Newman grad has an Olympic connection

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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.

"I have dealt with everyone in Alpine racing over the years, including Picabo Street, Tommy Moe and Billy Johnson," said Dr. Sterett who has been head physician for the U.S. Women's Alpine Ski Team for the last 12 years. "And I haven't come across anyone who treats people better and with more kindness than Lindsey. She calls my son on his birthday.

"She has (physical) talent few people ever have. She's not one of those athletes who goes to parties. She doesn't drink. If it's 4 p.m., it's a workout. If it's 6:30 p.m., it's dinner. If it's 9 p.m., it's stretching before going to bed. She's the best ambassador the U.S. Ski Team and the USOC could ever have."

Phelps, at one time, was so adored. But a picture of Phelps smoking marijuana in a bong took a little glow from his halo.

"I can tell you that you will never, ever see a picture with Lindsey Vonn smoking a bong," Dr. Sterett said.

The deflowering of the American athlete icon – pick a name – has led to cynicism. Who do you – if you do at all – put on the pedestal anymore? By their own hand, Tiger Woods, Plaxico Burress, Pacman Jones, Mark McGwire, all of them have taken the good will given to them and thrown it in the trash can.

That's why such a ruckus occurred last Wednesday when Vonn said she might not be able to compete. America was ready for someone to climb on the stage, someone they could trust that wouldn't fail them. Yes, you can make the argument we should never expect premier athletes to be premier human beings but the temptation is unavoidable. We are attracted to the sensational and want to make it personal.

That's why Vonn's announcement last Wednesday shook not only the Olympic Village and the NBC execs marketing her, but the seismic shake trickled down to Everyday America.

We are waiting for a high profile athlete not to let us down. The void is there. We are waiting for someone to fill it.

"You might be right," said Dr. Sterett, 49. "I think America is ready for a true golden girl. Lindsey is a good person, hard-working, genuine. She is the All-American girl."

So what is Vonn's status? Last Friday Vonn didn't march in with the rest of the U.S. Olympic team. But Sunday morning Dr. Sterett was on top of a mountain with Vonn.

"She didn't do any downhill," he said, "but she made six runs on the slalom course and she didn't have any pain in her shin."

The less-than-wintry weather at Whistler, B.C. has stalled events and given her time to mend. Dr. Sterett said the downhill is now scheduled for Wednesday and the super-combined Thursday. All of this is subject to the weather and, in Dr. Sterett's opinion, that's what makes Vonn's quest for five gold medals more difficult than Phelps'.

"In swimming, Michael has the same pool, the same water, the same length as the rest of the swimmers," Dr. Sterett said. "In skiing, with 55 skiers competing in the downhill, Nos. 20-25 will find themselves racing against a 10 mile an hour uphill wind. That will slow them down. You can have the top skiers in the world finish 15-20th. Sure that's unfair. But skiing is an outdoor sport. There is a certain amount of luck involved. Tommy Moe had a race once in which the fog rolled in over the course. Just for him.

"All that said, it's very doable for Lindsey to win any or all of the five events she's entered."

And what's the probability she'll be healthy enough to race in five events?

"Greater than 90 percent," Dr. Sterett said. "She's experienced a pretty dramatic improvement."

Maybe it was the silicone breast implants that did the trick.

"Thing is," Dr. Sterett said, "even if she was wearing them, you wouldn't be able to tell."

Thank goodness for that. Thank goodness.

For more on North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky's blog at You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or

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