EXSS Alumni Update – Karen Ocwieja

Our alumni go on to be leaders and impact players in each of our different specialization areas across Exercise and Sport Science.  This past year, one of graduate program alumni (Karen Ocwieja, MA, ATC) from the Athletic Training specialization area, was chose to represent the United States Paralymic Team at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.  She has provided us with an overview of her experiences and shares how she is making an impact!  We are certain proud to have Karen as one of our outstanding alumni and are proud of all that she has accomplished

Karen OcwiejaI am Karen Ocwieja, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill graduate of the Master’s in Athletic Training program and current health care provider for the United States Olympic Committee.

Six years ago I accepted a position as a graduate student and assistant at UNC. I wanted to pursue a career in the collegiate setting, and I also wanted to expand my professional experience from the Division III setting of North Central College to the Division I setting of UNC. One key reason I chose UNC was the knowledge that I could research any topic that interested, me and that I would have the breadth and experience of the research department to guide my research. I found that and much more while I was there. UNC’s Exercise and Sport Science department provided the necessary knowledge and experience to transition into my current position of High Performance Health Care Provider at the USOC. In addition to working with other athletic trainers, I and my fellow graduate students worked with coaches, equipment managers, dieticians and physicians to help our athletes compete safely and effectively as well as recover from injury as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

One of my long term goals as an athletic trainer was to become involved in the Olympic Movement.  To fulfill this goal, my plan was to work in the college setting in order to fulfill the requirement of being an active professional for five years, before applying for the USOC’s volunteer program (the requirement is now three years professional experience, and you can check it out here: teamusa.org/About-the-USOC/Athlete-Development/Sports-Medicine/Volunteer-Program).  That plan changed during my final semester at UNC after a conversation with Sally Mays, Staff Athletic Trainer at UNC. She had been an athletic trainer at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games and told me about the possibility of a Sports Medicine Fellowship position at the USOC. Luckily, there was a position open at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y., so three weeks after graduating, I moved to Lake Placid, home of the 1932 and 1980 Olympic Winter Games for the fellowship.

In my current position, I provide healthcare to U.S. Olympians, Paralympians and those aspiring to compete in the Games. At the USOC, we employ a multidisciplinary approach to healthcare that utilizes athletic trainers, chiropractors, physical therapists, massage therapists and other health care professionals. In Lake Placid, we host a wide range of competitions, and I have had the opportunity to cover World Cup competitions with bobsled, skeleton, luge and freestyle skiing. Additionally, last winter I traveled to Winterberg, Germany and La Plagne, France for bobsled/skeleton World Cups.

20140301_150432Presently, I am at my most exciting assignment yet – the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. I am based in the coastal cluster, where wheelchair curling and sled hockey competition will take place. There is a diverse support group on the ground prior to and during the Paralympic Winter Games so that U.S. athletes only have to worry about competing.  As a staff, we work in conjunction with each sport to keep everything running smoothly. I arrived one week prior to the Opening Ceremony, but the Athlete’s Village began hosting athletes on March 1.

In addition to the medical equipment and personnel that we have, Sochi 2014 has a wide range of services available at the Polyclinic in each Athlete’s Village. In the Coastal Village, the services are coordinated with the Adler City Hospital. Since arriving, we have visited the Polyclinic and Hospital to view the facilities and meet the staff. The facilities are brand new and have state of the art equipment in place.

I have had an amazing experience so far and hope everyone back home was able to watch the coverage on NBC and TeamUSA.org.