West Wyoming native Charlie Karcutskie visits Rio Olympics as doctor
By the time Charlie Karcutskie neared the end of his education at Wyoming Area High School, he aspired to be a doctor.
Before that, he longed to have a career as an athlete.
The 30-year-old West Wyoming native’s recent trip to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, served, in some ways, to fulfill two dreams at once.
A graduate of The Commonwealth Medical College in Scranton and a resident general surgeon and post doctoral fellow at University of Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital, Karcutskie was invited by his boss to be a medical volunteer during two weeks of the Olympic Games.
Antonio Marttos, a native of Brazil and Karcutskie’s attending surgeon, had a previous tie to the Olympics and was called to be one of two head physicians during the games in his home country.
“I was excited because I had always wanted to go to the Olympics,” Karcutskie said. “It’s the ultimate sporting event to watch.”
Having played sports from track to football to wrestling, Karcutskie had the opportunity to fill a role as “field of play doctor” from Aug. 3-19.
“We were the ones taking care of the athletes if anything happened during competition,” Karcutskie said. “We were where all the action happens. It’s like a front row seat to the best sporting event.”
During track and gymnastics competitions, Karcutskie was just feet away from world class athletes. He watched the American women’s gymnastics squad take team gold and individuals Simone Biles and Aly Raisman win all around gold and silver, respectively.
He also witnessed the American women sweep the 100 meter hurdles track event, a first in Olympic history.
“It was awesome to see three Americans on the medal stand,” Karcutskie said.
In some cases, he was simply in awe of the athletes.
“Usain Bolt was an arm’s length away,” Karcutskie said of the current fastest man in the world. “Ashton Eaton, who’s the decathlon gold medalist … the world’s greatest athlete walks right past you.”
Karcutskie was called into action when British gymnast Elissa Downie injured her neck and when Brazilian gymnast Jade Barbosa injured her ankle, among other instances that demanded his expertise.
While his regular duties as a surgeon often deal with complication more life-threatening than a turned ankle, he said there is stress involved with making the call on whether an athlete continues to compete.
“You know they waited for this moment,” Karcutskie said. “When you’re making that call, it’s disappointing because you’re saying, ‘You really shouldn’t continue like this’ and you’re crushing their dreams essentially.”
Appreciation for their hard work aside, Karcutskie said it was his duty to make suggestions based on the well-being of the athletes.
Beyond the Games, Karcutskie had a mixed reaction to visiting Rio based on the juxtaposition of beautiful landscape and abject poverty.
“You have beaches and these crazy mountains right next to the beach,” he said. “The scenery is something I feel you can’t get in a lot of other places. Contrasting that … you can see a lot of people living in poor situations.”
Karcutskie said exposure to the Zika virus seemed low, at least at the Olympic venues as he didn’t see any mosquitoes, but danger in the city was evident as several of his co-workers were mugged.
“It was an awesome experience,” he said. “My thinking was, ‘I don’t know if I’m ever going to get the opportunity to do something like this or see anything like this,’ so I jumped on it. Maybe I’ll get the opportunity again, but if I do, I’ll consider myself lucky.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or Twitter @TLArts