Clinic offers free sports physicals for student athletes

Dr. Tim Van Gelder (submitted photo)

OWATONNA — Every year, Dr. Tim Van Gelder will catch a heart murmur or an abnormal rhythm that was otherwise unknown and previously undetected by the person he is seeing, and every year that means that the student athlete who was ready to start practicing with the team but who has that murmur, that abnormal rhythm will have to wait just a little longer.

“We won’t clear them at the sports evaluation,” said Van Gelder, a family medical physician at Mayo Clinic Health System – Owatonna.

Van Gelder will be one of the doctors at the clinic next week when Mayo offers free sports qualifying physicals to area athletes.

But the good doctor, who has practiced medicine in Owatonna for eight years, also knows the importance of athletes being in sound physical condition before taking the field, the court or the rink. For years now, Van Gelder has been on the sidelines of Medford High School football games just in case there’s an injury or other medical condition that requires attention of a physician.

So Van Gelder knows the importance of those student athletes being physically sound on the front end of practice and play.

“It’s more important that you’re safe, that you do this safely,” he said, who added that the sports physicals “screen for things that put the student athlete at risk.”

But there’s another reason for athletes — both the seasoned veterans and the up-and-comers — to participate in the physicals. Simply put, they’re requited.

The Minnesota State High School League — the governing body for all high school sports in the state — requires that all athletes have a sports physical done before they are allowed to participate. And that means athletes in all sports — from badminton and bowling to football and ice hockey, and everything in between.

The league even has a form that must be completed before the participation can commence. The form, which is available online, not only allows the medical personnel to check off — yes or no — the medical eligibility of the athletes, but also has a section for an athlete’s medical history.

Van Gelder knows firsthand the importance of that information. If, on the sidelines, he knows an athlete has asthma and requires specific medication, then he is prepared if the athlete suffers an episode during the athletic contest.

And that, he said, is the real reason for the sports physicals.

For several years now — longer than Van Gelder has been in Owatonna — Mayo has been offering the sports qualifying physicals free of charge to area school athletes, grades seven through 12.

The physicals for female athletes in that grade range will be from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 31, and for male athletes in that same range from 6 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 1. The physicals will be performed in the family medicine pod on the main floor of the clinic next to the same-day clinic.

Mayo Clinic Health System – Owatonna is located at 2200 26th Street NW in Owatonna.

The physicals will done on a first-come, first-serve basis. The sports qualifying physical examination clearance form will be available the nights of the screenings for those who have not gone online to get a copy beforehand.

The student athletes will go from station to station to complete the physical screening, said Van Gelder — something that distinguishes the sports physical from an annual physical.

At the sports physical, for example, immunizations will not occur, he said. Nor will there be much time — if any — devoted to discussing healthy living, diet and sleep patterns.

“This does not take the place of an annual physical,” said Van Gelder.

Mayo recommends an annual, comprehensive physical exam for all children 11 and older. Van Gelder added that some student athletes choose to have their athletic screening and their annual exam done at the same time, though the full annual exam will not be available on Tuesday or Wednesday evening.

“The clinic sees this as a service to the community,” he said, adding that the clinic will see about 60 student athletes each night.

And though the sports screenings are scheduled for just one hour each evening, Van Gelder said they will continue until complete.

“We’re there until we’re done,” he said.

Reach Managing Editor Jeffrey Jackson at 444-2371 or follow him on Twitter @OPPJeffrey.

Jeffrey Jackson is the managing editor of the Owatonna People's Press. He can be reached at 507-444-2371 or via email at

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