AMSSM…a conference too good not to blog

Written by Grainne Donnelly on . Posted in .

If you have been following me, you will know that I have just arrived home from Austin, Texas in the USA where I was speaking at the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine’s (AMSSM) annual conference. I was honoured to be invited to attend as an international keynote speaker within the ‘Female Athlete through the life span’ session. How cool is it that this conference had this session planned within it. They had me at hello…!

I am not going to lie, I was a little nervous about going. For one, I have not left N. Ireland since prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and I knew I would have to travel over alone. Can I even navigate airports anymore? Would I remember to get everything I needed in place to go from Covid-tests to certificates? Will the kids and Patrick be okay without me for 5 days? What if I get kidnapped when out there? It is amazing how 2 years of lockdown can make you worry about things you never gave thought to before.

Alas, I pulled myself together and set off. And boy am I glad I did. I have never met such a welcoming community of people ever! Everyone went out of their way to include me and ensure I had everything I needed. I arrived the day before my talk and once I seen the huge conference hall I was back into panic mode…”I have to speak in front of how many people????“.

The Athletic Female through the life span was organised by two fab female leaders, Dr Karin VanBaak and Dr Shelley Street Callender. They had a vision to ensure that there is increased focus and understanding of female specific considerations and they smashed it. We had a wonderful diverse and experienced panel of experts speaking about important topics relevant to the female athlete at various life stages including:

Dr Katherine Rizzone speaking about ACL injuries in girls

Dr Avinash Chandran speaking about Post-Collegiate Transition for Women

Me! Speaking about Postpartum return-to-sport.

Dr Nicole Keith (PhD) speaking about Exercise for Post-Menopausal Women

Keynote speaker Kara Goucher, former elite marathon runner, speaking about the Mother Athlete

The Female Athlete through the life span panel: L->R: Dr Katherine Rizzone, Dr Karin VanBaak, Dr Avinash Chandran, Kara Goucher, Gráinne Donnelly, Dr Shelley Street Callender and Dr Nicole Keith
The Athlete perspective is so important in our learning experiences at conferences. It was an honour to meet Kara and to listen to her bring all our evidence and teachings to real life sports medicine and experience.

We had a great turnout in the audience and they engaged fully in the entire session. It was awesome to be part of it and see the hunger that there is for learning and understanding more about nuances of female athletes so that we can all better serve the athletes in our caseloads. Many professionals came up afterwards seeking guidance for resources and courses that they could access to develop their understanding within this population. The Athletic Female course ( was created exactly for this purpose and suitable for all members of the multidisciplinary team to apply within their individual scope of practice. I hope that some of them take it and find it beneficial.

Click on the image above to find out more about the Athletic Female Course

In addition, as mentioned in my talk, I co-host a podcast which specifically focuses on female pelvic health related concerns called “At Your Cervix – the Podcast”. The audience seemed to like our podcast name and if you are reading this and interested in checking it out, I recommend starting with this session:

Please note we have rebranded since this session and we now have a new podcast jingle which I encourage you to check out…here is another nice episode worth listening to:

In addition to this you can find many podcast episodes where I have been a guest on my website under the Featured Podcasts section ( including:

I was invited out to dinner that evening by Dr Jon Drezner and his former colleagues and friends from the University of Washington. Sports medicine physicians sure know how to work hard and play hard. It was a blast. Somewhat unnerving that everyone surrounding me in the table is pretty much a very big deal….but humbling to realise how down to earth and good fun they all are. I obviously educated them all more and more about pelvic health as the drinks went in….! Despite being at the conference to speak about female athletes, I clearly took a spin off piste to discuss male pelvic health as a tag line that continued throughout the rest of the conference was “nuts to guts”. If you know…you know!

Me and John Drezner ,MD and Editor in Chief of the BJSM).
Will we all look back in 10 years time to find pictures with masks hanging off our ears??
Honoured to meet and be inspired by Dr Kimberly Harmon

I honestly have not laughed so much in a very long time. I met a great group of physicians who took me under their wing. It was just non-stop laughing. We even made it to a bar that had a slide inside it and hula hoops. We clearly trialled all of these activities out many times.

The lads! Dr Mike Leiszler and Dr Nate Krug
The lads again…Dr Nate Krug, Dr Matt Leiszler and Dr Kyle Goerl

Throughout the conference I enjoyed sitting in and learning from other speakers leading the way in their field. The session on Sports Medicine Physician Wellness by Dr Rahul Kapur was fantastic and very relevant to any professional background. Key take away….I need to learn to say no, before my body does it for me.

The trans athlete session was also a must see. It included insightful talks by Dr Kathryn Ackerman (Endocrinology and Gender Affirming Care in the Athlete), Dr Dolores Christensen (Mental Health of the Trans Athlete) and Dr Luci Olewinski (Legislation of Trans Athletics). This panel also featured International guest speaker and researcher Joanna Harper (PhD). She discussed her research, some of which is not published yet, including the strength edge that transgender females retain despite some normalisation. She discussed whether this should be considered an unfair disadvantage or simply a competitive edge which exists throughout all sports currently. For example, racket sports demonstrate competitive edges with left handed competitors since we live in a right hand dominant world and the majority of what we train to expect is a right handed competitor. As a left-handed former tennis competitor this resonated with me. My left-handedness was undoubtedly my competitive edge. I loved how it confused people, yet I was trained for a right handed competitor so I was never confused. The fact that competitive edges such as this are supported and included does pose the question as to whether marginal advantages from transitioning athletes should be permitted too. No doubt the debate will go on but these conversations are very important, no matter what your perspective is and I was delighted to see an entire session based on this topic at AMSSM. Stay tuned for an At Your Cervix session coming up in Autumn on transgender athletes.

Dr Kathryn Ackerman
Dr Dolores Christensen
Dr Luci Olewinski
Joanna Harper (PhD) and Gráinne Donnelly

I also need to mention that Austin, Texas is an awesome place. Quite quirky and metropolitan it was an Irish tourists dream. I wandered about the key sights, observed but did not brave the electric scooters everyone was riding and enjoyed sampling local cuisine. Austin, I will be back!

So to sum it all up, I had a blast, I met some cool people, I learnt a lot, I drank all the beers, was the girl who wore stripper heels during her talk, spoke 1/4 pace so people could understand me, spread the word on Nuts to Guts and back to front and how pelvic health is the Chandler Bing of healthcare. We even joked that I would just keep randomly turning up at AMSSM conferences and you know what…stranger things have happened. I consider myself an honorary UoW member (self awarded of course). Let me know when the next reunion is guys, thanks….

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