Michael Fredericson at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Michael Fredericson at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Q&A: He went to the Olympics on team doctor

Dr. Michael Fredericson, 62, professor of orthopedic surgery in the division of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Stanford University, looks for ways to prevent sports injuries and find effective treatments so an injured athlete can avoid surgery. At Stanford, he’s the medical director for the club sports program, the director of the primary care sports medicine fellowship (which he founded), a team physician with the athletics program, and the new co-director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. Fredericson has worked in various roles with the U.S. Olympics and Paralympics and with USA Track & Field since 2002. This past summer, he treated athletes at the Tokyo Olympics on behalf of the International Olympic Committee.

J.: How did you end up going to the Tokyo Olympics, and what was the experience like?

Michael Fredericson: I’ve done a lot of work with the USA Olympic Committee, and they had given my name to the International Olympic Committee because they were looking for some extra physicians to help out, particularly because of everything with Covid. I went back and forth about whether I should do it, but in the end I decided it was worth it. I got to work with physicians and athletes from all over the world — from Jordan, from Argentina, from South Africa, from Madagascar, from Spain, Norway, Switzerland, Russia, Uzbekistan — I mean, you name it. There was a group of about 20 of us, and we lived together, we worked together. We got really close because we couldn’t go out much on our own at night because of the quarantines. It turned out to be a really great experience, and I still stay in touch with a lot of them. We worked in two clinics; one was called a polyclinic and an athlete from any sport, any country, could come to us. And then we also worked at a special isolation hotel for anybody who did test positive for Covid.

You’re a top researcher in your field. It seems medical innovations really fascinate you.

Sports medicine is still such a young field that it’s ripe for research. It’s pretty easy to make an impact. Stanford encourages research. So I probably spend about 30% of my time doing research, and I’ve been fortunate to be able to form collaborative relationships with colleagues in different disciplines. My main focus is on how to prevent injury. That’s the overall theme of the research I do.

Outside of Stanford, what other hats are you wearing?

I teach martial arts. I have a seventh-degree black belt in Okinawan karate. I’ve been doing that since I was a kid. And then for the past 15 years or so I’ve been getting into tai chi. So I do both, and I help teach both.

Were there other sports that you played when you were young? 

I did everything growing up. I ran track in college. I took a little break from martial arts during that time. [Growing up] in Cleveland, you go with the seasons. In the fall, you play football, and then you play basketball in the winter and run track or [play] baseball in the spring/summer.

Are you a sports junkie? Do you have a favorite team or sport that you’re obsessed with?

Well, still the Cleveland teams. The Cavs. I mean, I love the Bay Area. But you know, you grow up in Cleveland, you’re always a Cleveland sports fan.

What is your connection these days to the Jewish community?

When I started at Stanford as a resident years ago, I started going to Hillel and Rabbi Ari Cartun was the Hillel rabbi then. And then Ari [became the rabbi at] Etz Chayim. When I started my own family, I joined the synagogue, and we’ve been members ever since. My son’s getting ready for his bar mitzvah at the end of October.

Any interesting Jewish facts about yourself?

Three of my grandparents came from Russia. And my father and his family came from Danzig, near Warsaw; they basically just made it out in ’39. But they lost a lot of family.

Their [family] name was Fuchs. When my father was in college, he entered this writing contest, but he thought if he used “Fuchs,” if they thought he was Jewish, he wouldn’t have a chance. Somehow he came up with the name Fredericson, and he ended up winning the contest. So that’s how we got the name.

Emma Goss
Emma Goss

Emma Goss is a J. staff writer. She is a Bay Area native and an alum of Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School and Kehillah Jewish High School. Emma also reports for NBC Bay Area. Follow her on Twitter @EmmaAudreyGoss.