Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Physician Assistant and Athletic Trainer Harris Patel of the Sports Medicine South office in Lawrenceville is on his way to London today to serve Olympic athletes. Patel a Norcross graduate is volunteering at his second Olympic games and will be caring for over 120 American track and field stars.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Harris Patel is going to the London Olympics, but the 37-year-old isn't competing and likely won't see a single live event. He'll be working for days on end but won't get paid. His wife, Purvi, will be there too, but he probably won't see much of her.
So is the life of a trainer for the U.S. Olympic team, and particularly for track and field.
"It's long hours man," Patel said with a smile Wednesday, a day before his departure for Europe.
Patel, a Norcross High grad and physician assistant and trainer at Lawrenceville's Sports Medicine South, is making the trip to the Olympics for the second time in his career, an honor he called "big time." Like he did in Beijing, he'll be helping more than 120 U.S. track and field athletes get ready to perform at their peak.
"It's an honor to be there for our country, but at the same time it is very cool to work with the top athletes," Patel said.
With only a dozen or so trainers selected for track and field, it's not a job that is easily attained.
Patel's road began at the University of Georgia, where he worked with football and track and field athletes. While there, he built a rapport with a few U.S. track and field stars training in Athens. They more or less recommended him for international work and he began the lengthy application and trial-by-fire process, starting first with the youth division World Championships in 2003.
Working his way up and continuing his relationships with athletes, he's since worked the Pan-American Games, several World Championships and the 2008 Olympics in China. He's also got experience in college and pro football.
"It's really a lot on personality and (evaluations by athletes)," Patel said. "It's not just hey, apply, you've got the credentials, go. A lot of people probably have better credentials but it's just one of those things about getting your foot in the door and working hard when you go on those trips."
Said Dr. Gary Levengood, director of Sports Medicine South: "I've met lots and lots of athletes who know Harris, and I've yet to find one person who said something negative. And that's unique in this profession. You can usually find somebody that has an ax to grind."
Patel will join five athletes with Gwinnett ties -- Kibwe Johnson, Maya Moore, Eric Shanteau, Amanda Weir and Al-Farouq Aminu (playing for the Nigerian national team) -- in London, but probably won't have much time to visit.
Track and field events start Aug. 3 and run for eight straight days. When he leaves today, he'll be in London for a week before heading to Monaco for a camp, then back to Birmingham, England, for more training. During events, he'll work from the crack of dawn until around midnight, prepping athletes and helping them recover in every conceivable way.
Patel won't even have time to watch the track events live -- he'll be preparing other athletes and watching the events on a big screen in the training facility.
"We're behind the scenes," he said. "You're not gonna see us on TV."
Patel's wife, Purvi, will be in London as well, visiting friends and family and attending as many events as possible. She won't see much (if any) of her husband, but appreciates the demands of a job he's "awesome" at.
"We were in Midtown (Atlanta) on Sunday, just walking through, when somebody rolls down their window and yells, 'Harris!'" she said Wednesday. "And it's one of the Olympic athletes."
"It will just be awesome to know he's out there helping them," she added.