The first few times Dr. Timur Kouliev visited Sochi, Russia, it was all fun and games.
"I stayed with my family in Sochi when I was a child," remembers Kouliev, 36, who was born in Russia and took summer vacations to the resort city from his family home in Moscow. "We went to the beach."
On Monday, Kouliev temporarily leaves his job as an emergency room doctor at Vista Medical Center East in Waukegan to return to Sochi as the Olympic coordinating physician for NBC and as a member of the U.S. team's medical staff.
"I am responsible for all the medical operations (for NBC) on site," says Kouliev, who also served in that same post with the Olympics in London in 2012 and Beijing in 2008. "I couldn't have planned this. If you work hard, are considered good at what you do and are good to people, it can work out."
Kouliev was 15 years old when his family moved to Chicago after his scientist father, Anver, accepted a job running a genetics laboratory. His mother, Larisa, worked as a medical doctor and now runs an ultrasound business.
"I didn't speak any English when I came," Kouliev says. "French was my second language."
He was a quick learner.
"It was pretty hard because I had no options," he remembers.
A standout student, he went to Northwestern University and then on to medical school at McGill University in Montreal. He received his MBA from the Tanaka Business School at Imperial College in London and received his emergency medical training at the University of Chicago.
The world can be a cozy place for Kouliev, who also speaks Spanish, Japanese and Mandarin, and has practiced medicine on all seven continents.
"I got to use French last night, which was super fun," Kouliev says, explaining how he treated a French-speaking patient during his weekend overnight shift in the emergency room at Vista Medical Center East. "And I get to use lots of Spanish."
A worldwide traveler who has worked in medicine from rural Africa to the remote jungles of Ecuador to expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic, Kouliev became involved in the Olympics in 2008.
"At that time, I didn't even speak Chinese," says Kouliev, who learned Mandarin and now spends about three months a year as an emergency physician for United Family Hospital in Beijing, where he has worked since 2008. He tries to work a few shifts every month in Waukegan and often goes right from the hospital to the airport for his next medical gig.
"A lot of my opportunities have to do with learning the language of where I work," Kouliev says. "Communication for a medical doctor, especially an emergency doctor, is essential. You often don't have time for translations."
He speaks Russian with his parents and younger brother, Damir, a lawyer in Hawaii. "But English is my primary working language," he says.
As medical coordinator for the NBC crew at the International Broadcast Center during the Olympics, Kouliev is in charge of supplies, staffing, medication, working with local authorities and overseeing the logistics needed for everything from routine illnesses to serious injuries to a major catastrophe.
"It was quite busy," he says of his earlier Olympics. So busy, in fact, that he doesn't even remember having the time to pose for a photo in London.
"There are opportunities to go to events, but in my experience, with the amount of work that needs to be done, I may be able to visit only a couple of events," he says.
While he considers Vista East to be his "medical home," Kouliev says his most recent adventure was running a clinic in the French Polynesia islands. He also serves as a guide, marine biologist and emergency doctor as needed for Quark Expeditions trips to the extreme climates at the North and South poles.
"My specialty trains me for all conditions, whether it's a snake bite or hypothermia," the doctor explains.
Asked when he finds time for a social life, the unmarried doctor just smiles.
"That will come later," he says. Now, he's got to tie up loose ends at home and get ready to live in Sochi through Feb. 26. Exciting as his Olympic jobs can be, Kouliev says Waukegan is just as rewarding.
"The greatest privilege is to be the person who gets to have a life in his hands," Kouliev says. "Coming back here (to Vista) and being able to work in the emergency room with a great staff, when it's exciting, that's still the best part."
Games: Doctor speaks Mandarin, French, Spanish, Russian and Japanese