Time For Change

Football - injury 101Football’s in the air.  It has a way of making sports seem legitimate again.  The buzz of training camp and how “my team” will do this season has dominated social conversations and social media this week.

For me, the excitement for another NFL season is here but for very different reasons.

The year was 1987 and I was a junior in physical therapy school at UConn.  That was the last summer I didn’t spend in an NFL training camp up to now.  I had spent the previous 3 summers, starting in 1984, as the New York Giants summer athletic trainer intern.

In contrast, I spent that 1987 summer working as a physical therapy intern for the Visiting Nurses of Hartford (CT) as part of my physical therapy school requirements.  After 3 summers of living out my childhood dream of working with an NFL team, I was cleaning bed pans, cleaning infected wounds and rehabilitating disabled elderly patients in housing projects.  Career Plan: Get into the NFL…and FAST!

This past February I stepped down from my position as Head Athletic Trainer/Physical Therapist with the Jacksonville Jaguars to enjoy my important role as a father and husband.  It wasn’t an easy decision after 26 seasons in the NFL but when I see the joy in my two young children and wife’s faces when we have breakfast together every day, I know it was the right decision for the right reasons.

The Jags have their first training camp practice today.  I’m cheering for them to have a great season, as I always have.  Something will never change.  Sure, I’ll miss the guys, my staff, the laughs, the practical jokes, the rush of seeing players overcome injuries to get back on the field, the endless trays of food and, obviously, I’ll miss the energy of game day.

As for me professionally, exciting changes are here.  I’ve created a new company, Mike Ryan Sports Medicine, Inc., to manage my new physical therapy clinic and consulting business along with other fun sports medicine projects.  As for the details of those “other” endeavors, you’ll have to wait on that….

In the meantime, I’m thoroughly enjoying the change.  Change in my schedule, change in my involvement with my family’s lives, change in my stress level, change in my workout routine (!!), and a healthy change in my professional challenges.

Change is good when the passion is enhanced.  Mission accomplished.

Fun times are here and it’s only getting better!

5 1/2 Tips to Win a Mud Run

Mike Ryan, Mud Run Winner

This past weekend’s big local mud run is the talk of the town.  With thousands of participants and so many wonderful stories involving the event, the MS MuckRuckus was a huge success.

I was fortunate enough to win this year’s Competitive Male race.  I’d finished in 2nd place the last two years, so the 3rd time surely was “the charm.” Watching the backside of the guy in front of me finish the victor the last two years was a real bummer.  I have to admit: the final 100 yards as the winner sure was a rush.

Be it my age (49) or my busy schedule (2 children under 4, married, work in the NFL & having a life), everyone seems to ask the same question: “How did YOU win the race?”  Amused and entertained by the inquiries, I decided to break my silence and have some fun with the topic….

Secret Tips to Win a Mud Run

1.  Fake It Til You Make It – As I squeezed my way to the front of the lead pack of Alpha Dogs in the starting corral before the race, I quickly noticed two things.  All the guys were 1/2 my age and none (0) of them were wearing shirts.  Sporting my new sleeveless Under Armour running shirt with my massive biceps glistening in the sun, I asked confidently: “Hey man, is it legal to be wearing a shirt?!”  A couple of guys thought I was serious and tried to reassure me that I would not be kicked out of the race.  We all laughed, I firmly shook hands, looked them in the eyes wishing each of them a “safe race – but not a fast race”.  I was confident and they knew it.

2.  Professional Humiliation – Two days before the race I was meeting with one of my bosses with the Jacksonville Jaguars.  When asked about the race and how I would do, I gave my standard “I feel great and I’ll give it everything I have”. I explained that I had finished in 2nd place the last two-year.  I was told firmly: “You better take it up a notch, Ryan!”

When Gabe Andrews and I were battling it out in the woods and mud, I was fading.  As the strong 23-year-old was putting a serious hurting on me by pushing the pace hard, I could hear the message loud and clear: “You better take it up a notch, Ryan!”  When faced with the risk of professional humiliation by someone farther up the professional food chain, suddenly the pain in my legs and lungs seems much less concerning!

3.  Humor & Humble the Competition – About 4 miles into the race, Young Gabe and I came upon “The Scooch”.  Appropriately named, the 12″ diameter plastic pipes had to be mounted like a horse saddle and we scooched along the 30 foot piping in a funky kind of manner.  After jumping off the first piping and feeling kind of violated, we had to straddle the next set of taint-haters.  Trying to fake that I wasn’t tired, I joked with Gabe “the ladies will like this one much more than we will”.  He laughed and suddenly slowed down.  I took advantage by quickly jumping off the end of the cruel toy and put in a hard sprint of about 80% effort.  I opened a 30 yard lead before the next obstacle.  Gabe never regained the lead.

