April 19, 2023

Boston Marathon Tragedy Inspires Steward Physical Therapist to Serve Runners

Since 2016, Eli Harris, PT, DPT, SCS, has volunteered at the finish line medical tent

Ten years ago, Physical Therapist Eli Harris, PT, DPT, SCS, passed on an opportunity to volunteer at the medical tent at the Boston Marathon Finish Line. It was a decision that weighed heavily on him, given the tragic events of the 2013 Boston Marathon. In 2016, a new opportunity presented itself, and every Boston Marathon since, Eli can be found at the finish line helping athletes following their 26.2-mile journey at the world’s oldest annual marathon.

Eli provides physical therapy care at Steward Health Care’s Boston Sports Performance Center at 900 Worcester Street in Wellesley. The center is affiliated with St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center, a Steward family hospital. For the past seven years Eli has found providing care at the iconic race rewarding. Read more on his mission to serve: 
Why do you volunteer at the Marathon?
I choose to volunteer each year to help those who are most in need of medical assistance on race day. In 2013, when I was offered a chance to help volunteer but chose not to, I was struck with a great sense of guilt for not being available to help those nearest the finish line when the bombings occurred. It wasn’t until 2016, when the opportunity presented itself again to step up and contribute my assistance, that I got the second chance to learn from my decision in not answering the call to help. Since then, it’s never been a question of “will I help” but “how can I help?”

What is your medical training and background? What is your specific area of physical therapy expertise?
As a licensed physical therapist who specializes in sports medicine, I am equipped with a variety of skills, experience, and knowledge to best assess, evaluate, treat, and consult on specific pathological issues that many individuals deal with in the world of orthopedics and sports medicine. These issues may include but are not limited to acute and/or chronic injury/disease processes that effect their function.
I am also proficient in the emergency response of the athlete, while also certified in basic CPR.

Do you see many marathon athletes at the Boston Sports Performance Center prior to race day?
I’ve treated a few athletes at BSPC that participate in the Boston Marathon. It gives me a great sense of pride and accomplishment to be able to help treat these individuals prior to race day, whether they be a mature runner or seasoned veteran marathoners. I think the athletes also appreciate the fact that I volunteer on race day and will technically be there with them. 
Describe how your medical expertise makes a difference for runners pre-race, and post-race at the finish line
I think my expertise prior to race day, when treating runners who participate in the marathon, is evident in my ability to take the time to develop a treatment approach to address myofascial concerns, muscular weaknesses and imbalances, biomechanical faults, and neuromuscular impairments. Many of these issues fall within the categories of orthopedics or sports medicine.

Post-race treatment for runners usually falls in the category of acute management of not only orthopedic or sports medicine concerns, but all systems of the body. My expertise in that setting allows for me to recognize and assess an individual’s needs in a very short time with minimal information and provide or contribute to a suitable action plan to ensure that the athlete is treated appropriately. This may include recognizing when an athlete is suffering from a potential fracture vs cramping episode, to when an athlete is experiencing dehydration and/or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
As you treat runners post-race, what do you find most inspiring about the day?
What I find to be most inspiring about race day is the unequivocal amount of teamwork and selflessness from the various health care providers to help the runners after they’ve finished the race. There’s a system set up in the medical tent designed to provide quality care for the athletes. The efficiency demonstrated by the health care team allows for quick and safe discharge of the individual to their next stop, whether it be rejoining friends/family or reclaiming their belongings at the end of the race.
How do you take this experience back to your patients at Boston Sports Performance Center throughout the rest of the year?

What I take back from my experiences on race day is my sense of duty and pride in providing the best level of quality care that I can to each of my current and future patients who come seeking help and/or treatment.

Eli and the team at Boston Sports Performance Center are welcoming new patients. Call 781-591-8191 for more information.