My involvement in the Olympics was quite unintentional. U.S. Olympic bobsled driver Steven Holcomb, at the time the best prospect for U.S. Olympic Gold in bobsled in over 50 years, had lost his vision in 2006 due to a degenerative eye disease called Keratoconus that now affects 1 in 500 - a 400% increase from 1 in 2000. Steven, whose life dream was to win Olympic Gold, was forced to retire from his beloved sport in 2007. His coach Brian Shimer and team doctor Scott Stoll, M.D. sent him to me for treatment with an innovative procedure I invented now called Holcomb C3-R that, for the first time, could non-invasively strengthen the cornea, stop the progression of the devastating disease, and prevent the need for a cornea transplant. Three months later, I implanted a micro lens called Visian ICL to correct the high prescription of nearsightedness. It was nothing short of a miracle as Steven fully regained his eyesight. He came out of retirement and quickly stacked up podium wins including the 2009 World Championship - a U.S. first in 50 years.
I flew to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver to support Steven where he made history again by winning the first U.S. Olympic bobsled Gold in 62 years. It was a spectacular achievement especially since the German team had been dominating for years. To give you an idea of the German ferocity, their lead driver Andre Lange was nicknamed "The Cannibal" for what he did to the competition. In a marvelous triumph, Steven had finally eaten the eater. This was my first Olympic experience and there was nothing like it I had before experienced. There was electricity in the air. When you wake up in your hotel room, you feel it. It's like some kind of amphetamine that naturally energizes you. Suddenly you are functioning well with just a few hours of sleep each day because of it. Back home, you would collapse without the requisite hours of shut eye day after day. Virtually everyone you meet is friendly and happy - cultural barriers seem to melt away between people of different countries. For two weeks, it is the happiest place on earth (sorry Walt, Disneyland takes a back seat for that fort night). I don't think any instruments can measure what is in the atmosphere energizing thousands of people, but it is there.
At the time, I knew I would in four years travel to the other side of the world to Sochi to again be there for Steven. At that time I could not tell you where Sochi was. I later found out it was somewhere in Russia. Over the next three years, Steven, his team, and his coaches worked hard with BMW and Geoff Bodine of NASCAR fame to be at their fastest when it mattered most - the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Vladimir Putin had made it clear "these are the Russian Olympics for the Russians". After diving through many hoops, my travel arrangements, hotel, and tickets were set. My wife was scheduled to come with me, but when terrorist attacks by Chechen rebels hit two Russian train stations in December 2013, she understandably backed out for concern of us both potentially being in danger leaving our twin daughters back home. Then reports surfaced of the "black widow terrorists" loose in the Sochi region who vowed to attack the Games. The U.S. State Department flat out said in so many words, "If you are an American, don't go!" The U.S. Hockey team almost cancelled their trip. The U.S. Ski team hired private security 24/7 to accompany the athletes and staff. Then the pressure on me from my family and staff finally came to a full boil, "Brian, it's too dangerous. You need to cancel." Some patients called my office to move up their surgery dates in fear that I might not return from Sochi. I needed to find out if these security concerns were warranted and phoned a friend Andy who is a troop commander in the military. He said, "Tell your family and staff all to stop watching cable news. Sochi will be saver than driving down the freeway. Putin will insure that. If something happens, call me on your satellite phone and I am one phone call away from the Pentagon." That truly reassured me. Just in case, I planned to wear a covert bulletproof vest, read several field medicine books used in war, and would travel with full medical supplies in my backpack just in case I would be needed in that capacity. I even brought laminated cards that I made of statements in Russian to overcome the language barrier in case I was in a tight spot.
After the long flight to Moscow, I connected to Sochi. As I waited at the Sochi airport for my handlers to bring me to the hotel for the eye evaluation, I felt the electric current charge my mind and body just as it did four years prior in Vancouver. I do not often drink coffee, but it felt like I had a giant double-double of something big from Starbucks. I smiled with the level of excitement that only the Olympics can bring.
