Christina Allen, MD, a surgeon at the UCSF Orthopaedic Institute, has traveled the world as the physician for the US taekwondo team, but her latest assignment at the London Olympics is a dream come true for someone who grew up watching the games and excelling as an athlete.
A former soccer standout at Duke University, Allen’s career-ending knee injury is what inspired her to pursue orthopaedic surgery and what helps her bond with sports injury patients. She specializes in treating knee and shoulder injuries at the Orthopaedic Institute at Mission Bay.
After serving as a physician for the US soccer team, Allen began working with taekwondo athletes about five years ago. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of trips to national and international competitions, treating a laundry list of injuries, including fractures, concussions and dislocations that are relatively common in the Korean martial art.
Allen is now in London helping her team prepare for the taekwondo competitions, which begin on Thursday, Aug. 9. In between treating athletes, she’s taking in the festive atmosphere, meeting some Olympic stars and answering a few questions about her experience thus far:
Q: What are you most excited about at these Olympic games?
Just meeting and working with all the US athletes and athletes from other countries, and feeling the exciting vibe of being at the Olympics.
Q: Describe the energy of London. What strikes you as the things you will remember most?
The Brits have been very gracious hosts, and everything revolves around the games. I think they are really proud so far of the show they are putting on and how prepared they are. The security seems spot on, and I feel really safe. Sure, there have been some logistics issues, but there always are in events this enormous. And they managed to hold off the rain for opening ceremonies!
Q: Where are you staying at the Olympic Village, and who are you with?
Right now I am at the University of East London-Docklands, which is 20 minutes or so from the village. A lot of the athletes leave the Olympic Village every day to come train here, including taekwondo, men’s and women’s basketball, fencing and wrestling. So it is pretty busy and exciting here during the day, and my athletes come over to us for practice and to be treated medically. I will move over to the Olympic Village on Aug. 5th, right before taekwondo has its competitions (Aug. 9 and 10).
Q: What is it like working with the taekwondo team and physician colleagues?
I love our taekwondo athletes – they are so awesome and appreciative of our care, and fun to talk to. Plus I get to interact with all the other athletes that come over to Docklands Medical for their care, whether it be a consult or for directions to the ice bath! Plus it is great to work with other first-class physicians and athletic trainers. Everyone is here to work hard and have fun and take the best care of our athletes we can.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring physicians who want to be selected for the Olympics?
Work hard, know your stuff, play well with others and be reliable. I got here by doing all of the above, and showing up when other physicians no-showed for coverage. You have to become the “go-to” person that people call in the middle of the night from Korea for advice about what to do with an injured US athlete.
Q: If you were an Olympic athlete, what sport would you want to compete in?
Soccer, for sure. Taekwondo is fun to watch, but I don’t like getting kicked in the head.