Harris Patel was born in Lusaka, Zambia, to parents from Gujarat, India, but his constant base has been Gwinnett.
He moved to the U.S. when he was 5, graduated in 1992 from Norcross High School, where he played football and baseball, and settled back in his home county as a longtime athletic trainer and physician’s assistant at Sports Medicine South in Lawrenceville. He remains involved at Norcross High as the director of sports medicine, lives in Suwanee and now operates his own company, Medical Game Plan.
While home is here, his career choice has permitted plenty of assignments beyond the Gwinnett borders, too.
One of those trips is currently underway for Patel, headed to Japan as a member of the USA Track and Field medical staff for the Tokyo Olympics. It is his fourth straight Olympic appearance — he also worked with the American track and field stars in Beijing (2008), London (2012) and Rio (2016).
“I definitely feel old now,” Patel said of his fourth Olympics. “It’s cool and I’m obviously very honored be in my fourth Games again with some of our veterans like Allyson Felix. And talking to some of the other athletes, young athletes, sharing my experience with the medical staff and coaches and athletes, ensure a little more comfort. I didn’t realize until recently I’m more a vet, a senior person to help guide everyone, like ‘Harris, what do you think we should do?’ I never looked at me in that role until recently.”
This year’s Olympic experience, in the age of COVID-19, is much different than his past trips. Safety measures abound, both before departure to Japan and throughout the Games, and athlete protection from the coronavirus is of the utmost importance. Those challenges make the usual athletic training tasks a little more tricky.
Patel said he is “concerned, but not worried” about the COVID-19 situation in Japan.
“The U.S. (committee) and the Japanese local organizing committee have done a really great job on protocols for all the delegation members,” he said. “The strict protocol we have will ensure we have a safe and special Olympic games. … The difference with this one is mainly what we’re dealing with in the world and at the end of the day, it’s about keeping everybody safe.”
The travel itself is nothing new for Patel, a University of Georgia graduate with a master’s degree from the University of Alabama and a master’s in medical science degree from Emory University. In addition to domestic events, he has traveled to places like Canada, Finland, Qatar, England, Bahamas, South Korea, Germany, Wales, Austria and Switzerland with USA Track and Field (an organization he has worked for since 2003) and with his new role on the medical staff for U.S. Soccer. Before leaving for the Olympics, Patel worked with the U.S. men’s soccer team during the Gold Cup.
He also began work with the NBA last summer at its bubble campus in Orlando, Fla., which led to working the NBA All-Star Game. After the Olympics, he flies straight to Las Vegas for duties with the NBA Summer League. He has more freedom for work elsewhere after stepping down from his position at Sports Medicine South.
“It’s blessings from God that all these doors have opened,” Patel said. “I’ve learned so much from (SMS founder) Doc (Gary Levengood) and Sports Medicine South and all the teams we’ve worked with. All these relationships and connections got me to my newest ventures.”
After the NBA Summer League, Patel shifts back to work with his new business in Georgia, in addition to upcoming work with U.S. Soccer as the men’s team attempts to qualify for the World Cup. His long-range goals include setting up medical mission trips to Africa, where he was born, and India, his parents’ native country.
His current focus is on his important job in Japan, helping the top American track and field athletes stay in top shape while maneuvering amid COVID precautions. The coronavirus is a dangerous stressor, but Patel expects another enjoyable Olympic experience.
“The most exciting part is when you put on the red, white and blue and you’re representing our country and the sport I represent,” Patel said. “It’s just an honor. I’m blessed to do that. When you look at the different sports and the different athletes competing for themselves and competing locally, then when we go worldwide all eyes are on the red, white and blue and the American flag. It’s just chills, especially when one of our athletes wins the gold medal. That’s the most exciting part.”