Amendola shines behind the scene
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After each of the eight football victories earned by the University of Iowa this season, head coach Kirk Ferentz was quick to credit a team effort. That extends to Dr. Ned Amendola, a silent contributor who does most of his "coaching" behind the scenes.
Amendola, who among other things is director of the UI Sports Medicine Center, received the Distinguished Service Award at the team banquet Dec. 8. Like Ferentz, Amendola shares the acclaim.
"This reinforces they appreciate all the work we do as a medical team," he says. "It should be a reflection of the entire team, not an individual."
Amendola's squad includes orthopedic surgeons, primary care physicians, athletic trainers, and physical therapists who tend to Hawkeye student-athletes in all 24 sports. Amendola's experts oversee all aspects related to student-athlete care.
"Our hope is to make athletes feel they are going to get the best care no matter what is necessary, be it a trivial or more complex problem," Amendola says.
Amendola, who began at the UI in fall 2001, is in his 13th season as the head team physician for the Hawkeye football team. He was born in Italy where he lived until moving to Canada in third grade. Amendola attended the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, playing football five years.
An engineering major, Amendola switched his area of study after breaking a scaphoid bone that forced him to spend plenty of time with his team physician. That team physician was Jack Kennedy, one of the founding members of the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine, who encouraged Amendola to get into sports medicine.
Amendola took the advice, completing medical school at Western Ontario, then residency training in orthopedics, followed by postgraduate fellowships in sports medicine. He returned to the medical faculty at Western, and there began his career in sports medicine, covering the university teams and the Canadian men's rugby team. He also served as orthopedic consultant with the Toronto Raptors of the NBA and consultant to the NHL Players Association. He became the president of the Canadian Academy of Sports medicine in 1997.
The first season Amendola began assisting with the Hawkeye football team they advanced to the Alamo Bowl and kicked off a string of six straight postseason appearances. When Iowa met No. 14 Louisiana State University in the Outback Bowl, it marked the 11th bowl game for the Hawkeyes in the last 13 seasons.
Team care is the most rewarding part of the job for Amendola, who is also a full-time surgeon at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and professor with the University of Iowa Department of Orthopaedic Surgery faculty.
"This is the most rewarding job because you have a very enthusiastic group of patients who all want to get better," Amendola says. "The rest of a student-athlete's career or normal livelihood could be in danger. If you can fix them up, rehab them, and get them back to the same level they were functioning before the injury, that is the greatest reward as a physician."
Sports medicine is a cutting edge field, so Amendola and his staff spend the offseason preparing new protocol for topics like concussion management or hamstring injuries. Once the team is in season, Amendola's job becomes routine: access athletes Saturday of game day and again Sunday morning to get a clear view of the extent of the injuries. The athletic trainers and primary care physicians meet Sunday and set a plan in motion. The players have Monday off, but it is the most important day for rehabilitation. On Tuesday morning, Amendola meets with Ferentz, strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle, athletic trainers, and physicians.
"We communicate all injuries, new and old, their status and expectations for the week," Amendola says. "Coach Ferentz likes to have that information and by Tuesday morning he knows what his roster will be for the week."
If injury information is shared externally, it always comes from Ferentz.
"We don't communicate with the media. The only person that communicates is the head coach so there is no misinterpretation of information," Amendola says.
Across the country there is a diversity of opinions on how to manage the same injury. For Amendola, that is what makes his job exciting.
"It takes a lot more interest, enthusiasm, and attention by the medical team to get somebody back a week or two earlier than what everyone else expects," Amendola says. "There is a risk-reward type of relationship: you aren't going to do anything to jeopardize the ultimate health of the athlete, but if you provide that optimistic environment for the athlete, they are motivated to do it, the medical team is eager to do it, we have the same goals of trying to get people back. When you achieve the goal, it is a great reward."
The Distinguished Service Award is a cherry on top for Amendola.
"When you love what you do, you just do it because you enjoy doing it, even more so when working with all the people involved in the program," Amendola says. "As a medical staff, we can all say that our job is made a lot easier in working with the administration and coaches at the University of Iowa—not just football, but all the coaches—it's a great group of people."