affable doctor.