Holistic Approach Takes Trainer to Olympics

Rhiannon Potkey

Posted July 9, 2012

Karen Bloch unfolds her treatment table near the Cal Lutheran pool and a steady stream of players soon begins migrating in her direction.

By the look of it, one would think the U.S. men's Olympic water polo team is suffering from a rash of injuries.

But the opposite is actually true.

Bloch is usually not treating the players for injuries; the athletic trainer is trying to prevent them.

Bloch takes a more holistic approach to her care.

Not only does she use the traditional treatment methods, she incorporates nutrition, biomechanical and chiropractic techniques to keep the players in the pool.

"I am a big injury prevention person, so there is not one person I haven't worked on," Bloch said. "I have players coming to see me constantly for wellness treatments or adjustments and a lot of tissue work. The guys love the chiropractic adjustments. They love the feeling of an increased range of motion."

U.S. attacker Peter Varellas has been a frequent visitor to Bloch's table throughout the team's training sessions for the London Olympics.

"Karen has been critical to my physical preparation. I have chronic problems with some of my joints and she has quickly determined what techniques help keep me pain-free," Varellas said. "She has introduced several innovative therapy and recovery techniques that have changed the way our team views therapy."

Bloch will be making her second trip to the Olympics when the men's team leaves for London next month.

She was the athletic trainer for the U.S. women's water polo team four years ago in Beijing.

Bloch grew sentimental during the closing ceremonies because she figured it would be her only Olympic experience for a while.

Once she returned home to Long Beach, she went back to school to get her Doctorate of Chiropractic degree while still working as the Sports Medicine and Performance Coordinator for USA Water Polo.

In January, head coach Terry Schroeder called Bloch and asked if she wanted the job again with the men's team.

"It was really a dream come true because I remember thinking it would be so amazing to be in London," Bloch said. "I never thought it would happen, and I still get goose bumps just thinking about being able to go. It's even better that I am going as a dual-credentialed practitioner this time as an athletic trainer and chiropractor. London is going to be special for me for many reasons."

Bloch brings an athletic mindset to her profession.

She received a basketball scholarship to play at Western Illinois University, where she earned her undergraduate degree in physical education.

She received her master's degree in Health and Human Performance from Oklahoma State University, and was an athletic trainer at the University of Wisconsin.

In 2007, she was selected to join the sports medicine team for the Pan American Games. Bloch was assigned to women's water polo and wrestling.

"Being from the Midwest, I really had no clue about water polo besides watching it," she said. "I knew some of the biomechanics involved and how the throwing motion was kind of like football and it was set up like basketball and soccer. But that was about it."

But Bloch impressed U.S. women's water polo coach Guy Baker with her spirit and he requested she be the team's athletic trainer for the Americans in Beijing.

Bloch has since become immersed in the sport and how to help its athletes stay healthy.

Her most pressing goal is to make sure their bodies are in proper alignment and they have no muscular imbalances that could lead to injuries.

"I am really big on band work and doing the hyperbaric chamber, which is great for recovery and oxygen therapy," Bloch said. "The big thing is finding a happy medium of making sure we are working with the coaches and everyone else to make sure everyone is feeling good."

Bloch and Schroeder share a bond in their philosophies since Schroeder is a fellow chiropractor with an officePosted July 9, 2012

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"Terry is great about being open and attentive to every little thing or suggestion and I am the same with him," she said. "We are always bouncing ideas off each other. I couldn't be happier with the teamwork."

U.S. attacker Adam Wright, 35, knows his aches and pains would be much greater if not for Bloch treating him with a deep muscle stimulator, hyperbaric chamber and magnetic therapy machine.

"As an older player who has been around for quite some time, the first word that comes to mind is spoiled," Wright said. "Karen has changed her life to make ours better. Life without Karen would be tough. ... She has a great feel for her job and keeps us all going and gives us the ability to play at our highest level."

Although Bloch strives to keep every player injury free, the physical nature of water polo ensures it's an unrealistic ambition.

"Players get a lot of lacerations to the face because there is a lot of contact. It can get pretty brutal with broken fingers and guys poked in the eye," Bloch said. "There are a lot overuse injuries in the shoulder, hips and knees because of the repetitions."

But the team has been spared of any major injuries so far, and Bloch wants to keep it that way through London.

She knocks on wood when discussing the topic; fearful she may jinx the track record as the team pursues Olympic glory."Being involved with these guys has been a blessing to me," she said. "They are great guys and very respectful. They have accepted me with open arms and I love being around them. They are basically like family."

©2012 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.)

 
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