As the first cyclists took off to begin the 2014 USA Pro Challenge in Aspen on Monday, throngs of fans supported the riders along the course.
The riders are the superstars of the event, which ends Sunday in Denver, but the race would never happen without the Centura Health workers who support the cyclists from start to finish.
The medical staff pretty much goes unnoticed unless there’s an injury situation they need to respond to.
“Nobody wants to see us,” said Jeff Huber, 42, now in his fourth year as the medical director for the USA Pro Challenge. “But they certainly want to know we’re there. We’re pretty much the offensive linemen of this event. You won’t really realize we’re there unless something goes wrong.”
Joining Huber’s staff at the 2014 event is Ashley Schermerhorn, 34, a certified trauma-physician assistant who grew up in Woody Creek.
A physician assistant is a position that requires a master’s degree, and it allows her to function as an independent provider overseen by a doctor, Schermerhorn said.
She’s one of six physician assistants employed at St. Anthony Hospital in Denver, where she works with the trauma surgery team. Huber is the head physician assistant at St. Anthony and invited Schermerhorn to join his team for the USA Pro Challenge this year.
“I hired Ashley last year at St. Anthony,” Huber said. “During the past year, I’ve learned she has a strong background working with athletes. She’ll fit in great on our team. She’s an energetic, lively person, but when you need someone to focus and be serious, she brings her ‘A’ game every time.”
Schermerhorn didn’t hesitate to accept the offer.
“I was a personal trainer before becoming a physician assistant,” she said. “I have an interest in high-level athletes and the medical side of sports, so being able to combine the two was a no-brainer. It also gives me a chance to come home and see my family.”
Schermerhorn joins a sophisticated medical team designed to treat cyclists while they compete. The “mobile hospital,” put together by the Centura Health team, consists of a medical motorcycle, several medically staffed cars, two ambulances and a helicopter.
The team is prepared to deal with injuries from critical falls to common headaches. Because dealing with trauma is a reactionary situation, Schermerhorn said the key is to anticipate what could happen and be prepared for the worst.
“Mentally, you have to think ahead,” she said. “When you have athletes clipped into bikes at high speeds, what would happen if they fall in that situation? We’re thinking about head injuries, shoulders and anything within the chest cavity.”
As far as nerves, Schermerhorn said reacting to traumatic situations is what her team does every day. St. Anthony’s is a Level 1 trauma center, meaning the most extreme injuries come to it.
“We see the worst of the worst injuries,” she said. “That’s what we do. We get our confidence from experience.”
Huber said that his staff not only supports the riders but also has to support nearly 1,000 staffers for the event. Huber sets up an emergency-care suite at the Westin Hotel in Snowmass Village to help whoever needs care before the race.
“We run the gamut of care at these events,” Huber said. “It might be altitude sickness, maybe a virus or something similar. I have a sports-medicine expert, a chiropractor, an ER physician and even a neurosurgeon on my staff.”
Once the race starts, Huber said that’s when the fun begins for the medical staff, as most are cycling fans, as well.
“Supporting these world-class cyclists is awesome,” Huber said. “It’s kind of like being on the sidelines of the Super Bowl.”
Schermerhorn said she gets plenty of excitement as a trauma-physician assistant but that finally getting out into the field with other trauma surgeons is a different kind of thrill.
“In a perfect world, I’ll just be a fan during the race,” she said. “But trust me, we’ll be ready to do our job.”