From helping athletes prepare for their daily events at 6 a.m. until the venues close and all the spectators have gone home for the evening at around midnight, Ralph Reiff doesn’t get much sleep.
“The Olympics is a continuous cycle, and it can suck you right in and suck the energy right out of you,” said Reiff. “There’s an element of personal management in all of that.”
Reiff is the executive director of St. Vincent Sport Performance and is the man in charge of the Athlete Recovery Center at the Proctor & Gamble Family Home at the Hotel Royal Tulip in Rio de Janeiro.
The goal of the Recovery Center is to provide support services to the families and the athletes so that, in particular, the families don’t have to worry about any annoyances getting in the way of watching their loved ones compete.
The Recovery Center comes complete with a TV so the families can keep up-to-date with all of the different events of the day, compression boots to help relieve swelling in legs and feet, vibrating foam rollers to remove stress from the body and compression tape to help relax the muscles.
While these may seem like they are all benefits for athletes, the families tend to take advantage of these services more often.
“We don’t want people to have to divert from their normal process when they’re visiting this hotel,” said Reiff. “We want them to be able to resume their normalcy in an abnormal environment.”
Reiff, who was born in Warsaw, Indiana, got his start working for several sports teams in the Indianapolis area, including the Indiana Pacers, Indiana Fever and Butler University.
“I was in the best city at the right time for amateur and professional sports growth as an athletic trainer,” said Reiff. “I had every opportunity that anyone could imagine having, and I took advantage of those opportunities.”
Reiff’s first Olympic experience was at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs in 1983 as a volunteer. He says that his love affair with the Games and his lack of athletic skill led him to his career in athletic training.
“I always had a favor toward the Olympic Games. I don’t know what sparked it,” said Reiff. “I can personally remember growing up on a farm in northern Indiana and taking a pair of perfectly good basketball shoes and driving roofing nails through them to create track spikes.”
Since working at his first Olympic Games as a member of the Atlanta Committee for Olympic Games in 1996, Reiff says he has seen many advances in the realm of sports medicine and sports training.
“Nowhere in our thinking in 1996 did we concern ourselves with athlete recovery for a specified process to occur,” said Reiff. “I wouldn’t have been able to think of it — to have an athlete recovery center at the Olympic Games.”
In Atlanta, he was in charge of nearly 10,500 athletes, coaches and even delegates from other countries. Now, Reiff and his fellow St. Vincent associates work with 101 of the 555 Team USA athletes.
As director, Reiff must make sure that the Recovery Center is always fully staffed as well as occasionally send crews out to events to help athletes in case of emergency. One of the biggest issues with this is that many events are spread out, which can make it hard to determine where to send medical officials.
“Distance is a fundamental challenge for every Olympic Games,” said Reiff. “I think part of what makes the Olympics a unique element is that geographically it’s a challenge, but it also takes the Games to different parts of the country.”
Reiff also must make sure to get his medical crews security clearance to make sure that they will be able to help out at any events where they are needed. While this wasn’t as big of deal for him at past Games, he believes the times are changing.
“There’s a level of security awareness that we didn’t have a year ago or two years ago,” said Reiff. “We’re just in that environment of constant diligence.”
Carrie Gaerte, who is one of St. Vincent’s licensed athletic trainers, says that working under Reiff has been one of the best experiences she’s had in her career.
“He’s just a team player, and he’s really about what’s best for the athlete,” said Gaerte. “We just really want to help people that are passionate about what they do because we are passionate about what we do.”
While Reiff has had to deal with some pressure as director, Gaerte says it’s not likely you’ll ever see him get too flustered.
“He’s very cool, calm and collected,” said Gaerte. “He’s very diplomatic, and it’s always a pleasure to work under Ralph.”
While his job title has changed since 1996, his attitude toward helping out athletes and fellow athletic trainers to be their very best has not.
“What I love about high-level elite athletics is that it just keeps pushing every aspect,” said Reiff. “We find better ways to do it in an ethical and safe matter.”
Hendrix Magley is a Ball State University student and writer for Ball State at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Indiana, to Rio for the Olympic Games. Follow them at bsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, and facebook.com/bsuatthegames on Facebook.