June 18, 2018

Kaiser Permanente care gets top skier to Olympics

Excellent care at Kaiser Permanente enabled injured skier Robby Franco to compete in the PyeongChang Olympics — and beyond.

Robby Franco, a 24-year-old extreme athlete and longtime Kaiser Permanente member, has spent more time than he can recall in the Emergency Department and surgical suites of Roseville Medical Center.

“Broken arms, broken toes, broken fingers,” he said, naming just a few of his injuries. “My whole family, my brothers, myself, we were always getting beat up in different sports — we’ve been repaired and well taken care of at Kaiser.”

His most recent string of medical appointments had a different purpose.

Franco is an Olympic skier for Mexico who resides in the Sierra foothills. In the month leading up to his travel to South Korea for the PyeongChang Winter Games this past February, he conditioned regularly and was evaluated frequently at the Kaiser Permanente Sports Medicine Center in Sacramento. He also needed to heal from a serious knee injury in order to jump fearlessly off steep slopes, soar toward the clouds, twist and turn multiple times, then navigate a high-speed landing.

“He came in with a pretty high challenge for us, which was, ‘Can you get me ready for the Olympics in one month?’” recalled Leah Robson, certified athletic trainer at the Sports Medicine Center. “For me, I was like, game on, let’s do it.”

Franco benefited from Kaiser Permanente’s commitment to sports medicine. Across Northern California, the service line includes more than 50 board-certified, fellowship-trained sports medicine physicians who specialize in orthopedic surgery, family medicine, physical medicine and rehabilitation, pediatrics and emergency medicine. Together, the physicians are at the core of one of the largest and most comprehensive sports medicine practices in the country.

Recovered and reassured

The conditioning sessions led by Robson, physical therapist Scott Tilson and Sports Medicine Center Co-Director Jason Brayley, MD, helped Franco recover from his Medial Collateral Ligament tear.

Jason Brayley, MD, Robby Franco, and athletic trainer Leah Robson.
From left to right: Jason Brayley, MD, Robby Franco, and athletic trainer Leah Robson.

But once in PyeongChang, he hesitated before putting on skis for the first time in two months. What if I reinjure my knee on the first practice jump? What if I take a career-ending spill? The athlete who impressed his providers with an incredible training ethic was now questioning his readiness in the sport he had practiced since age 2.

Franco pulled out his cell phone and messaged Robson.

“I’m not sure I can do this,” he typed.

Her reply: “You just have to believe in yourself and be confident. Trust your body and trust your skills. Own it.”

Robson and Dr. Brayley connected with Franco over video visits to observe his range of motion. They assured him he was ready.

On his first practice jump, Franco flew too high, too far. He landed hard, yet remained upright. In subsequent practices, Franco incorporated more of the tricks he had mastered in World Cup competitions.

On the day of the Men’s Ski Slopestyle Qualification, Franco knew he was in top shape.

‘Honored and blessed’

The course, however, proved exceedingly challenging, he said.

On his first run, he lost speed, prompting him to come off a rail obstacle facing in the wrong direction — with his back pointed downhill, which prevented him from performing his usual stunts. In his second run, he plowed into a snow bank before picking himself up and continuing an otherwise flawless performance.

Franco placed 27th out of 30 and has no regrets. “I’m just as honored, just as blessed for that experience of competing.”

He is now taking a year off from skiing to focus on his newest career, financial advising and consulting, which he plans to do from his homes in Cameron Park, California and Denver.

Franco, whose father is of Mexican heritage, is again planning to offer his athletic skills to Mexico’s Olympic committee in anticipation of the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

He wants to compete in ski cross, a downhill thriller where four skiers dangerously race shoulder-to-shoulder toward the finish. Some people describe it as roller derby on snow.

If Franco makes the team, the Kaiser Permanente Sports Medicine Center will be ready to help him prepare.

“The care we provide to Olympic hopefuls and NBA players is the same care we provide to any Kaiser Permanente member who walks into our facility,” said Dr. Brayley. “We apply the same approach to every patient recovering from injuries — getting them back to their sport as safe as we can, as fast as we can.”