Students volunteer medical assistance at biathlon

Posted Feb. 05, 2011, at 1:47 a.m.
Last modified Feb. 05, 2011, at 7:05 p.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — How’s this for a resume item? “Hands-on, practical experience with world-class and Olympic athletes over a three-day international world cup event.”

That’s exactly the experience about 40 University of Maine at Presque Isle and Northern Maine Community College students are gaining this weekend as they volunteer during the International Biathlon Union World Cup at the Nordic Heritage Center.

More than 400 athletes, coaches, technicians and athletic staff from around the world are in northern Maine for two weeks competing in back-to-back World Cup events in Presque Isle and in Fort Kent.

Factor in the thousands of spectators predicted to watch the event, and the students working with the event’s doping control center and medical first aid station have plenty to do.

Before competition even begins, the students — members of UMPI’s athletic training program and NMCC’s emergency medical service program — are assigned an athlete whom they escort to the venue’s medical tent for doping control testing.

In doping, an illegal practice in World Cup competition, athletes increase the oxygen content of their blood by injecting themselves with quantities of their own blood they have drawn and stored.

“You need red blood cells to increase your oxygen level,” explained UMPI senior Heather Mitchell. “The blood can be stored and put back in the body to boost those red blood cells.”

At the Presque Isle World Cup, the top three athletes and three selected at random are tested before and after each race. No athletes were cited for any infractions Friday.

“Participating in events, such as the upcoming Biathlon World Cup, provides our students opportunities to enhance what they are learning in the classroom and clinical components of our program in several ways,” said Daryl Boucher, NMCC instructor. “This is a fully volunteer effort on the part of the students [and] provides an opportunity to meet the requirement for a community service component of our program.”

In addition, the work allows the students to interact with people from all over the world, including many medical professionals.

“Volunteering here allows us to really experience something different,” Shanin Cote, UMPI senior student, said. “It’s really exciting to see all these athletes from all over the world coming to northern Maine.”

Mitchell, who is from Waterville, agreed.

“I really had no idea this venue existed here,” she said. “This is just an amazing experience — where else could we get to watch and meet world-class and Olympic athletes?”

Their instructor, Barbara Blackstone, UMPI coordinator of athletic training education, said her 30 students are getting real-world training which will prove invaluable once they graduate.

“I can instruct them in the classrooms but it’s even better when they live it,” Blackstone said. “This is a great experience for them and it will be something they can put on their resumes not many other people can.”

The NMCC EMS instructor and students are working with other medical team volunteers to provide coverage in areas throughout the competition’s course and assisting Crown Ambulance with emergency transport and spectator medical services.

Susan Rabe of Caswell is one of the NMCC EMS students working at the event.

“I did this last year for the Junior Olympics, and it was such a wonderful experience,” Rabe said. “To me, it’s more about volunteering than the clinical experience.”

The student volunteers were on patrol around the venue throughout the competitions Friday ready to lend a hand if a spectator fell or otherwise became injured or ill. No one needed assistance on Friday.

“We also have a rescue toboggan if we are called out to assist on the trails,” Blackstone said.

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