As my phone interview continued Sunday, after finding out how Bill Sterett became Dr. Bill Sterett after he graduated from Cardinal Newman in 1987, after finding out how he became the head physician for the U.S. Women's Alpine Ski Team, Dr. Sterett said something that made me howl in laughter. I told him right then I would remember what he said for the rest of my life.
Dr. Sterett was talking about all the cures that have been suggested to heal the very famous right shin of the very famous Lindsey Vonn, the most publicized athlete of the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Vonn suffered a deep bruise in a training accident 12 days before the start of The Games. Last Wednesday the Alpine skier said she was "very scared" she might not be able to compete, the pain so severe.
Dr. Sterett was inundated with suggestions on how to treat Vonn, who was going to be the Golden Girl of Vancouver the way Michael Phelps was the Golden Boy of the Beijing Summer Games. All manner of lotions and salves and ointments were offered. Someone had designed an aluminum brace. Some, clearly, had the distinct odor of a quick-rich scheme.
And then there was The One.
"A guy said," Dr. Sterett said, "he had been developing a new silicone implant for breasts that he was sure he could adapt to protect Lindsey's shin."
I don't know exactly why, but the thought of a world-class athlete screaming down a mountain wearing a silicone breast implant on her leg, well, it sent me to a screech so loud, I now will apologize once again for yelling into your ear, Dr. Sterett.
I mean, would they have to duct tape that sucker to Lindsey's leg?
"Her announcement set off a firestorm that is remarkable," Dr. Sterett said.
Dr. Sterett knew there would be a fuss made when Vonn, 25, said she might not be able to compete. She is on her way to winning her third consecutive women's World Cup championship. She is the best women's skier in U.S. history. Yet, Dr. Sterett admitted, he was still a bit surprised at the level of interest.
The reason became obvious once Dr. Sterett explained how he became involved in Vonn's career. It has been a bit of a circuitous route, from Santa Rosa to Vail, Colorado.
After he graduated from Newman in 1978, Dr. Sterett received his bachelor's in biochemistry from UC San Diego, where he also was a scratch golfer on the school's team. He graduated from the UC Davis medical school and was offered a year-long sports medicine fellowship from Harvard. He was about to go when the prestigious Steadman-Hawkins Clinic in Vail made him the same offer.
A skier himself Dr. Sterett bit his tongue, chose Steadman-Hawkins in 1994. The year passed. Dr. Sterett stayed on and soon began treating the entire Alan Kildow family (Vonn's maiden name). The Kildows had moved from Minnesota. At 13 Lindsey and Dr. Sterett shared an experience that would form a bond that lasts to this day.
"I operated on her broken leg," Dr. Sterett said.
From then to now Dr. Sterett has had the chance to see Vonn in all kinds of situations, facing all kinds of pressures and came to the same inescapable conclusions.