4.  Bring Your Heart – Ten years ago this June, my best friend Rod Chaplin passed away training for the Long-Course Triathlon World Championships to be held in Nice, France.  Born and raised in South Africa, he was one of the nicest AND toughest human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.  Since his death, I alway race with his small South Africa flag which his widow gave to me to carry on his passion for fellowship through fitness.  Whenever the tendency to feel sorry for myself starts to whisper in my ear during a race, I slap his flag, I think of Rod and I remind myself how lucky I am be exactly where I am right now!

5.  Be Comfortable Doing What Others Don’t Like to Do – No one likes to crawl in mud, dunk under dark brown dirty water or get mud pushed up your nose.  That’s why I love doing it.  A great mudder once told me that he attacks the obstacles.  He doesn’t just ease into or out of the obstacles, he attacks them.  That’s the approach I use and it saves me precious time.  If I trim off an extra 2 seconds in every obstacle by being excited to dive into the mud hole or race up the cargo net, I’m putting myself minutes ahead of the timid dude trying to keep his face clean.

BONUS TIP:  If all else fails…..simply run, crawl, run, climb, run, roll and run faster than everyone else!  How hard can that be?

The Many Wins to Follow

Like I told my friend last night at dinner, I’m not sure if I’ll ever win another big race again.  I’m grateful to be able to be involved in wonderful events like the MS MuckRuckus.  Being active and healthy is a gift that I give thanks for each and every day.  With MikeRyanFitness.com and my exciting profession as an Athletic Trainer and Physical Therapist in the NFL, I want to give others the opportunity to decrease their pain, enhance their health and improve their lives.  When that happens, each one of those individuals becomes a better wife, a better friend, a happier brother, a more loving mother, a more productive co-worker, etc.  In other words, everyone wins when the health of others is enhanced.

Those are the type of wins that I’m looking for!  

Will you help me share my dream with others? Please share with your Facebook friends, Tweet or Google+ so everyone can benefit from good health.

Five (and 1/2) Lessons I Learned from Maurice Jones-Drew

MoJo with Mike Ryan and his son

This NFL season marked a milestone for me. With twenty-four years in the league, I’ve now spent half my life on the sidelines working in elite sports medicine. To say the least, the 2011-12 NFL season was a turbulent and fascinating one for the Jacksonville Jaguars. We fired our head coach, Jack DelRio, at mid-season. Wayne and Delores Weaver, our founding owners, announced they were selling the team to Shahid Khan. And, we finished with a disappointing 5-11 record. Amazingly, for me, these weren’t the biggest events of my season as the Head Athletic Trainer and Physical Therapist.

The statistic that most impacted me was the 31 players that we put on Injured Reserve. Thirty-one!  The NFL allows a team to dress 45 players per game.  During this regular season, the Jags activated 74 different players! This is more turnover than your local McDonald’s. Needless to say, my medical staff and I were busy managing a boatload of injuries this season.

NFL Leading Rusher

Despite all of this internal turmoil, our season’s shining star was Maurice Jones-Drew.  The NFL’s leading rusher is also the heart & soul of our team. MJD overcame a serious knee injury last season to play in all 16 regular season games this year.  My job was to rehabilitate his knee, manage all his new injuries and to keep him healthy every day and ensure he was ready to compete on Sunday.  This was further complicated with the NFL lockout this season. And, it’s further burdened when your guy is a 5′ 7″ running back who gets punished nearly all of the 343 times he touched the ball. It’s a testament to him he lead the league with 1606 yards.

When I have the opportunity to interact with successful people, I’ve made it a life habit of learning from them.  During this season, I’ve spent more time with Maurice Jones-Drew than I have with my own wife. As you might imagine, when you spent that much time together, you really gain appreciation and insight into the player – and the man. He is a true professional who prepares like a madman for each and every game. And, his preparation drives results in an NFL leading 1606 rushing yards and his 3rd straight Pro Bowl season.

MoJo is a fun guy to be around, but don’t let his electric smile and playful demeanor fool you.  He’s an intelligent guy from UCLA with enormous, tree-trunk legs and even bigger life goals.  MoJo is a winner. And, he’s just getting started.

