A Day in the Life of Team Doctor, Helen Iams
About Helen: Now in her third year as the team doctor for Jelly Belly Cycling, Dr. Iams provides on-the-spot care for the riders as well as handling pre and post-race medical duties. In her hometown of Cheyenne, Wyoming, she teaches of sports medicine at the University of Wyoming Family Practice Residency and is a physician board certified in family as well as sports medicine.
How do you balance a full time practice with your duties as the team doctor?
It is a challenge, but one that I enjoy. I negotiated that taking care of a cycling team was part of my job when I was hired. Therefore, I can have the time to travel with the team pretty easily. I have to make sure to cover all the calls I miss when I am on the road so I often work pretty hard after coming back from a race.
January through March is my busiest time of year. In my practice in Wyoming, this is a busy time because so many people are sick and need to be seen. For the team, I have to meet the new guys, get to know them, find all the medical issues we need to sort out and make sure all the right paperwork has been filed.
What time do you get up on a race day?
That varies based on when the race is scheduled that day. Usually I try to get up early enough to get everything I want done before breakfast.
Do you eat with the riders?
Every chance I get. On a tour, breakfast time is when I often find out from different individuals what is going on with them. I try to beat all the riders to breakfast and just hang around until the whole team has eaten. They all come through at different times. I find I just have to hang with the guys a lot to know how best to help them.
What are your pre race duties?
I try to minimize duties so I can be free to take care of any health problems that come up. I check with all the riders and make sure no one needs anything. Then I help the soigneurs with anything else. I often help the guys with their radios and getting their earpieces situated.
Sometimes I have had to make sure the guys are getting a good breakfast. One time the hotel we were at did not have enough protein options at the breakfast bar. I drove to the other race hotel, got a huge pan of eggs, bacon and sausage to bring back for the guys breakfast.
I stock the first aid kit carefully during training camp. When supplies are used during the race, I will run to a pharmacy to restock during a quiet moment.
For stage races, I will watch the riders’ weights. I weigh riders before and after tough stages. Knowing how much weight they lost during a hard day lets me calculate how much water and sodium they need to replace that night. This helps with their recovery that night.
Do you help with rider transport? Drive the team vehicles?
I often have my own rental car. This is so I can get to the hospital to an injured rider and transport him back to the team. It can be difficult to get a team car over to the hospital if the team needs to caravan somewhere else. Having an extra car gives everyone a little more room in all the vehicles.
What do you do once the race has started?
I join the mechanics at the next hotel. We get the room keys and put everyone’s luggage in their rooms. We also set up the soigneur room and make sure they have everything they need to give all the guys rubdowns that night.
What happens next?
After getting things set up at the hotel we all head to the finish line. I get my mobile first aid kit and check out the lay of the course. What are the places a crash might occur? Where could I get access to the course if there is a crash? I introduce myself to the medical personnel at the finish so we all know who each other are and what our specialties are. I also introduce myself to the guards so they realize why I might rush on the course. I don’t want to lose valuable time explaining who I am after a crash occurs. They are all great but I pass out Jelly Belly jelly beans and Jelly Belly hats just to make sure they remember me!
What are your post race duties?
After a race my first job is to attend to any injuries. I have a full medical kit that is kept in the team car. I can deal with many injuries, including suturing and splinting joints. If no one is injured, then I help with the drug testing. Each rider must have an escort for the process and I am the natural candidate. I make sure we have any needed paperwork such as their race licenses. I also make sure to have food and lots of water and Gatorade, both sports drinks recovery shakes and Sport Beans jelly beans. The hour after finishing a stage is critical for recovery.
If no one is injured and no one is getting tested, I focus in getting weights of all the riders. If I can get a quick weight just after a stage, it gives me the best information. However, the guys are exhausted and just want to get to the hotel so I have to be quick or I miss them.
What about after the return to the hotel?
I check in with all the riders and make sure everything is good. If I have specific concerns about a rider, I will spend more time with him to see if there is anything I can do to help.
At night, once I know all the guys are good from a health perspective, I help with errands like washing the guys’ uniforms and getting more food. We go through incredible amounts of food during races. The races provide great meals but the guys need to eat as soon as they finish the stage as well as just before beginning the next day.
How often do you interact with them throughout the season?
I am in frequent contact with my riders the whole year. We email and talk on the phone. But even that contact is not nearly enough. I have to see them face-to-face to really know what is going on, so I try to meet them once a month at a race. I am usually not needed at races for injuries. I am just there to build the relationships with them that are the basis of primary care medicine, which is my specialty. There is nothing cooler than seeing someone’s performance improve during a season and knowing that you helped.