An athletic training group including Dr. Matthew Kutz of BGSU left for Honduras in late June for five days of instructing the Central American nation’s Olympic sports medicine staff.
Kutz in the classroom
That was before the Honduran president was escorted out of the country, a curfew was imposed and the American contingent was largely confined to the Olympic training complex in Tegucigalpa, the capital, for four days.
While the debate about ousted President Jose Manuel Zelaya swirled outside, Kutz and his colleagues squeezed five days of training into two before leaving the country a day earlier than planned, on July 2. Their departure was hastened by concerns that Zelaya would attempt to return from Costa Rica the following day, which spurred border closings, Kutz said. The Tegucigalpa airport was also closed in response to the rumors, sending the Americans on a six-hour bus ride to the northwest city of San Pedro Sula to catch the first available flight home.
“It wasn’t what we thought it would be at all, but you have to be flexible if nothing else,” said Kutz, who teaches athletic training and clinic management in the School of Human Movement, Sport and Leisure Studies.
The second-year BGSU faculty member had been invited to join the six-member contingent by its organizer, Jim Rumelhart, a trainer with the Xenia-based sports ministry, Athletes in Action. Ohio State University, West Point and the University of La Verne (Calif.) were also represented in the group, which included an athletic trainer/physical therapist from Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque as well.
Honduran Olympic committee members welcomed the Americans to Tegucigalpa June 27 with the news that Zelaya, whose four-year term ends in January, wanted to illegally change the country’s constitution to lift term limits, Kutz said. He said the unpopular president had been told that if he tried to do it, he would be removed—and the next day, he was escorted from his house and driven to the airport, where he boarded a plane and was flown to Costa Rica.
While Hondurans went about their business for the most part—the curfew being an exception—Kutz and his colleagues took up residence in the training center. “We felt very safe inside the complex the whole time,” he said, noting that the group did get out one day to tour the capital city.
In addition to what might happen if Zelaya returned, the biggest concerns were potential fallout from President Obama’s statement of support for the president, because he had been democratically elected; threatened intervention by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez—a Zelaya ally—and “just the unknown” amid political unrest in a country where the Americans didn’t speak the language, Kutz said. But with Internet access part of the time and the ability to communicate by cell phones, “we never felt totally in the dark,” he added.
They were supposed to work with physicians, athletic trainers, and massage and physical therapists at the national university, about two miles away. When the Americans couldn’t go to the university, efforts were made to bring their students to the Olympic training center, but the expected 100 participants dwindled to about 40, in part because of the curfew, Kutz said.
The forced move from a university classroom to a cafeteria in the Olympic complex, and especially the need to condense the training from five to two days, brought out an “amazing spirit of camaraderie” in his colleagues, said Kutz, a former athletic trainer for USA Track and Field.
“The six of us, who were total strangers before this, became pretty close through it,” he said. “It was quite an experience for everybody.”