Anyone who watches the US supercross series or the US outdoor championship will no doubt have noticed the instant medical care provided on the track to an injured rider by the folks in the Alpinestars mobile medical unit. So who are they and how did they get to become the first point of call for not only the riders, but the entire US professional supercross and motocross industry?
Dr Paul Reiman, the staff physician and medical director of the concussion program, explains how the whole set-up began. “The program got started 18 years ago with Tom Carson, Dr John Bodner and Eddie Casillas providing medical services on the track. It has morphed into a series of units followed by an 18-wheeler and this is our second large medical unit at this time,” explained Paul.
“Our minimum crew for the supercross will be two physicians, a trauma nurse, an athletic trainer EMT and a paramedic, many times we have additional personal as well and we work closely with the local paramedics.”
Concussions are of course a big talking point these days, especially in the US, with the NFL under the microscope in particular, but supercross and motocross riders are also very susceptible to hitting their head hard and it is something the Alpinestars medical unit keep a very close eye on.
“Our data shows the most common injury is a wrist injury, the second most common is a concussion,” revealed Paul.
“From a concussion stand-point we will assist them get in contact with a concussion expert in the local area to begin our concussion protocol. We have a very specific concussion protocol, where we will make a diagnosis then we will follow up with a concussion expert in their local area, they need to follow up with a neuro-cognitive test called the Impact test, once that is cleared they have to go to a return to ride programme. The final thing before they go on the race track is evaluation by one of our physicians on their first race back.”
Athletic trainer Eddie Casillas has been going to the races to support the riders for the last 15 years and has been a vital cog in the machine over the years. “It’s kind of a unique profession to the United States,” Casillas says of his role. “It’s someone who specially goes to school to work in the sports arena. Our expertise is acute trauma on the field and to also do some rehab during the week and then manage or prevent injuries by taping/bracing.
“During the course of the day, say in the beginning we get riders coming in and we will strap them up, say ankles, wrist, anything that the rider might need and during the day if a rider goes down we will go and assess the rider and if we need to splint him, walk him across the track and so on.
“The doctor and the athletic trainer are the ones that are down on the track attending to the rider and then we will use the local paramedic staff to help us out.”
Casillas says that is also important to have a passion for the sport to keep going through the grinding schedule year after year and understand the athletes and what they do. “You have to understand the sport, you have to have a passion for it to do this, I ride some but I came from a BMX background.”
That passion for motocross is what got helped get Danny Goranson, and on-field medic, into his role with the team. “Way back in the day I was watching the races and then I became a paramedic, so I wanted to be involved, it took about three years, I got a chance one year and it just never stopped. I cover about 60% with the way contracts basis, I am on a volunteer basis, I normally do the West coast stuff. My day job is flight paramedic for a local air ambulance in California. “
But are there ways that injuries can be lessened? It is an avenue the team are keen to look into more.
“There is a lot of things we could be doing,” admits Paul. “But we have to understand the forces that go on, there are a lot of injuries that cannot be prevented, there are a lot of protective equipment out there that many riders use but not all.
“There is still a lot of research that needs to be done, you don’t want one piece of protective equipment that may save one injury but cause another. Some of the helmet manufacturers have come up with very good ideas that are motocross specific, and those are expanding rapidly, we are trying to get more research on that but it’s a matter of time and it’s a matter of funding as well. “
Funding is also a major source of support to allow the guys to do what they do at the races. “Alpinestars is the major sponsor of the unit, we get some help from Road2Recovery, the Caselli foundation, we work hand in hand with Wings for Life, Feld motorsports and MX Sports,” acknowledges Chief of Staff, Tom Carson.
Tom also explained the punishing schedule the team have: “We always have a minimum of eight and at some FIM events 35. We do the Monster Energy supercross with FELD and the US Nationals with MX Sports, plus the Monster cup and if there is an FIM event like a GP or MXoN in the USA, we will be doing that. The normal routine is the truck is here Thursday or first thing Friday morning, we basically get everything set-up for the staff to arrive first thing Saturday morning.”
With around 30-40 visits on average from industry every weekend, from needing a cold remedy all the way to a serious injury, the guys and girls at the Alpinestars medical unit are always on call. The team provide a vital hub of support to the industry on a weekly basis that may go under the radar for the fans, but certainly not the riders and teams.
Article: Jonathan McCready and Doug Turney
Pics: Doug Turney