Who among us hasn’t wondered: What would it be like to strip off your clothes, climb into a full-body-sized box and expose your bare skin to extreme cold that reaches minus-256 degrees Fahrenheit?
Professional athletes from Louisville regularly travel to Lexington to do exactly that.
Louisville City FC has fully embraced cryotherapy — subjecting the body to extreme low temperatures to stimulate its recuperative powers — as a means of boosting the physical recovery of its players between matches.
The only place in Kentucky that the Louisville professional soccer franchise could find that offered full body cryotherapy was a year-old Lexington business known as The CRYO House.
On Tuesday, Louisville City defender Paco Craig, an Englishman from London, stepped into the cryo chamber for the first time.
“In the beginning, I was like ‘It’s not so bad,’” Craig said. “After about two minutes, it was freezing.”
Since the team started playing in The Ville in 2015, Louisville City FC has become “a thing.” Competing in the United Soccer League, a rung below Major League Soccer, Louisville City currently leads the 15-team USL Eastern Conference standings. Earlier this month, a capacity crowd of 13,812 saw host Louisville City beat archrival FC Cincinnati.
The reason the soccer players travel from Louisville to subject themselves to arctic blasts on bare skin is they believe it gives them an advantage in overcoming the fatigue and soreness that result during a regular season that starts in March and runs through October.
“I’ve done cryo five or six times now,” says Louisville City defender Kyle Smith, a former Transylvania University star. “I did it the first time, felt great. The next week, I didn’t do it, and my body, I felt kind of achy, just didn’t feel as good. Since then, I’ve gone (for treatment) any time I could.”
James O’Connor, the Ireland native who coaches Louisville City FC, says his interest in cryotherapy was sparked last offseason when he traveled to the United Kingdom and conferred with people he knew in the U.K. soccer community.
“I was asking people what they were doing for recovery,” O’Connor says. “Cryo(therapy) was the thing that kept coming up. So that was something I brought back. And that, eventually, led us to Tami.”
The CRYO House, located on West Tiverton Way in south Lexington, was opened in June 2016, by owners Tami Breitner, 35, and her husband Jeremy, 37.
Tami Breitner’s interest in cryotherapy was sparked, believe it or not, by “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”
An intensive care unit nurse at Saint Joseph Hospital, Tami Breitner suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. She found conventional treatments for her condition almost as trying as the arthritis. “I was on steroids,” she says. “I was just ballooning up. I was having all the side effects and it was hurting me more than helping me.”
On an episode of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” Yolanda Foster was using cryotherapy to manage chronic lyme disease.
Through research, Breitner discovered that cryotherapy had originated in Japan in the 1970s to help arthritis patients. The theory behind cryotherapy — and not everyone in the medical world embraces its use — is that the extreme cold temperatures trigger a systemic anti-inflammatory response that activates the body to naturally heal and restore.
The closest place Breitner could find to Lexington offering cryotherapy was in Columbus, Ohio. So she traveled north to try it.
“My hands are usually hurting the worst on me. Immediately, the inflammation and the pain went away,” Breitner says. “It got me off all my medicine, too. I still have my flare-ups, but I just use (cryotherapy), a natural way to help control (arthritis).”
Breitner and her husband opened The CRYO House, in part, so Tami could get treatments in Lexington.
In sports, cryotherapy has become an alternative to the traditional ice bath. In contrast to the wet mess that is an ice bath, cryotherapy chambers use liquid nitrogen to produce a “dry cold.”
(Inhaling nitrogen can be fatal. In 2015, a 24-year-old woman died in a cryotherapy chamber in a Las Vegas business where she worked. According to published reports, she was alone in the facility when she entered the cryotherapy chamber by herself. Her frozen body was found the next morning. In Lexington, Breitner says no one is allowed to enter the cryotherapy chamber without supervision.)
On Tuesday, in the middle of seven days in which they would play three soccer matches, four pro athletes from Louisville were in Lexington getting their chill on.
Before entering the cryo chamber, the players stripped down to their underwear, then put on cotton gloves and slippers to protect fingers and toes from frostbite.
“After a treatment, my body feels like I am back at square one, like I haven’t played a game,” says Spencer, a former Xavier University star. “The agony of just being really sore and tired, you’ll take the feeling of pins and needles (from the cold) for three minutes to feel a lot better afterward.”