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Local Physical Therapist Heads for Sochi

Lindsay Hogan | Vail Valley Medical Center

Ana Jeronimus Robinson has a lifetime commitment to cross-country skiing but the former Nordic racer transitioned from athlete to team physical therapist in her role supporting the U.S. Olympic Cross-Country Ski Team. Also she has found that “a personal test run” on the World Cup and Olympic cross-country courses is a great cure for jet lag. This will come in handy for Robinson when she hops on a plane to Sochi Russia this week.

“I am thrilled to be working with this team in Sochi. Being a physical therapist on the road with the team is the type of work I have always wanted to do ... since the day I applied to PT school” said Robinson who when not traveling to far-off destinations with America's top Nordic skiers is a full-time orthopedic physical therapist at Howard Head Sports Medicine.

“When it comes to the people it doesn't get better” she said of her U.S. Ski Team colleagues. “The coaching staff and wax techs are as amazing as the athletes. It takes a lot of work to create a sense of team in an individual sport. I think that strength is a big part of their success and the results this season already speak to that success. To be a part of this group is an honor in itself but to be working with them during the Olympic Games truly brings it to a new level.”

One skier Robinson has helped this season is local Vail racer Sylvan Ellefson who skied his way to the 30K National Championship victory in Utah in January and narrowly missed making the Olympic team. The result is even more impressive considering it came after a bad crash at World Cup Finals in 2012 when Ellefson returned to Vail completely unable to walk.

“Ana is probably the biggest reason I am back at it and had a strong chance at making the Sochi Olympics” Ellefson says. “Working with Ana over the three months after that accident allowed me to get back on my running feet and back into fighting shape.”

In addition to assisting Olympic-bound racers at international races in Scandinavia earlier this season Robinson has helped coach a group of Ski & Snowboard Club Vail Nordic skiers called Team Homegrown volunteering her time for the past six years coaching both the team's high school-aged and first- and third-grade athletes. Working with young skiers reminds Robinson of her own childhood filled with fond memories of “the strong cross-country ski culture” in Duluth Minn.

“There are many trail systems within the city limits lit at night so people can ski on the short dark days of winter. As a family we would take night skis on the lit trails or have adventures skiing through the woods until we were hungry enough to stop build a fire and cook up some hot dogs” she said. “Those days were magical as a young kid.”

Robinson went on to become a competitive classic and skate skier in junior high and high school earning a handful of state titles and a trip to Junior Nationals where she helped took third in the team relay. She had a friend who suffered from chronic injuries and by college Robinson decided to put her own Nordic racing days behind her to focus on helping other athletes — and everyone else for that matter — move beyond their injuries.

“I admired the medical team that worked with my high school teammate. Her physician and therapist were athletes and recognized that skiing was a big part of her life. Abruptly stopping what you love altogether is tremendously frustrating and can bruise the spirit. I was inspired both by the depth of understanding they had for her athletic goals and the creativity in their treatment plan. The science and art of medicine and the power of an athlete's drive and motivation to get better is what inspired me to go into physical therapy and is still why I absolutely love my job at Howard Head” she said.

Getting KIKKAN on track
Another example of the many clients that can testify to Robinson's talent as a physical therapist is America's top Olympic cross-country racer: World Cup sprint champion and 2014 Olympic Team member Kikkan Randall. The first American to win the World Cup sprint title and the first U.S. woman to land a World Cup cross-country victory or World Championship gold medal Randall fell into Robinson's hands a year and a half ago when she came to Vail with a stress fracture in her foot.

“Right away she was a comforting influence” Randall said. “An athlete never likes to be told they can't train and Ana was so helpful in keeping the focus positive and helping guide me through the recovery process. She was very creative in adapting the normal PT protocol for my injury into treatment and exercises that related to my sport. She stayed in touch with me while I continued my recovery in Alaska and was always the positive cheerleader when I got anxious and frustrated.

When I got the good news that my stress fracture was healing Ana helped my coach and me construct a plan to safely get me back on my skis in time for my biggest goals. I am feeling very assured to have Ana on our team heading to Sochi. Not only am I confident that she will keep us in tip-top shape but I know she will be a great personality to have in the midst of all the attention and hype and chaos the Olympics bring.”