As an orthopedist, Tamir Bloom might not have suggested a patient take his path. The former Penn fencer made it all the way to the Sydney Olympics on an injured knee.
Penn graduate Tamir Bloom's fencing career ended in the second round of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. It had been a tough road to get to these, his second Olympics, and he felt good about the result, though he would have preferred a better finish.
Bloom had taken a year off from Mount Sinai Medical School, where he was preparing for a residency in orthopedic surgery, to train for the Olympics. Then in an ironic twist, he had become an orthopedic patient himself when he injured his right knee playing basketball. Bloom looks at it philosophically now, saying "some people get injured and then decide to go into orthopedics. I chose orthopedics and then got injured."
The decision facing him was not philosophical at the time. Knee surgery would have caused him to miss the Olympics, so he chose an intense physical therapy that kept his Olympic dreams alive. He also found himself sponsored by the company that manufactured his knee brace, about which he had mixed feelings. "I hated that brace," he says.
To make the U.S. Olympic team a fencer must finish in the top eight at the world championships, be in the top 16 in world standings, or finish in the top two in one's geographical zone. Bloom missed the world championships, so his only chance was by finishing in the top two in his geographical zone. He thus had to finish first in the U.S, and in the top two in the zone championship in Buenos Aries, Argentina. In every competition he had to be the top American, or his Olympic dream was over. Constantly facing elimination, fighting his unstable knee all the way, Bloom was happy to be able to end his career at the Olympics, the pinnacle of his sport. The experience taught him "psychologically how important the mental aspect of sport is."
Bloom believes participating in his first Olympics, in 1996, may have helped him get into medical school and his residency. "It gave me a different perspective and made me stand out,"he now believes. But he thinks fencing may have made it more difficult for him to adjust to the all-encompassing nature of his residency. "I was used to being in charge of everything in my own life. Maybe it's different if you play a team sport."
Choosing Penn for its engineering and strong fencing program, Bloom gravitated toward medicine. "I found out I was interested in medicine through my work-study job at the [University of Pennsylvania] hospital," where he worked with the director of medical surgery on a study of blunt trauma. He credits Penn with giving him the tools to explore "what [he] dreamed to do" as well as the means to fulfill those dreams. Bloom feels his fencing helped him in school by making him more disciplined, saying "fencing kept me in check."
"Penn has a tremendous amount of resources" says Bloom, referring to the research opportunities available to undergraduates. He even continued his research during two fencing leaves of absence, which helped him feel connected to Penn, and feels the faculty was extremely supportive of his intense athletic schedule.
Now Bloom is moving on to a pediatric orthopedic fellowship. Combined with his residency, he will have spent seven years in one of medicine's most difficult training regimens. A fencing career characterized by determination and toughness has prepared him for that challenge.
ed. note Tamir Bloom's coach at Penn, David Micahnik, was an Olympian himself. He has coached more than three decades at Penn, compiling an overall winning percentage above 75 percent. In additions to a number of titles -- including the 1981 NCAA team championship -- Micahnik has coached 40 All-Americans.
— Suzanne Eschenbach