When you’re at a sporting event as a sports medicine provider, you don’t watch the game the same way a spectator does, said Dr. Keith Anderson of Novant Health Cotswold Medical Clinic. “When people are watching a basketball game and somebody takes a shot, everyone watches the ball to see what happens. As a sports medicine doctor, you start to train your eyes to go down to their ankles.”

Anderson brings just that eye to the USA Olympic and National Canoe/Kayak Slalom Team, where’s he’s served as the sports medicine provider for the last 11 years. And he’ll be on hand at the time trials April 12 through 14 at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, where he’ll be watching for paddles getting wedged and shoulders being wrenched, heads getting knocked on rocks, or lacerations that need to be sewn.

Sports medicine is trickier at a venue like the Whitewater Center than on a court or field, Anderson said, because the layout makes it impossible to see the entire whitewater run. He tries to position himself to see as much as he can.

“These athletes are really tough though,” said Anderson. “They’ve been doing this for a long time. They’re in cold water all the time, getting bumped, pulled, pushed, cut up. So they’re not really much of a complainer group. So sometimes I actually have to go find them, when I see them bleeding or I see them get hurt.”

Dr. Keith Anderson

While he’ll be out at the trials, he’ll also be doing his usual juggling act of office hours and sports event work that week. At the office, Anderson, who’s double board-certified in family medicine and sports medicine, does a mixture of wellness visits and treating sports injuries.

As for his primary goal in the office and at events, he said, “I really almost never tell athletes to quit training. It’s usually just, how do we adjust this to allow you to get better?”

A doctor, and Ironman

When it comes to athletics, injury and pain, Anderson has been there. Not only is he currently training for another full Ironman triathlon and a couple of half Ironman competitions with his wife, Anderson has always been an athlete and has played a ton of sports — from soccer to football.

“In med school, that’s when I started getting injured more often,” he said, whether it was his shoulder, or his knee or his back. He was in and out of the sports medicine clinic at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, and the sports medicine doctor there started inviting him to cover games with him. He loved it so much he decided to make a career out of taking care of athletes.

Anderson joined Novant Health in 2010 after his fellowship and says he ended up in the right place at the right time and started connecting with various sporting events as a go-to physician. His résumé so far includes – but is not limited to – providing sports medicine expertise for the Charlotte Marathon, Queens University, the Ironman World Championship, the 2011 World's Strongest Man World Championship and the London 2012 Olympics.


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Seeing injuries as they happen makes diagnosis and treatment at these events that much easier. It’s very different from a clinic setting, he said. There he sees an injury and determines what needs to be done over the next week or two. At an event, it’s about quick decisions – stabilizing an athlete and getting them through the event versus sending them to the hospital in an ambulance.

“At an event,” he said, “part of what you’re deciding is, what is the injury, is it something that if you continue competing you can make it worse? Those are the toughest decisions, deciding when somebody can’t continue competing.”

He added: “You hope those don’t happen very often, but you’ve got to be ready for it.”

Prepping for the time trials

While Anderson’s tenure working with the USA Canoe/Kayak Team hopefuls has been pretty smooth – he has yet to deal with a catastrophic injury – this year’s trials do have an extra twist.

With the COVID-19 pandemic dragging on and the trials being a mass-participation event, all of the athletes have to be tested and screened for COVID. He’s been working with the American Canoe Academy and Novant Health to prepare, getting protocols and plans in place.

“So hopefully, with all of the work we’ve done ahead of time, there won’t be a lot for me to do during the actual event related to COVID,” Anderson said. He’ll be able to focus on his normal role, taking care of athletes if injuries come up.

As for joining those who make the final cut in Tokyo for the delayed 2020 Summer Olympics? It still depends on a lot of pieces falling into place – like team credentials and COVID regulations.

“It’s kind of a wait and see,” Anderson said. “I hope to be in Tokyo with the team, taking care of my athletes.”

Sports after COVID-19

One focus Anderson has had this past year is clearing college athletes to return to their sports after having COVID-19. “The thing that we’re worried about is something called myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart that can come after a viral infection like COVID-19,” he said. But most people will be able to make a full return to prior exercise levels with no problem, he said.

Here are four things to keep in mind when returning to moderate-intensity, recreational exercise after having COVID-19, according to Anderson:

  • Gradually ease back into exercise. Don’t push it too hard or throw yourself right into speed work, especially if you’re still dealing with shortness of breath.
  • If you have fatigue that lasts longer than several weeks, it’s time to get checked out by a doctor.
  • Otherwise, not everyone needs to be medically cleared to return to workouts. Just don’t be surprised if you’re feeling a little out of shape. That’s a side effect of deconditioning due to inactivity while you were sick.
  • Pay attention to your body. Get back to it at your own pace.