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Remembering Craig Ferrell, M.D.

By Leslie Hill
August 2012

Photo by Joe Howell

Photo by Joe Howell

As the world’s elite athletes gathered at the 2012 Summer Olympics, there was a profound sense of loss among the U.S. equestrian team.

Craig Ferrell, M.D., medical chairman for the Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI), the world governing body for equestrian sports, and the physician for the U.S. Olympic equestrian team, died May 29 at Vanderbilt University Hospital as a result of injuries sustained when he fell from his horse while playing polo.

Dr. Ferrell was professor of Clinical Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, board certified in Orthopaedic Surgery and a member of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. He was a founder of the Bone and Joint Clinic in Franklin, Tenn., which became Vanderbilt Bone and Joint in 2009. He had planned to travel with the U.S. equestrian team to London for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Partnering with Riders4Helmets, he championed widespread helmet use in equestrian sports.

In April he received the Tennessee Medical Association’s Distinguished Service Award, given annually since 1963 to exemplary members of the association for notable achievements. The TMA cited Ferrell’s “substantial efforts in raising the bar in equestrian safety and his unwavering support for adults with special needs.”

In his 30-year relationship with Olympic swimming and equestrian sports, Dr. Ferrell traveled the globe caring for the world’s most elite athletes. He competed as a collegiate swimmer at the University of Notre Dame and naturally gravitated to caring for swimmers, beginning his relationship with the U.S. Swimming Team at their training camp in 1979. Working his way through the ranks, he became a team physician for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

“The coolest experience was running down the ramp with all those Olympians and coming into the opening ceremonies. I felt very patriotic and part of something big,” he said in a VUMC Reporter profile.
Dr. Ferrell was part of several committees to make athletics safer, especially in high-risk equestrian sports. He championed a rule that went into effect before the Beijing Olympics, banning riders from continuing competition if they fall off their horse.

After the Atlanta games, Dr. Ferrell continued as chair of U.S. Swimming Sports Medicine, but took on team physician duties for equestrian sports as well. Ferrell and his wife, Lorraine, were experienced riders and the other Olympic physicians were afraid of horses, so the fit was obvious. Ferrell cared solely for equestrian athletes at the Sydney, Athens and Beijing Olympics.

Dr. Ferrell is survived by his wife, Lorraine, sons Aaron (Tanya) and Jonathan, and two grandchildren, Kate Ferrell and Michael Cannon Ferrell, born in May.

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