York doctor helps Olympians achieve gold

Katherine Ranzenberger

There's a certain look that pops into Dr. Mark Lavallee's eyes when he talks about two-time Olympic weightlifter Kendrick Farris.

WellSpan's Sports Medicine Dr. Mark Lavallee, poses with his Olympic Trials memorabilia at his office Wednesday, May 11, 2016, at the Thomas Hart Family Practice Center. Lavallee, who is the also the Chairman of USA Weightlifting, just recently traveled with the team to Salt Lake City for the Olympic Trails and is awaiting word on whether or not he will be traveling to Rio for the games in August. Amanda J. Cain photo

It's a mix of pride, joy and accomplishment that a parent gets when their child achieves greatness.

But Lavallee, a York resident, isn't Farris' father. He's one of the many physicians who helps Farris make sure he's in peak physical condition to compete against other nations during weightlifting competitions like the PanAm Games and the Summer Olympics.

"I've known Kendrick since he was 13," Lavallee said. "He was just a beanpole. I've watched him grow. I think if you would have told him then that he'd be doing this now, he wouldn't have believed you. Just to be a part of that is incredible."

Start of a career: The WellSpan doctor got his start in weightlifting as an obese man while at Penn State University. He said he was weak before he started weightlifting, barely able to lift a 65-pound bar in a bench press.

For nearly 30 years, Lavallee, 48, has been chasing his passion and helping others achieve goals that make them national heroes.

"Weightlifting and strength sports changed my life," he said. "It's given me some neat opportunities. I've been very blessed to be at all levels of sports."

A U.S Olympic Weightlifting Team Trial credential from Salt Lake City, sits on Dr. Mark Lavallee desk Wednesday, May 11, 2016, at the Thomas Hart Family Practice Center. Amanda J. Cain photo

IWF: The York-based sports medicine physician has been working with athletes since 1997. He's assisted at countless competitions and talks about the athletes he helps just like they're his children.

"For me, it's the relationship with the athletes and the relationship with the support staff," Lavallee said. "I'm also doing something patriotic for our country."

Last weekend, Lavallee spent time with athletes from around the country vying for three spots with Team USA this summer in Rio de Janeiro. He flew across the country to Salt Lake City to make sure athletes were pushing themselves but staying safe while sometimes lifting more than double their body weight.

Lavallee has been a member of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) since 2000. He's been the chairman of USA Weightlifting Federation's Sports Medicine Program since 2010.

Rio: Even though he's been working with Team USA athletes for years, there's no guarantee Lavallee will be able to join them in Rio in August.

Each of the 44 sports athletes can compete in gets a certain number of support personnel credentials per number of athletes, he said. So far, three U.S. weightlifting athletes have qualified for the Rio games, giving Team USA weightlifting two credentials. All three athletes are women.

A Road to Rio Calendar sits on WellSpan's Sport Medicine Dr. Mark Lavallee desk Wednesday, May 11, 2016, at the Thomas Hart Family Practice Center. Amanda J. Cain photo

"That leaves it for the men's coach and the women's coach," Lavallee said.

However, there is a chance the doctor will be able to join the team in Brazil if another country is disqualified for nonsanctioned steroid use. Lavallee couldn't say which country may be on the chopping block for "doping" but said three slots could go to Team USA if the other country's athletes test positive for illegal substances.

"There's a huge political side to this," he said. "There are still a couple more chances for people to score points to qualify for the Olympics. It's based on how much you can lift and your chance of getting a medal in the end."

If the other country is found to be doping athletes, Lavallee said the three women already qualified with Team USA might be joined by at least one man, adding to the number of available credentials for physicians.

Lavallee said he could even join Farris in his third Olympic games if he qualifies.

— Reach Katherine Ranzenberger at kranzenberger@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @YDKatherine.