The path to Olympic fencing glory in any year is full of obstacles, but the pandemic added a whole new layer — literally.
Mount Sinai doctors have helped treat the USA fencing team for years. Because of COVID, they were thrust into new challenges, like what type of mask would work under a fencing mask.
"We had to discuss the type of masks that they'd wear," said Dr. Joseph Herrer, who works in Mount Sinai's Department of Rehabilitation and Human Performance. "With the paper masks they would sweat through them. So we discussed double layer or triple layer cloth that they would wear during competitions"
Other COVID guidelines implemented by the doctors included no more high-fives or hand-shakes; instead, fencers would touch weapons. Equipment and mats had to be sanitized between bouts, and they even had to limit celebratory screams.
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"One of the rules was no screaming, because, of course, particle transmission," said Dr. Mariam Zakhary, a physical therapist at Mount Sinai.
After a year without competitions, the first event was in March in Budapest. Right before that time, Team USA had an exposure at their training center.
"We had to do exposure interviews, they all got tested and some tested positive for COVID," said Dr. Zakhary.
So instead of recovery from an injury, the doctors helped the athletes deal with the symptoms of COVID. Some of those same fencers are now about to compete in Tokyo — and the team at Mount Sinai could not be more proud.
"From not being able to train after their diagnoses, to slowly getting back to it and getting them on a plane and headed to Tokyo. Qualified is a victory in itself," Dr. Zakhary said.