Chiropractor Joel Bienenfeld Readies for Olympics
By Michael Seff, Sports Editor Palisadian-Post
Since 1996, Palisadian chiropractor Dr. Joel Bienenfeld had been pursuing his Olympic dream. In late February, he exulted after receiving a phone call informing him that he would be headed to London for the Summer Olympics to serve as one of the primary chiropractors on the U.S. track team. This will culminate a long journey that saw him pay his share of dues along the way.
'I wanted to go to the Olympics a long time ago,' recalled Bienenfeld, 56, who originally owned a practice in the Palisades but now practices in Brentwood.
He remembers attending a volunteer internship at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs in 1996 but never moved up in the program. However, he re-applied to the program in 2010 and was sent to Chula Vista.
Then last year, he was selected to attend the Pan-American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, in October.
'I never gave up,' Bienenfeld said of his push to make it to the Olympics. 'It took me a long time to get there. But I kept in there. Of course, you have to be picked, you can't just want to do something. It took me too long.'
Never giving up entailed building his resume over time by volunteering his time, networking and, as Bienenfeld pointed out, 'being put through the ringer.'
His interest in chiropractic work arose in college. He had sustained a torn meniscus playing football at University High School, where he graduated in 1979 and was a high jumper, but the injury grew progressively worse after surgery.
After transferring to Cal State Northridge from UCLA following his freshman year, Bienenfeld went to his cousin, who was a chiropractor, and immediately became enamored with the ability to help people medically without surgery because of the improvement he felt in his knee.
Following graduation, Bienenfeld attended chiropractor school at Pasadena College, then spent four more years in post-graduate school at Los Angeles College of Chiropractic.
His first sports-related job was in 1985 when he joined the staff at Palisades High. He primarily assisted with the football team but also helped with swimming and track and field over a 14-year span.
'I called up Coach [Jack] Epstein and said 'I can treat athletes' and he got excited and had me come out and start [working] with the football team,' said Bienenfeld who also began working for the L.A. Marathon and Santa Monica College, while serving on USC's track and field team for four years.
On July 15, Bienenfeld will depart for England, starting at training camps in Birmingham and then continuing onto London for the Olympics. He will remain there until the closing ceremonies on August 12, after having endured nearly a month of intense work.
'There's a lot of pressure,' Bienenfeld said of his duties. 'It's almost not enough to make athletes feel better. They're not happy unless they win. It's very stressful. [I'm] not even allowed to make the decision if they need to sit out.'
Many of the specific problems Bienenfeld expects to deal with at the Olympics will be similar to his regular duties as a chiropractor.
Keeping the athletes' muscles loose is always priority number one.
'People feel faster if everything's moving properly, so my job is to find out what's tight on them,' Bienenfeld said. 'I have to figure out whether it's a joint or a muscle or connective tissue. I sort of loosen them up or tape them or stretch them or do soft-tissue work on them.'
Still, he knows he must find a balance between doing too much work and not enough with each athlete.
'Part of the art of working at an event like this is knowing how much to do that's going to make them better and benefit them without doing so much that's going to make them worse,' Bienenfeld explained. 'It's a very tricky thing.'
Working mostly with track and field athletes (though he will be available for other sports if needed), Bienenfeld knows how demanding and pressure-packed his job will be, following his experience at the Pan-Am Games, to which he was selected by both the U.S.A. Track and Field Committee and the U.S. Olympic Sports Medicine Committee.
'For three weeks I started at 7 a.m. and the earliest I finished was 11 at night, and that was a good day,' he recalled. 'They had me running all over the place: table tennis, squash, fencing. It was insane. They want to make sure you're not going to crack. They put you through a lot, and they want to make sure that you get along [with everyone].'
In exchange, Bienenfeld said, he had an opportunity to soak up a tremendous amount of information from the other doctors on staff.
This time around, Bienenfeld will have some company, as his wife Kimm plans to join him towards the end of the Olympics. Kimm assists with many of Bienenfeld's daily duties, including his work with the Los Angeles Ballet Company.
Bienenfeld, who was born in Brentwood and moved to the Palisades in 1984 when he opened his practice here, has three children (Adam, 28, Heather, 26 and Mark, 24) and one stepson (Austin, 24). He practiced with his brother, Dan, until 2007.
While Dan maintains his practice here, Bienenfeld has moved to 12301 Wilshire Blvd. in Brentwood. He can be contacted at (310) 993-6656 or by e-mail at [email protected].
Chiropractor Joel Bienenfeld Readies for Olympics