Micela’s frayed nerves were granted no quarter last March, when Robles, 23, clean-and-jerked a personal-record 258 kilograms – about the weight of a small grizzly bear – at the U.S. Olympic Women’s Weightlifting Trials to claim a spot at the London Olympics this July 27–August 12. Micela, owner of Performance One Advanced Sports Training in Mesa, has accompanied the superheavyweight lifter every step of the way since she forfeited a track-and-field scholarship at ASU in 2008 to focus on weightlifting – every early-morning deadlift, every abductor strain, every edge-of-your-seat qualifier.
Micela isn’t the only Valley health professional whose contributions will help dictate the outcomes at the London Olympics. In 2008, more than 40 competitors in Beijing had ties to Arizona, and the number of Olympic hopefuls – U.S. and international – who train in the Valley could exceed 100. “Athletes come from all over the world to train here,” Phoenix psychologist Dr. Rayma Ditson-Sommer says. “We have an athletic atmosphere.”
Given the sky-high stakes, these aren’t your typical patient-doctor or athlete-trainer relationships. Micela is also a life coach and parental figure to Robles, whose father passed away when she was in high school. “Sarah has learned to use the body she was given. She’s six feet tall, 275 pounds and stronger than most men,” the 36-year-old says proudly. “She’s learned that you don’t always fit into the round peg that society wants you to.”
Not far from Micela’s gym, Gilbert chiropractor Dr. L. Jon Porman takes a similarly holistic approach. He began working with pain-ravaged Olympians before the 2008 Olympics and has treated a handful of local competitors, including long jumper Trevell Quinley and shot putter John Godina.
Known in track-and-field circles as the “witch doctor,” Porman uses a mix of standard techniques like microcurrent and laser therapy, plus his own process of “listening” to patients’ bodies. He asks about their sleep positions, favorite foods, friends and life experiences; he believes trauma makes physical pain linger. “I know their other doctors aren’t looking at them right. They’re not considering who they are in their heads,” Porman says.
While Micela and Porman take a psychosomatic approach, Ditson-Sommer taps into the neurons themselves to prepare Olympians. Her program involves 15 training stations designed to strengthen neuron development and connectivity. “When you talk to yourself and you say, ‘I don’t want to lose,’ the brain doesn’t hear that. It just hears, ‘lose,’” Ditson-Sommer says. “Your subconscious is not your friend. I help people get around that.”
Ditson-Sommer’s partnership with Phoenix Swim Club has connected her with some of the world’s best swimmers, including local legend Gary Hall Jr. She was there when Hall Jr. found out he had diabetes before the 2000 U.S. Olympic trials. “He was devastated. After everything he gave to his body, it had turned on him,” she says. “But he used this protocol to stay positive.”
Hall went on to win four medals in 2000: the gold in 50-meter freestyle, the gold and silver in team relays and the bronze in the individual 100-meter freestyle race. “That’s what you can do with mental coaching,” Ditson-Sommer says. “You can overcome the traps of the body.”
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