Name: Dr. Ivette Guttmann Age: 45 Lives In: Bennington Current Occupation: Physician specializing in sports medicine and orthopedics Previously: Professional quarterback for the Independent Women’s Football League Orlando Fire and captain of the Orlando Mayhem, 2001-2004. Family: Mother Monica Gayle, twin sister Susan Fornaris and sister Jessica Clark
Dr. Ivette Guttmann is a record-setting former quarterback— not for the National Football League, but for the Independent Women’s Football League. She is one of only eight quarterbacks in the history of professional football to have thrown seven touchdown passes in a single game and became the first woman to do so in 2004. Since that time, only Peyton Manning, Nick Foles and Drew Brees have repeated the feat.
She previously served as a team physician for the University of Miami and worked as medical staff for the New York Giants. In 2018, she started practicing sports medicine and orthopedics at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center Orthopedics and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Putnam Physicians, with a sub-specialty in pediatrics.
Where are you from and how did you first become an athlete?
I’m from Miami, Florida. My parents are Chilean, and I was brought
up playing sports as soon as I could walk. My dad started coaching me in softball at six or seven. I got into volleyball and basketball too, but I really loved playing football in the streets on the weekends. My dad would play quarterback for the neighborhood kids and he was this all-time hero in the neighborhood. We bonded over the sport; football has always had my heart.
What led you to put off your residency to pursue a career as a professional football player?
My grandmother passed away soon after my graduation from medical school in 2001. She’d helped raise me and I was devastated. I moved home. When I was growing up, playing football couldn’t have been further from my thoughts. My high school didn’t even have a women’s soccer team.
But then, my mother ran into the mother of an old friend of mine, whose daughter was playing professional women’s football. She told me I should try out. I was like, “Mom, I’m not going to put off being a doctor to play flag football.” Of course, I soon realized this wasn’t flag football.
So you tried out for the Orlando Fire—what was that like?
It was 2001 and I was super nervous! Everybody looked taller and faster than I was. Thankfully, nobody had a better arm. I thank my dad for that. It all started with him putting a baseball in my hand as a little kid.
Who plays professional Women’s American Football and what is the game like?
It’s a full contact sport. The rules and the gear are just like the men’s game. Anybody who has played a team sport as an adult knows that it’s like having a second family. There were folks from all walks of life on this team—single, married, people with a bunch of kids. We even had a grandmother!
Could you envision a uniform Women’s National Football League, like the NFL?
I would love to see a Women’s National Football League. I think little girls need to see women athletes who don’t allow barriers to stop them from achieving success. I didn’t get to start pursuing my dream until I was in my twenties, but today’s little girls know that this sport is a possibility for them. There are women kickers on men’s varsity high school teams and some girls’ tackle football leagues. We saw the first full-time woman coach in the NFL in 2016. I see opportunities for the NFL to offer financial and logistical support for a Women’s National Football League. There is a real fan base and I think these athletes just need a chance.
How does your experience as an athlete influence your work as a doctor?
Whether professionals or weekend warriors, athletes are the most motivated patients out there, but that means you have to hold them back from hurting themselves. It helps that I can say, “I get it, I’ve been there.” Being an athlete also helps me with diagnostics. When someone says, I hurt my knee sliding or coming down from a blocked shot, I understand the biomechanics at play intimately.
Can you talk about your own experiences with injury and how they shaped your career as an athlete?
When I was 26, I dislocated and fractured my hip. That took me out for my second year of professional play. It was a nine-month recovery, but I came back to break the record for touchdown passes in a single game in my third season. At that point, I was 28 and felt it was time to move on. Now I love returning athletes to play, whether they’re a pro or someone who has previously untreatable shoulder pain and wants to be able to shovel snow in the winter. We athletes don’t quit, and I think that’s merged into my work as a physician. You don’t quit on me and I won’t quit on you. We’re going to get through this and figure it out together.
As a woman in football have you ever been treated differently?
I have experienced a lot of sexism in my life, though remarkably, never with football. For most men, when they find out that women’s football is full contact football, I have their full attention. They’re like, “Oh my god, that is so cool.”
When I set the record for passing touchdowns in 2004, Jay Gruden was the offensive coordinator at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He sent me a handwritten note after that game, the gist of which was that it was quite a record for any player in any league. I was extremely humbled and surprised to be recognized by someone like that.
Who do you root for and why?
The New England Patriots! I’m a quarterback, so that’s who I follow. The fact that Tom Brady has maintained such amazing fitness, become a vegan and came back from an ACL injury in his early 40s is very impressive. He trains hard with his team in the off-season and he treats his body like a temple. The doctor and athlete in me admire that. He’s earned everything he has.
Do you play now?
To be honest, at my age, I don’t want to get hit anymore! I’m interested in flag football, but these days I mountain bike, snowboard at Stratton and Mount Snow, play tennis, road bike, swim and play softball. Kingdom Trails is my favorite place to ride my bike. I love the combination of flowy but challenging trails. —Abagael Giles
Editor’s note: As of 2019, there are more than 70 professional or semi-professional full-contact Women’s American Football teams across the United States, with multiple leagues.
Featured Photo Caption: Above, Dr. Ivette Guttmann throws for the Orlando Fire in 2001. Below Dr. Guttmann now uses her experience as an athlete to inform her work as a doctor who gets athletes back in action. Courtesy Photos