From Olympic Track to Critical Care Physician – It’s All About Teamwork

Feb 22, 2018 11:30 AM

Author: Libby Mitchell

Tags: USOC, Sports Medicine, Team USA Partnership

Former Olympian Barbara Jones wants to make sure you know one thing about her career as a competitive cross-country skier: she was never in it alone. The sport may seem like a solitary one, with individuals tackling courses that are several kilometers long. But Jones said nothing could be further from the truth. “When you see one Olympic athlete performing alone, there is a community of people who worked incredibly hard together to get to that moment,” she said. “Every Olympic performance that you see reflects a huge team and years of preparation on all of their behalfs.”

That’s right, without teamwork there is no Olympic glory.

Jones calls her family her “first team.” She grew up on a farm in Minnesota — the youngest of four girls. That meant that from the time she could walk, she could work. “When you’re a farm kid you are immediately useful and part of a group,” she said. “Even little kids could shuck corn or pick peas.”

The team mentality was applied outside the day-to-day routine of farm life as well to the family’s favorite pastime: cross-country skiing. “I grew up working really hard on this farm and then our play time was this sport that’s pretty hard,” Jones said. “There is this joy in experiencing that kind of suffering. And you’re doing it with other people. That experience of working extremely hard is something I came to really enjoy.”

Jones wasn’t the only one of her friends to come from a family of cross-country skiers. All through her childhood others in her peer group raced competitively and dreamed of one day joining Team U.S.A. Jones was actually the exception — she wanted to pursue college and a “normal” adolescence instead of being an elite athlete. Eventually though, the pull of the sport was too great and Jones moved to Montana to train and expand the team of people helping her reach her goals.

That team was with her as she competed in international competitions in Europe, as well as when she landed on the Olympic stage in 2002. But while many would see competing at the premiere sport event the highlight of their career — that isn’t what Jones remembers about being at the games – or her athletic career as a whole. “You can take your Olympic performance and put it on top of an unachievable seeming platform like you are some superhuman,” she said. “It’s actually the top of a huge molehill of all of this work people have been accumulating. Individuals really just represent the community.”

It isn’t surprising that following her career as a skier Jones went into another field where hard work builds strong relationships: medicine. She is now a critical care physician with University of Utah Health focusing on pulmonary medicine. She also does research related to air quality and health. In both arenas she knows she is not in it alone. “It’s not about one person. It’s about the community working together to make something happen,” she said. “Science is truly a team sport.”

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