- Collan Fitzpatrick
Far from the microphones and spotlights that followed Michelle Kwan earlier this week, other figure skaters likely are battling aches, pulls and strains at these Olympic Winter Games.
"[Skaters] have a lot of lower back pain, from falling or landing while coming down in a rotated position," says Melinda Couch, a Colorado Springs-based physical therapist.
Couch is among 18 PTs nationwide who treat skaters for the U.S. Figure Skating Association. In January, she volunteered at the International Skating Union's Four Continents competition here in the Springs. Next month, she'll travel to Slovenia for the World Junior Figure Skating Championships.
The 37-year-old began working with skaters from the Broadmoor Skating Club in 1998. To learn more about their biomechanics, she immersed herself in research studies and conversation with other therapists. By '99, she was serving the United States at the ISU's Skate America competition.
Couch also has worked with athletes at the U.S. Cycling Nationals, the World Cup Speed Skating competition, and the New York City Marathon.
U.S. Figure Skating sends PTs to just a handful of events each year, and Couch's main employ is her own downtown clinic, Peak Performance Physical Therapy. Still, of the Americans competing in Torino, Couch has worked with no fewer than four, including Sasha Cohen at the 2003 Grand Prix Final.
"She was having trouble doing her lay-back, trouble extending her spine," Couch says. "Sasha's famous for that; she's got the best one in the world. So I did some gentle osteopathic techniques for competition, and she was pain-free."