Winter Olympics Inspires Many to ‘Get Back Up’

By Eric Smiltneek, MD, family physician at ThedaCare Physicians-Oshkosh and co-founder of Dr. Eric’s Skate Club, Oshkosh

As we discussed our ideas for the upcoming Olympic Games, I asked the question of a group of high school students who are helping me: “What inspires you to help with our ice skating club?” The response one student gave was, “The kids inspire me. They fall so much, but they always get up.”

For me this really is the Olympic spirit. Every Olympic athlete has fallen and gotten back up. That is why we cheer for them and feel inspired. We have all fallen at some point in our lives. We have wondered if we could get back up. We have wondered who will help us. Another student said, “I like helping kids so they can be good.” The idea that success of an individual goal requires a team to accomplish it is also a lesson from the Olympics that applies to each of us.

I am Eric Smiltneek, a family doctor with ThedaCare Physicians in Oshkosh. About four years ago just before the last Olympics, I was looking for a way to engage young people in lifetime sports – sports they could learn at a young age and continue throughout their lives.

I wanted to do this because I had become frustrated at the level of inactivity I was seeing in my patients. I was not sure what to do, but I wanted to do something. Then came my Olympic inspiration. I saw a video of an Olympic speed skater named Christina Lehner skating on Miller’s Bay in Oshkosh. I thought, I like to ice skate and maybe local kids would too. Four years later, I have skated with thousands of kids on Miller’s Bay who inspired me, just as they have inspired my helpers.

In the last four years, my patient conversations have changed as well. Patients ask me how the ice skating is going and I am more likely to talk to them about their medical care in the context of what is motivating them. My favorite example is a patient who smoked and had poor circulation. She is deeply religious and had wanted to see the Pope when he came to the U.S. in 2015. She came to me with the concern that to see the Pope she would have to walk many miles on the uneven streets of Philadelphia. How could she do this when a walk around the block caused leg pain? We discussed stopping smoking and physical therapy and optimizing medications. She did all of this and three months later walked 5 miles to see the Pope. The next year she walked 100 miles in the national parks to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the park service. I call that a success story.

As you watch the Winter Olympics and hear the stories, think about what inspires you to “get up.” Share that inspiration with your healthcare provider and ask them to help you achieve your goal. Your success could very well inspire others.