We zipped up the mountain to watch Steven Holcomb and his 2-man bobsled partner Steve Langton compete. At the race track, people from all nationalities were there rooting for their own teams, but in a most respectful way to other fans. At the later 4-man bobsled event, Steven's brother-in-law Eric and I swapped our "Go Steve Go" sign with a pair of Russian fans - Eric proudly waved their large Russian flag as they held our sign as people snapped photos and video. Pure human goodness. No politics. It felt wonderful to be back in the happiest place on earth again. What topped it off was when Steven and Steve carved themselves into history by winning a Bronze medal in the 2-man bobsled, the first such Olympic medal in 62 years. Steven remarked to the press, "If anybody else has a 62-year drought they need to break, just let me know and we'll try to help you." This was what I considered an example of the "Olympic magical timing" that I observed during the Games. I objectively tallied a total of twenty three "magical timing" events during my Olympic experience in Sochi. I have never seen that with any other event in my life. I am convinced the energy that is created at the Olympic Games does produce a real-life alchemy - an intangible type of "magic" that is unique to the circumstances that occur there.
I was very fortunate to have spent time in the USA House, which is a "home away from home" for athletes and their family and friends. It was a cozy building with fire places, comfy couches, and chairs. The feeling inside the USA House was unique. It was a "who's who" of Olympic athletes relaxing and socializing. For example, I struck up a wonderful conversation with Kristi Yamaguchi then I thoroughly embarrassed myself with Kristi's manager when I asked if she was her mother (there were similar in age). We all had a good laugh (I thought,"Whew!"). I met the president of the United States Olympic Committee Larry Probst and Nancy his wife. After our conversation, I gave Nancy a hug and she recoiled with the look that said, "What is that stiff thing around your chest?" I instantly knew she detected my Kevlar vest, but should I reveal that to her - the USOC president's wife? I felt better to not. (After the Olympics when we spoke I explained what it was and that I was too mortified to reveal that I was wearing a covert bullet proof vest in the midst of the Games. She thought it was quite humorous - another, "Whew!" on my part.) At the USA House there was a special patriotic bond with everyone there. Huge TVs showed the other events where Americans were competing and the crowd inside roared with excitement when one of our athletes competed. To me it was the epitome of "Team USA".
Several days later, Steven drove his 4-man "Night Train 2" bobsled deeper in the history books as they won Bronze thereby making him the most accomplished bobsledder in U.S. history. It was special to witness it with Steven's brother-in-law Eric and my patient Brett and his father Tony. I was deeply happy for Steven as I knew that he was accomplishing his life goals after overcoming his Keratoconus eye disease years earlier.
Despite all the warnings and controversy surrounding the Sochi Olympics, it was beautifully organized and orchestrated. Being at the Olympics brings out the ultimate sense of humanity where the goodness of people from different cultures comes out like the sweet smell of cookies as they are taken out of the oven. I had a certain respect for Putin for being able to pull it off without a serious incident of violence and allowing for the Olympic magic to come to life. After Closing Ceremonies, Putin probably had the highest worldwide approval rating of his career. Sadly, my respect and glowing public opinion quickly vaporized when we waited no longer than one week to invade Ukraine. To me and most of the world, he "showed his hand" as the type of leader he truly is. Hitler fooled the world after the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin and continued the charade with largely positive world public opinion until he showed his hand by invading Poland three years later in 1939. In contrast, Putin waited a little more than three days after the Olympics for his invasion. The events that have followed with Russia and Ukraine leads the world to hope peace will again be seen in the region. Putin is already the world's richest man and controls a whole country. You can only eat so much caviar a day or drive only so many cars. One has to wonder what motivates someone like that.
Despite these subsequent events, I believe every Olympic Games where athletes, spectators, journalists, and others from around the globe congregate for a hallowed two weeks is a testimony to the miracle of humanity. I believe that people are inherently good unless some "neuro-circuitry" misfires or is misguided. The spirit of the Olympics makes possible for people to appreciate each other regardless of religion, race, and region. You have a sense of it when you watch it on television. For years NBC has beautifully allowed viewers to connect to that human spirit with their coverage. Experiencing it in person is a new level interaction. It's the difference between savoring your favorite dessert vs. reading about it. I would encourage everyone to try during the course of their lifetime to find a way, somehow, to attend one Olympics. I will be there in 2018 to support Steven Holcomb at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. If you do not know where PyeongChang is, no worries. You are just like me when I first heard "Sochi". Now I know PyeongChang is in South Korea. Hopefully I will see you there! In the meantime, I continue to work on my memoirs about this magical trip.