Top left: Dr. Mitchell competes during the 2015 FINA World Championship in Kazan, Russia. Top right: A view of the pool at the 2015 FINA World Championship.
Courtesy of Matthew E. Mitchell, MD


Published 6/1/2017
Rachel Winokur

Back in the Fast Lane

Orthopaedic surgeon returns to competitive swimming after decades' hiatus
More than 2,000 athletes will compete at the 2017 Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA) World Masters Championships, July 14–30, in Budapest, Hungary. Among the swimmers will be Matthew E. Mitchell, MD, of Casper Orthopaedic Association in Casper, Wyo. In this his third FINA competition, Dr. Mitchell will be competing in the 50-meter, 100-meter, and 200-meter freestyle events.

Dr. Mitchell began swimming at the age of 7, and like most children, he was also involved in other sports. Around the age of 10, he quit swimming to play tennis, but always participated in triathlons. Dr. Mitchell returned to the sport about 4 years ago, when his daughter joined the Casper swim club. He would swim at the club in the early morning hours, and began training with the coaches with the goal of becoming a competitive swimmer. Within 1 year of training, he had qualified for both the U.S. Nationals and FINA World Championship.

Dr. Mitchell's strongest event is freestyle; his best times are 30.4 seconds, 1:07, and 2:33 for the 50-meter, 100-meter, and 200-meter freestyle events, respectively. Although freestyle is the stroke he has practiced the most, especially during triathlons, he has also improved his back, breast, and butterfly strokes. When asked which is his favorite, he responded, "Freestyle is probably my favorite because I'm good at it, but I actually like the butterfly. It's hard work. It's a very technically demanding stroke. If you can do it well, there's a rhythm to it. You can't swim it easy. It's got to be medium or hard, otherwise, the timing isn't right."

A family adventure
In 2015, Dr. Mitchell's family, including his sister and her children, traveled to Russia with him to watch him compete. They flew into Moscow, traveled to St. Petersburg, and then took an overnight train to Kazan. Traveling through Russia in general was an experience, but especially on the train because of the language barrier.

Travel to Russian cities less popular with tourists is not easy. But despite the travel challenges, Dr. Mitchell said his family "had fun in Russia because it was so unusual to them. They enjoyed being on the train." They enjoyed it so much that this summer, when they travel to Europe prior to the 2017 FINA World Championship, they plan to take a train from Vienna to Budapest.

Volunteer official
Even out of the pool, Dr. Mitchell stays involved in competitive swimming. In the past year, he has been officiating high school and USA Swimming meets, serving as the start or stroke-and-turn judge.

Top left: Dr. Mitchell competes during the 2015 FINA World Championship in Kazan, Russia. Top right: A view of the pool at the 2015 FINA World Championship.
Courtesy of Matthew E. Mitchell, MD
Dr. Mitchell poses with family members outside the Kremlin.
Courtesy of Matthew E. Mitchell, MD

According to Dr. Mitchell, volunteering as a high school swim meet official is rewarding for several reasons. First, there would be no meets without the volunteer officials—most people don't realize how important it is to have an official at the meets, he said. "There is actually a fair amount of technical aspects on the strokes—breast stroke, butterfly, back stroke—and turns that make them legal or illegal," he explained.

It's also the people he works with who are similarly passionate about the sport that make volunteering as an official rewarding. Dr. Mitchell says he enjoys getting to know the other officials, learning about their children, and developing friendships. "Everyone wants to do a good job running the meets efficiently and making sure the rules are enforced fairly," he said.

Staying disciplined
Dr. Mitchell swims at least 3,000 yards four times per week and weight trains twice per week. He wakes up at approximately 4:30 a.m. to arrive at the pool by 5:30 a.m., where he swims until 7:00 a.m. He then has time for rounds before going into the clinic at 8:15 a.m.

Dr. Mitchell meets many different types of people from around the world at swimming championships, yet they all ask him the same questions: How do you find time to get to the pool to train? How do you mix it in with work?

"You have to schedule it," he responded. "You have to pick a time and do it. If it's something you do only when you have time, you'll never get to it."

Rachel Winokur is an editorial coordinator in the AAOS publications department. She can be reached at