Games Elevated: How to Beat the Heat, Altitude in Salt Lake City

36th National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Salt Lake CityThe 36th National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) in Salt Lake City will be “Games Elevated,” a play on the city’s high altitude, mountainous terrain and summer temperatures reaching into the high 90s and low 100s. But “elevated” also means athletes with spinal cord injuries and other injuries and conditions will need to take some precautions in order to sustain good physical health and performance.

With temperatures projected up to 101 degrees the week of the Games, the dry heat of Salt Lake City means athletes must remember to drink plenty of water to avoid becoming dehydrated.

“Athletes are not going to feel hot in many cases because their sweat evaporates so fast,” said Dr. Kenneth Lee, medical director for the NVWG. “With that evaporation, they dehydrate faster, which means they need to drink more even though they may not feel that they’re sweating it off.”

Athletes traveling to the Games should also remember to bring a light jacket or sweater, as body temperature issues could also arise as athletes travel from the dry heat to indoor air-conditioned areas, Lee added. “In the evenings, it will cool down fast, so athletes should remember to have a jacket or long-sleeve along,” he said.

Salt Lake City boasts an altitude of more than 4,300 feet, and while this is not a level that should be of concern for most athletes, those with high-level injuries or who are prone to altitude sickness should take necessary precautions. One precaution that should be addressed with a doctor prior to the Games is the medication Acetazolamide, which athletes should begin taking two or three days prior to travel to Salt Lake City to aid with altitude sickness, Lee said.

Finally, traveling is always a challenge for many people with disabilities, Lee said, particularly as many athletes have neurogenic and bowel conditions. Many athletes, for example, choose not to eat in order to avoid a potential accident, but athletes should maintain a solid, steady diet throughout their travel.

“Athletes need to be aware that their schedule is changing, their metabolism is going to change, the type of food and amount they will consume will change, and bowel and bladder routine may change as well,” Lee said. “They should figure out from past travel what the best thing is for them to eat to sustain a healthy environment for their bodies.”

Athletes should also fall back on the rehabilitation training they have all had as they adapt to a new environment. An important part of that training is asking for help when needed, Lee said.

“In many cases, athletes are too proud, so they tend not to ask for help,” he said. “But asking for help is part of the rehab process and is part of directing their own care and directing their lives. Travel and living temporarily in other places are challenging, but athletes should talk about the challenges as they come up. It should turn it into an exciting, adventurous challenge.”
The National Veterans Wheelchair Games are co-presented by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Brittany Ballenstedt is a military spouse, freelance journalist and photographer in Washington, D.C.