Here’s are five (and 1/2) lessons I learned from MoJo this season:

1.  Have a Big Carrot

Visualizing a clear goal or, as I like to call it, “focusing on your carrot”, provides a path to success and is a critical part of the plan for MoJo.  He always has to prove himself to others in this “big man’s” sport. For MoJo, establishing a motivational plan before he steps into the locker room for his first practice is an enormous reason why he is so successful.

2.  Believe in Yourself First

Maurice wastes little energy worrying about what others think about him.  He believes in himself first.

Call “IT” pride or confidence or courage, but you clearly see “IT” every time MJD puts his hands on the football.  You see no doubt or fear when he runs with the ball into the heart of an angry defensive line.  He believes strongly in himself and his abilities. And, it’s for great reason.

3.  Know What You Need

#32 knows exactly what he needs to prepare himself for battle and to perform at an elite level each and every game.  Make no mistake about it. He’s in charge and I’m working with him not on him.

Before our second to last game this season in Tennessee,  he had an injury that we treated throughout the week.  Before the game, I taped the injury in a manner that I thought was perfect. It was based on my experience and the projected stress on that body part.  (Yes, can you tell that I’m not going to disclose the injury?)  After one play, he limped off the field and made it very clear to me EXACTLY how he wanted the injury taped.  My twenty-four years in the NFL didn’t matter because he knew what he needed to do his job.  I love that about him because THAT type of feedback is priceless for sports medicine specialists like me working with world-class athletes.

4.  Pain Is Part of the Game

When your body is getting pounded by large men, it makes sense that your body will hurt and pain will often wake you up before the alarm clock.  MJD understands that aspect and he uses that pain as an important source of feedback.  The type and location of the pain is used to help us direct both his rehab and preparation each week.  We had games this year on Sundays, Mondays, Thursday and Saturday. With an erratic game schedule, it made it difficult to create consistency in rehab. MJD’s subjective perspective on that “pain meter” creates insight that allows me to help him.

5.  Honesty is the Best Buffer

Maurice has been blessed with the gift of gab and everyone knows it.  His honesty is refreshing.  He speaks his mind and he will always be open with his opinion.  I’ve learned to have thick skin since 1988, my first year in the NFL.  With that being said, I find MoJo’s open and honest communication style a perfect method to help me properly manage an agressive sports medicine rehab program for a high-level athlete.

Bonus 1/2 Pearl, Because Even MoJo Doesn’t Know This Yet…..

5 1/2.  He Loves to Work Hard

I’m sure MJD will laugh at this one because he is so focused on preparing for the next game.  Maurice LOVES to be challenged with impossible workouts and then have his toughness questioned for his ability to complete the workout.  That’s when the fun begins…

He always comes right back at me with an impressive barrage of verbal assaults.  As long as I don’t back down to his request to change the plan, the challenge is on!  Whether it’s a brutal core medicine ball workout or an interval swimming program, he’ll quickly think about it, put his game face on and then he’ll attack the exercise as if it’s a 4th-and-goal running play with the game on the line. And everyone in the northern hemisphere knows who’s getting the ball…

If I was the coach, I wouldn’t give it to anyone else.

Why Mud Runs are the Best Way to Build Fitness

Let’s admit the obvious: Fitness takes time and it’s not always fun.

It’s ironic when you think about it.   In today’s fast pace lifestyle if there’ one thing we don’t have much of its TIME and if there’s one thing we need more of its FUN.

I’ve been a big fan of fun fitness for 35+ years and I’m always trying to find more interesting ways implement my Personal Missions Statement:  To Enhance the Health of Others.  I’ve found a great fitness tool to do that….in the mud!

Mud runs are one of the fastest growing sports in the country and for good reason.  I’ve always been a huge fan of off-road running and adventure fitness has allowed me to challenge myself, stay in shape, and enjoy getting dirty with my friends.

Here are my top reasons why off-road racing is the best way to build fitness:

1.  Dirty Fun – Instead of worrying about what you look like in those “pretty” races, the focus of a mud run is to have fun and to not look good.  It’s a nice change and that makes “working out” less tedious and more fun.  The emphasis is on more mud and more smiles, which is the perfect combo in my book.

2.  Length Does Matter – The length of time that most mud runs require is usually more than most mature athletes would spend working out.  That additional fitness time will improve your fitness, burn more calories and build more muscle.

3.  Top to Bottom – When you finish a mud run, you know that you’ve used muscles in every part of your body.  Getting through the obstacles, over the hills, through the mud and to the finish line will work your upper body, lower body and everything in between.  The result is total fitness.

