Christina Eyers, Ed.D., AT, ATC, is the Director of Athletic Training & Community Outreach with Henry Ford Sports Medicine.
With the winter Olympics kicking off, you might be wondering which (if any) winter sports are safe for you to try.
In addition to favorite pastimes like skiing, snowshoeing and ice skating, athletes in the winter Olympics are shining a light on lesser-known sports that are worth checking out if you're feeling adventurous. (Curling anyone?)
Breaking Down Winter Olympic Sports
Whether you prefer snow or ice, there are plenty of cold-weather activities that offer a heart-pumping workout — and you don't have to be an Olympic athlete to join in the fun. A bonus: Many of these activities are easy on your joints and offer cross-training benefits.
- Cross-country skiing. Cross-country skiing is a full-body, endurance pursuit similar to running. But since you're gliding through the snow, not pounding pavement, there's less stress and strain on your joints — and a lower risk of repetitive use injuries.
- Ice skating. Figure skating is among the most popular winter Olympic sports. It's also the oldest sport in the winter program. Even if you feel unsteady on ice skates (and what beginner doesn't?), taking an introductory lesson can help you glide safely while learning proper mechanics. Since falling is common for beginners, make sure you wear some extra padding and take your time as you master new maneuvers.
- Curling. A unique Olympic sport, curling is like shuffleboard on ice. While it may be one of the slower sports in the winter games, it's also a great game to play on the ice with your family.
- Skiing. Skiing is a fun activity for the whole family. But if you're an amateur skier, it's critical to be realistic about your abilities. Don't be afraid to take ski lessons to get the basics under your belt. A ski instructor not only gauges your skill level, but can also direct you to the slopes that are the best fit for your experience.
- Snowboarding. One of the newer Olympic sports on the circuit, snowboarding was first included at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. But since its introduction, snowboarding has become one of the most popular sports in the Games — and for winter recreation among nonathletes.
No matter which winter sports you choose, make sure you have appropriate equipment that fits. Winter sports gear can get pricey, but try secondhand stores or even rent equipment for weekend use. Just make sure to ask the experts for advice on things like length of skis, boots, bindings, figure skates or hockey skates. Most importantly, make sure to always wear a helmet for activities such as skiing and snowboarding (kids should wear helmets when ice skating too!).
Cold-Weather Sports Caveats
Winter sports can be engaging for everyone, no matter what their age or skill level. You can use the Olympics as inspiration or try one of the many non-Olympic sports that get your heart pumping during colder months. A few favorites:
► Sledding. Tubing and sledding require you to climb up the hill in order to ride your way down. Toboggan runs and sledding hills are a great way to enjoy local parks during the wintertime — and they're fun for the whole family.
► Snowshoeing. Like walking on sand, snowshoeing requires you to navigate uneven surfaces, which helps strengthen your leg and glute muscles.
► Hiking. If the weather is on the mild side, don't be afraid to get outdoors and explore. With newer materials and textiles, it's easier than ever to dress warmly and remove layers as you work your way up a hill or mountain.
Whatever winter activity you choose, keep in mind you’re not competing in the Olympics. If you’ve been mostly sedentary, it's important to start slow. Gradually increase your activity level and be sure to wear appropriate safety gear.
Macomb Lutheran North freshman Emiliana Manzo has already achieved a long list of accomplishments, including a 3.8 grade-point average while juggling two sports she loves.
As a point guard, she led her basketball team to an undefeated season in its division. She is also a center attacking midfielder, sometimes playing forward, on the 2009 Nationals Girls Academy Blue soccer team, ranked No. 1 in Michigan and 14th in the country.
In June of 2022, Emiliana hit a detour on her sports journey when she was participating in a club soccer national championship in Oceanside, Calif. With a few seconds left in the game and her team up 2-1, she ran 20 yards full speed to get to the ball. Hyperextending her left knee, she felt two pops. It was the first time she experienced an injury.
“I was screaming and crying and got taken off the field on a golf cart,” explains Emiliana. The trainer felt she was OK. Fortunately, she had the next day off and her knee was feeling better. The following day she played again, and 20 minutes into the game she knew there was an issue.
“Someone hit me from behind and I heard the pop again. I knew there was a problem.”
Emiliana’s father Vince Manzo said she experienced swelling, and the athletic trainer thought she may have a meniscus injury; however, she was able to continue to walk around during the championship in California before heading home.
Finding the Right Provider
Back in Michigan, Emiliana saw a few surgeons during her evaluation to seek treatment. When she met with Vasilios Bill Moutzouros, MD, chief of Sports Medicine at Henry Ford Health, she felt she met the right match.
“He treated me like an athlete and made me feel really comfortable,” she says.
Vince adds that both he and Emiliana were also appreciative of something Dr. Moutzouros said during her evaluation: “He emphasized to Emiliana that she was an athlete before this injury, and she would be an athlete after the injury.”
A detailed evaluation by Dr. Moutzouros revealed Emiliana had a complete anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear and medial and lateral meniscal tears. The meniscus, a C-shaped piece of tough, rubbery cartilage, acts as a shock absorber between the shinbone and the thighbone. It is one of the most common knee injuries. The ACL, one of the strong bands of tissue that help connect the thigh bone (femur) to the shinbone (tibia), is also prone to injury during sports when there are sudden stops or changes in direction.
Emiliana required physical therapy to get the swelling down and increase mobility before surgical repair.
Dr. Moutzouros reconstructed her ACL with her own patellar tendon graft and repaired her medial meniscus.
“She handled the surgery well and has been working very hard in her rehabilitation,” he says. “Her high-level soccer experience likely helped in her recovery as her range of motion and strengthening advanced so quickly.”
Understandably, Emiliana was nervous and scared when she went into surgery but expressed appreciation for the little things from Henry Ford like hearing “great music” as she was entering surgery, which gave her a sense of calm.
“That’s when I knew I picked the right doctor,” she said.
The Road to Recovery
As part of her recovery, after surgery which took place in July of 2022, Emiliana has undergone six months of physical therapy to increase mobility and strength training to get her leg strong again.
She also participated in the Return to Sport Program at the Henry Ford Center for Athletic Medicine to optimize recovery.
“We loved it,” says Vince. “It gave us peace of mind.”
Dr. Moutzouros explains that ACL prevention and rehabilitation programs are critical, especially for women because they have a four times greater risk of ACL tear than men. He says performance training post-surgery, along with an injury prevention program for those playing cutting sports, can markedly reduce the likelihood of future ACL injury.
“At Henry Ford, we work with physical therapists across the Midwest as well as our own. They do a great job in following our Henry Ford specific post-ACL reconstruction protocol,” he says. “After therapy runs its course, we strongly encourage our athletes to undergo performance training to allow a smooth transition back to sport.”
Nick Parkinson, supervisor of Athletic Training and Sports Performance at Henry Ford Health, emphasizes that the return to sport program is designed to bridge the gap between rehabilitation and returning to full activity in your chosen sport.
“Many times, insurance limits rehabilitation to regaining activities of daily living and not necessarily rebuilding the skills needed to play a sport or return to activity,” Nick says. “This program provides an affordable option to fill this need and return athletes to competition at the highest level.”
As for Emiliana, who hopes to play soccer in college and pursue a career in the medical field, she says this experience has taught her to not be afraid of injuries and treatment. She has also used the experience to volunteer for a program through the Girls Academy which serves as an advisory board to come up with ideas to help with mental and physical issues girls her age may be facing.
“For other kids who experience injuries, I’ve learned that this does not define you,” she said. “You can push through it, recover from it and be way better than you even were before.”
To find a sports medicine doctor or athletic trainer at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com/athletes.