SOCHI, Russia — When talking to Dr. Gloria Beim, details emerge that only begin to explain how she emerged to become Team USA’s chief medical officer at the Sochi Winter Olympics, supervising more than 70 medical professionals in charge of keeping United States athletes in shape to pursue their dreams.
There is the one about Beim starting college when she was 14 because she had basically run through all the available curriculum at her Montessori school. Then there is the one about her spending time each day of the past eight months learning to speak and comprehend Russian so that she can be fully communicative in Sochi. In between those examples, which span the breadth of her development into one of the top orthopedic surgeons in the country, there is the one about how a young woman with a Columbia University medical school degree broke into a man’s game by coming to Pittsburgh.
Beim had heard about the sports medicine fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, run by Dr. Freddie Fu and Dr. Christopher Harner, and she wanted one of the spots, badly. But at that time, in the mid-1990s, UPMC had never had a female fellow in its program. How could she make it happen? Well, she would run into Fu at conventions and meetings each year and introduced herself.
Beim made enough of an impression to gain an interview. Two of the other candidates, who were students at Harvard, had been snowed in. So Beim was told she could interview the next day in Pittsburgh.
Fu assigned her Pittsburgh football, men’s basketball, and wrestling.
“I challenged the system,” Fu says. “I assign a fellow to any sport I want, but I really wanted to test the culture. The players, the trainers, I wanted them to learn to work with a female, and I thought that she was up to the task to do it.”
Beim has spent her entire career paying back Fu’s faith in her. She moved to Crested Butte, Colo., to open her own practice, believing that she wouldn’t be nearly as prepared if not for her year in Pittsburgh. In 1997, she began working with USA Cycling, and in 2000, she began volunteering her services with the United States Olympic Committee.
The 2004 Athens Games were her first Olympics. She skipped on Beijing in 2008 to have a baby daughter and rejoined the cause for London in 2012.
In Sochi, she will be the go-to person for all USOC medical personnel. “This is biggest honor I could ever dream of,” Beim says. “I’m going overboard.”
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. J. Brady McCollough is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.