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Wimbledon Clinics

Catching up with David Hulse, Consultant in Sport and Exercise Medicine at Wimbledon Clinics

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How did you get into cycling?
I’ve been a cyclist for life – even as a child, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have bike. As a family, we often went on weekend bike rides, and that’s something that has stayed with me ever since. I cycle for both commuting and enjoyment – although, with a young family, I do a little less right now!

Do you compete professionally?
I went through a period where I trained for and enjoyed Cyclosportive events – though the aim of these is to compete against yourself, rather than others. They’ve become very commonplace throughout the UK, and there are some excellent ones in the Alps and the Dolomites. It’s a bit like running the New York or the London marathon: anyone can enter; you’re timed, there’s a good infrastructure in terms of feeding stations and mechanical assistance, and the routes are amazingly challenging (though equally scenic). I’ve not taken part in one for a couple of years, but the aim is to get back into them!

What’s been your most memorable experience of cycling?
Without a doubt, the L’Etape du Tour – it’s an annual event where one stage of the Tour de France is chosen, and roughly a week before or after the professional race rides, there’s a fully supported event for approximately 6,000 cyclists on fully closed roads. It finishes on top of the mythical Alpe d’Huez climb, which is very famous in cycling – terrifically hard, and characterised by 21 hair-pin turns!

What’s your background in sport and exercise medicine?
I began my medical training wanting to be an orthopaedic surgeon – but soon realised that I wanted to follow a broader path. Sport and exercise medicine appealed to me, as it offered a way to incorporate nutrition, biomechanics, sports psychology and the wider health benefits of physical activity. Since qualifying, I have worked with professional cyclists and the British Armed Forces at Headley Court, as well as seeing patients privately at Wimbledon Clinics. More recently, I have returned to working as a team doctor – this time with the Mitchelton-Scott professional road cycling team.

What does your role as a team doctor entail?
It mainly involves travelling to professional races worldwide, and being on the ground to provide day-to-day support to the riders – for example, managing illnesses and injuries which impact upon their ability to train and compete. This year, I covered the Belgium Classics season in March and April, which includes some iconic single-day races over the cobbled roads of Belgium and France.

Who is your average patient at Wimbledon Clinics?
They tend to be physically active and middle-aged: perhaps a keen runner, gym-goer or cyclist who has either picked up an overuse injury, or has early signs of joint-related wear and tear. The aim, from my perspective, is to be clear about the medical diagnosis that is causing the problem and restricting their chosen sport; while putting in place the best rehabilitation programme. This might involve physiotherapists, podiatrists and strength and conditioning coaches to support them in overcoming their injury and returning to sport. And though not all injuries require surgery, I’m working in an environment where – if the patient does potentially need surgical input – I have rapid access to expert colleagues who can provide that expertise.

Have you ever injured yourself cycling?
I once broke my collarbone coming off my bike – and only last winter I hit a patch of black ice on a cold morning and cracked my pelvis in three places. You could say I learned the hard way that road cycling and frost don’t mix! Fortunately, I recovered well from the latter and required no surgery – though I had to take some time off cycling, and I followed a physiotherapy programme to get me back on the road to recovery. Spending Christmas on crutches was quite fun though.

What’s the best part of your job?
Often a patient comes in thinking that their injury is going to stop them running the London marathon or going skiing. However, being able to explain to people what has caused the injury that has affected them, and put in place a rehabilitation programme of exercise therapy and conditioning which enables them – in due course – to return to the sport that they love, is so rewarding. Sometimes a patient has to miss that holiday or single race – but in that situation, we can always look forward to next year. Helping them to come back to sport as a stronger, and more resilient athlete, is always the aim.