4.  Power in Numbers – Let’s be honest with each other:  Having someone to challenge us brings out the best in each of us.  Having fellow mud run teammates and competitors in the race with you to push you, cheer for you, kick you in the butt and relying on you is VERY powerful.  That extra motivation will bring the best out of you and is often the #1 reason why so many mud runners continue to return to off-road races year after year.

5.  Out of Time – Not having an emphasis on your finishing time is a good thing for the non-competitive racers of the group.  Simply taking on the challenge of the race course and finishing is the main goal of many of the racers.   Not being compared to the young speed demons via the clock is important to most of the racers lining up at the starting line.

6.  Win-Win – A wonderful benefit of many of the mud runs is their affiliation with local charities.  Raising both awareness and money for those in need makes any endeavor extra special.

Muddy Finish

I love mud runs and adventure fitness!  I’m excited to get dirty again in 2012 after the conclusion of my 2011-12 NFL season with the Jacksonville Jaguars.  If you’re a mudder, come on out and join me for some fun in the mud.

If you’ve never competed in a mud run event, please give it a try.  Get your friends together, find a mud run to sign up for, come up with a crazy team name and simple set a goal to have fun with your friends and to finish the race.  I’ve literally seen friends do just that and it changed their lives by proving to themselves that they can succeed with such a challenge.

Take action today to become a mud runner within the next 6 months.  I want to help you complete a mud run with a smile on your face.  Follow me on www.mikeryansportsmedicine.com and on Twitter @mikeryanfitness for free sports medicine tips to train for a mud run while avoiding sports injuries.


NFL Training Camp…Let the Fun Begin!

Confession time:  It’s the toughest part of the year…18 hours days, long busy practices in the 100+ degree heat and humidity, huge #’s of injuries creating 3 page injury reports, only 4 hours of sleep a night in the team hotel away from my wife and young children…..but I truly love being a part of an NFL Training Camp!

As I enter my 27th NFL training camp – 24 full-time and 3 as a summer intern with the NY Giants – I know the drill well.  At the young age of 48, simple math tells the story.  I’ve spent well over half of my life employed by the NFL and enjoying the life as a certified athletic trainer and registered physical therapist working with some of the best athletes in the world.  It’s not an easy job by any stretch of the imagination but it’s a career that has provided me more amazing opportunities than I could list in an hour.

I’m not interested in speculating about the details of the NFL lockout. It’s way above my “pay grade” and I trust the issues will be worked out by people a lot smarter than I am.

The reason why I know that training camp is where I want to be can be traced back to two distinct days about 9 years apart.

I still remember the day during my sophomore year in high school in western Massachusetts when I raced home to tell my mother and family that I was going to college to be an athletic trainer and I was going to work in the NFL.  I was so excited to have my career “carrot” to work towards.  The fire was officially lit on that rainy October day in 1978.

After working a preseason camp for Columbia University’s football team and then 3 training camps for the New York Giants between 1983 and 1986 while working on my athletic training degree at Central Connecticut State University and a physical therapy degree at UConn, I was hoping for an opportunity to pursue a career in the NFL on a full-time basis.  It was the following summer when that dream was supercharged with the passion and enthusiasm that still drives me today.

During the summer of 1987 while entering my senior year at UConn to complete my 7th year in college while finishing my second degree, I had to pass on the offer to work my 4th summer training camp with the New York Giants.  Instead, I was required to complete an 8 week affiliation (another way of saying “you won’t be getting paid”) with the Visiting Nurses Association in Hartford, Connecticut.  It was a wonderful learning experience with extremely passionate healthcare professionals who travel into homes and housing projects to provide physical therapy to individuals who are unable to travel to a rehab setting.

That summer in 1987 opened my eyes and my heart.  I knew with every bone in my body that working in the NFL as an athletic trainer/physical therapist was exactly what I wanted to do for the next 30+ years.  That vision was crystal clear and I was willing to work harder than ever before to make that dream come true!

April 23, 1988 at 8:15 AM.  That was the time when Ronnie Barnes, Head Athletic Trainer for the New York Giants offered me a full-time position on his staff!  I still get goosebumps and quite emotional every time I think of the moment that my 10 year dream came true.

I tell myself every day how blessed I am for the many wonderful things in my life.  I’m doing what I love to do….when the Jacksonville Jaguars’ players arrive and the 2011 NFL training camp begins!