February 10, 2006 — Behind the impressive U.S. men’s alpine ski team competing in the Winter Olympics is the man who helps them reach and stay in top champion condition — their athletic trainer, U.Va. alumnus Paul Meier.
Meier, who earned his master’s degree in athletic training from the Curry School of Education in 2003, began working with the U.S. Ski Association almost two years ago after a fellowship at the Steadman-Hawkins Clinic in Vail, Colo.
He has accompanied the team to approximately 70 World Cup races; the 2005 U.S. Nationals in Mammoth, Calif.; the 2005 World Championships in Bormio, Italy; and now the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. The athletes, the entourage of coaches, other staff members and Meier, put in “countless hours of training, travel and competitions.” he said. ”It all comes down to about a two-minute race where first and second place could be determined by .01 seconds.” Meier said it’s not uncommon for first and last place to be separated by just a couple of seconds.
Each of the athletes deals with the pressure of competition differently, Meier said, adding that he usually tries to talk about other topics right before a race to get their mind off of it. The team also has a sports psychologist on the staff who concentrates on getting each skier mentally ready to perfom.
Meier said the athletes and staff get along well and function as a team. “Even though these athletes are competing against each other at a race, they all give advice on conditions, the track and which line is the fastest to help the racers behind them,” he said.
Describing his job, he said, “On the hill, I manage the start area, get the athletes coaching reports and provide any last minute treatment that the athletes may need.”
He also developed a screening process to help “identify areas in their range of motion, movement patterns and posture that may be affecting their performance on the hill. I work with those athletes each day to correct these issues and it seems to be helping,” he said.
His biggest concern: a skier suffering a life-threatening injury while going downhill. “Athletes can reach speeds up to 95 miles an hour and accidents do happen. At those speeds you don't have much time to react and it can get pretty ugly sometimes. Watching some of the crashes during the season, it is hard to imagine that they walk away from them.”
Off the hill, he works in the U.S. Skiing Association’s training center in Park City, Utah with the athletes, developing conditioning programs for them and helping the post-operative athletes with their rehabilitation, as well as numerous other duties. They also do “dryland activities,” such as soccer, volleyball, balance workouts and spin recovery every afternoon.
In U.Va.'s sports medicine program, Meier, who grew up in Clifton Park, N.Y., received a solid foundation and had great experiences, he said, especially working with the football and men's lacrosse teams. He also is certified as a strength and conditioning specialist and a performance-enhancement specialist.
“I don't think you can truly appreciate the quality of your education at U.Va. until you have been out on your own working for a few years, and also compare yourself to other people who have gone through different programs,” Meier said.
And yes, he does get a chance to go skiing every day.
“Having the opportunity to work with some great athletes and coaches, ski every day, travel the world and practice athletic training is a dream come true.”