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‘Wonderful experience’: Bend man reflects on role as team doctor at 1992 Olympics and beyond

Tom Carlsen made history as the first orthopedic surgeon from Oregon to be an Olympic doctor

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- When an Olympian makes the podium, they may be the only one to win a medal, but not the only one to share the Olympic glory. There are a lot of people behind the scenes putting in hard work, too. Bend is home to one of those key players.

Tom Carlsen is a decorated physician in the world of sports, with roots as an athlete himself.

Born and raised in Minnesota, Carlsen grew up playing hockey. He even played in college before going to medical school at the University of Minnesota.

Carlsen’s career took off as an orthopedic surgeon, eventually deciding Bend was the best place to work and raise a family.

You might have been treated before at The Center, which focuses on orthopedic and neurosurgical care and research. Carlsen founded it.

Surgery wasn’t his only passion.

"I loved being part of a team and being around all those players," Carlsen told NewsChannel 21 recently.

His love for sports medicine earned him a spot at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. He made history as the first orthopedic surgeon from Oregon to be an Olympic doctor. Carlsen was the team doctor for both the U.S. hockey and ski teams.

"I could sew somebody up between periods, and they could play the next period," he recalled.

As the team doctor, Carlsen had to make some tough calls. He knew what was on the line for these athletes.

"It was the Olympics -- there were gold medals involved," Carlsen said. "I would inject somebody with numbing medicine, to let them play. It's something I wouldn't do on a high school kid."

His work continued past the podium too.

"I'm with the athlete as soon as they're going to win, and I take them through drug testing. Because we don't want somebody handing them a drink that's been tampered with."

As much as Carlsen was there to help, he was also there to learn. He'd network with doctors from around the world.

"The doctors would sit around at night, and we'd teach each other new techniques," he said. "So you'd literally draw surgeries on napkins, and then I could bring that back to Oregon."

Bringing back napkins -- and memories. Carlsen's wife and three kids got to tag along with him to the Olympics. Out of all his Albertville experiences, time with the family was what he treasured most.

When asked what his favorite part about being an Olympic doctor was, his answer shows where his heart is.

"I think probably sharing it with my kids. Going to all the ceremonies, got to do all the pin trading. I think it was fun for them to have a father who was a little bigger -- you know -- than Bend," Carlsen said.

But he'll admit, his own personal experiences were pretty sweet too.

"I got to meet a lot of wonderful people, some neat hockey players and skiers and coaches, and other doctors," he said. "It was a wonderful experience."

Carlsen's career as a team doctor didn't end in Albertville.

He continued working for national teams, traveling all over the world for 25 years. Being away from Central Oregon so much was tough, but he says it benefitted his work back home.

"It helped me bring doctors into my clinic from other places in the United States that we might not have had a chance otherwise," he said.

Carlsen retired in 2008, but has found ways to keep himself busy.

He started three nonprofits, teaches at local universities and is an avid golfer. His career took him all over the world, but he's happy to be settled in the best place of all.

"We'll never leave. We have kids and grandkids here now and Bend's our home," he said. "And we're trying to help it stay uniquely Bend and to grow with the times."

"So, we're committed to Bend."

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Carly Keenan

Carly Keenan is a multimedia journalist and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Carly here.

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