Jason Brill is a successful downhill racer and freerider, who happens to work as a doctor while he’s not riding. In 2019 and 2020, Dr. Brill took to various zones around the west to find new lines and get deep into the gnar.
Newly-licensed in Sports Medicine, Dr. “Downhill” Brill works in a practice outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. We did a Q&A with him to see what it’s like being a doctor in a mountain bike hub.
WHAT KINDS OF PATIENTS DO YOU TYPICALLY SEE IN UTAH?
Utah is full of both traditional and extreme sports enthusiasts. I see the people you’d typically associate with sports medicine: football, soccer, tennis and others. A large portion of our patients however are skiers, climbers, trail runners and in growing numbers, mountain bikers.
HOW DO MOUNTAIN BIKERS DIFFER FROM YOUR OTHER PATIENTS IN TERMS OF INJURY TYPE?
The major split between mountain bikers and other patients is trauma vs. overuse. Gymnastics, cross-country runners, tennis players, and even road bikers typically have overuse problems as those sports involve long practices consisting of very repetitive motions or high volumes of continuous micro-trauma. This can cause issues in the tendons, ligaments, bones, and muscle fibers over time. Mountain bikers are usually seen for trauma: broken collarbones, wrists, ribs, concussions, or other crash-related injuries. It’s a very dynamic activity, meaning that the body doesn’t use the same muscles over and over again, but it’s dangerous, which means traumas.
DO RIDERS HAVE DIFFERENT ATTITUDES THAN OTHERS?
I enjoy seeing mountain bikers, and not just because I am one. Most of them are motivated, and want to get back on their bikes as soon as possible. More frequently in other sports, I will see athletes that are hesitant to get back to what they were doing previously. I think mountain biking, in that respect, is different. The average rider rides for fun, it is something they truly enjoy and are passionate about. Because of that, I sometimes have to pull back the reins on riders, telling them to wait until their body is healed and ready to go. Last week one of my patients asked, “Hey can I cut off my cast myself so I can go riding?” No, you can’t. Wait until it’s ready!
WHAT’S THE CRAZIEST THING YOU’VE SEEN RELATED TO YOUR JOB?
I was working at a clinic, filling some open shifts when they needed help. I was off the clock riding a trail and came across a guy who looked pretty beat up. He said he had some pain in his ribs after a crash, but seemed to want to get out of there and go home, and didn’t think he needed to go to the hospital. He was having trouble breathing. I did a quick evaluation, and it felt like he’d broken at least a few ribs and potentially punctured a lung. I told him he needed to get to the hospital ASAP, got him to his car and convinced him to get evaluated. I think telling him that I wanted an ambulance to take him to the hospital helped him understand the gravity of the situation. When I went into work the next day, there he was, and sure enough, he had seven broken ribs and a punctured lung. He had to get a chest tube. He ended up in the hospital for about four days, so I checked in on him to make sure he was doing ok. I’m glad he went in; things could have gotten really ugly.
HAS 2020 BEEN A WEIRD YEAR TO BE A SPORTS MEDICINE DOC?
Yes. In March our practice slowed way down, and some days I had almost no patients. We wanted to find a way to help out the community and offset the potential load to the local emergency departments, so we started work with local healthcare organizations to encourage people who had non-life threatening injuries to come directly to our clinic instead of the E.R. This was to try to keep the E.R.’s free of people who didn’t need to be there. That message was spread via different local groups and we were able to help keep the major hospitals freed up of injuries that were more appropriately managed in a clinic setting. Admittedly, the US healthcare system is difficult to navigate and the default place to go for even minor injuries is typically the ED. Trying to offset that burden helped us feel like we were doing our part. Since then, we’ve been as busy as we’ve ever been, as there’s been a huge uptake in outdoor sports enthusiasts getting out this year, much like we have seen throughout all of the outdoor industries. We are happy to help, but definitely practice CDC guidelines to make sure we and our patients are staying healthy.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE DOCTOR AND DENTIST JOKES? WHY DON’T YOU OWN A YETI?
Well it turns out when you’re a newly-graduated Doctor like me, your massive student loans take up most of your paycheck, so I’m definitely not a Yeti-tier doctor yet. Frankly, I enjoy alloy frames anyways and don’t intend on leaving my Supreme any time soon. I’m very stoked I have some brands that help me out though, and for the record, I make dentist jokes as much as the next guy.
THANKS FOR YOUR TIME. ANY LAST ADVICE?
Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. Go fast, take chances (within your skill level) and be safe out there.
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