A group of elite pole vaulters in Knoxville is busy gearing up for the 2016 Olympic Trials. One member is utilizing some chilling technology that’s believed to be the first of its kind in East Tennessee.
It’s been called the “modern ice bath,” but its real name is cryotherapy.
“For me, it’s better than an ice bath. It’s faster, quicker and colder. I feel great afterwards,” said elite pole vaulter and Olympic hopeful Kelsie Ahbe.
Ahbe began her pole vaulting career at her high school in Ohio.
“My first big competition (was) probably the state meet in high school,” said Ahbe.
In retrospect, her first big competition is one of her smallest. Ahbe competed in college at Indiana University. She finished her NCAA career by finishing second in the national meet.
“I was kind of at that spot where I thought, if I got a little bit better I really think I could compete at the Olympics,” said Ahbe.
Ahbe is a dual citizen of the United States and Canada.
“I’m really proud of that. I think it’s awesome that I get to be excited about two countries,” said Ahbe.
Ahbe decided to jump for Canada. That county offers more funding assistance to athletes, and Ahbe felt there was more opportunity.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about how I can reach my full potential. I felt like I had the best opportunity to do that by jumping for Canada,” said Ahbe.
Ahbe trains at least four hours a day, at the Tim Mack Pole Vault Academy. However, she says training sessions will get longer and more difficult as the Olympic Trials date looms.
Ahbe’s workouts target each muscle in her body. She, and her training partners, lift weights, do gymnastics, do sprinting drills and of course, pole vault throughout the week. The hours of training deteriorate her muscles and joints.
“You literally break down your body every time you work out, and we’re working out at an extremely intense level,” said Ahbe.
To relieve her muscles, and to get an edge on her competitors, Ahbe began cryotherapy at Ice Up in West Knoxville.
Whole Body Cryotherapy, or WBC, cools your skin temperature to approximately 30º F. Freezing liquid nitrogen that reaches -225º F cools the skin.
“It sounds very cold. Come on – -225 degrees Fahrenheit! That’s like colder than the coldest place on earth,” said Ice Up owner Casey Flowers.
During cryotherapy, the patient stands in a tall, hollow cylinder called a Cryosauna. It’s a non-invasive procedure, and your body doesn’t come in direct contact with the gas.
The sub-zero temps force blood out of your arms and legs and into your abdomen, where your body rejuvenates it faster.
The hyper-cooling process was originally created to relieve people with chronic pain. It’s been used in Europe for more than 20 years. During that time period, the therapy also became popular among athletes.
Athletes use cryotherapy to help relieve pain, but also to help their muscles and joints bounce back after a tough workout.
“After a session, it (your blood) goes back into your extremities and immediately finds the trouble spots in your body,” said Flowers.
Ahbe does cryotherapy a few times a week. She stays inside the freezing chamber for 2 minutes and 30 seconds. After getting out, her skin temperature is 46º F.
To get your body temperature back up, it’s best to stretch or do a light warm up after cryotherapy. Ahbe does some stretches.
“It’s not that I don’t think I could do it without this, but it helps me recover faster. So, I can be more ready when my next practice session comes up,” said Ahbe.
Many elite athletes, and even some SEC teams, are starting to take advantage of cryotherapy.
Ice Up is the only place in East Tennessee that offers Whole Body Cryotherapy.