We'd have liked to be sitting where Nancy Cummings, M.D., set up shop as she watched the Minnesota Lynx claim the WNBA championship earlier this month. Dr. Cummings, a Mayo Clinic orthopedic surgeon, also is team physician for the Minnesota Lynx, and she says her position caring for the three-time WNBA champs "is what I was destined for." After hearing Dr. Cummings' story, we can't disagree.
Dr. Cummings' love of sports, and of orthopedics, started early. "When I was 10 years old, I wanted to play Little League baseball in the worst way," she tells us. There was just one problem. At the time, Little League was a boys-only operation. And even though she had a coach ready to put her on his team, Little League headquarters sent word that her town would lose its Little League charter if she played. Frustrated, Dr. Cummings petitioned her local Parks and Recreation Department to start a girls' league. They did, and she played for a year before developing a hip problem that took four surgeries to fix. Although that kept her "out of the action" for the better part of four years, it also exposed her to what would become her life's work. "I loved the orthopedic surgeon who took care of me," she says. "Because of him, I became intrigued by orthopedic surgery."
That fascination never disappeared. And neither did her passion for athletics. After she recovered from her final surgery, Dr. Cummings joined her high school's brand new girls' varsity basketball team. (Thanks, Title IX). And its softball, tennis and swim teams. Though she realized she'd never play professionally, even as a teen Dr. Cummings says she realized there was a way she could help those who did. When interviewed for a newspaper profile in high school, Dr. Cummings told the reporter that she planned to be an orthopedic surgeon — and also hoped to be a professional sports team doctor someday.
That day came about 40 years later, when Dr. Cummings was named team physician for the Minnesota Lynx. "It's kind of a fulfillment," she says of the position, which kept her busy this year as the Lynx battled numerous injuries on the road to their third championship in five years. Getting injured players back on the court quickly, she says, requires (you guessed it) a team effort. "We're a team taking care of a team," she says of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine staff at Mayo Clinic Square, where Dr. Cummings and her colleagues are just steps away from the team's practice courts. That means "if a problem comes up, we can see the player immediately and diagnose them quickly," she says.
And that makes a big difference to professional athletes, whose livelihoods depend on staying healthy. "Mayo's philosophy of the needs of the patient come first translates easily to the needs of the team come first," says Dr. Cummings. And in her mind, that's a winning philosophy. "This job is the perfect fit for me," she says. "I'm honored to work for Mayo Clinic, and I'm a big fan of the WNBA and the opportunities it provides. It's bigger than basketball."
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