Gratitude, Change & a Trusted Vision

Ryan Jags 2011aApril 25, 1988 was the day my childhood NFL dream came true.

Ronnie Barnes, the Head Athletic Trainer for the New York Giants and one of my mentors, asked me if I wanted to join his staff as a full-time assistant athletic trainer.  I was 25 years old and a month away from graduating from the University of Connecticut with a degree in Physical Therapy, my second degree in 7 years.

Nine years earlier, as a sophomore in high school, I had set my mind and heart on “being an athletic trainer in the NFL!” after “Miss G”, a caring guidance councilor at Mohawk Trail High School, showed me info on the profession of athletic training.  I still remember racing home that rainy spring day to share my powerful vision with my family.

End of a Dream

Friday, February 7, 2014 was my last day with the Jacksonville Jaguars.  It was the end of a 26 year career that encompassed 533 NFL games including 2 Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl victory.  It was a decision I made three weeks early to rebalance my life, allowing me to spend more time with my family.  With a loving and amazingly supportive wife and two children under the age of 6, I’m ready to prioritize my family for the first time the way they deserve after a long season where I work 7 days per week for 5 1/2 straight months.

Making the Call

I’m no fool.  I know I had only 1 of 32 jobs in the world’s #1 most profitable sports league.  It goes beyond that when it comes down to those that you love.

What does it take to make such a big decision?

  • Gratitude – I’ve lived a childhood dream for over half my life with so many memories, experienced amazing opportunities, met so many wonderful people and developed outstanding skills for the next professional chapter in my life.  I have so much gratitude and appreciation for my family, my assistants, my doctors, my athletes, my medical consultants and mentors who have helped me throughout the years.  As I always say: “I’m simply the result of so many wonderful people who were willing to help me along the way!”
  • Desire for Change – I’m ready for a change, as is my family.  I trust my skills and my abilities to make this change something special.
  • Trusted Vision of Purpose – We all need PURPOSE if we want to be a leader in our life.  I have a very strong sense of purpose in my life and I trust that vision wholeheartedly.  My Personal Mission Statement is: To Enhance the Health of Others.

My purpose in this next chapter is to take what my staff and I have created in a professional football athletic training room setting working with world-class athletes and share it with millions of non-professionals interested in decreasing their pain, increasing their physical function and maximizing their active lifestyle.  Now that’s something to get excited about, huh?!

Giving Thanks

I have so many people to thank and I’m not sure where to start so I won’t.  The tens of thousands of extra special people who I’ve come into contact with over the last 26 years in the NFL are all somehow on that list.

I’ve had a wonderful career and I don’t take that for granted.  I’m thrilled for what I will created in Phase 2 of my profession.  We only live once so I plan on making my life grand.  As for the professional life, it will be exciting and well aligned with my Mission Statement.  In regards to my athletic life, I’ll be working my ass off to be extremely healthy in aspect of my life with lots of crazy/challenging races to keep my body and mind razor-sharp.  For the personal life part, it will be filled with lots of love and laughter….just the way I like it!

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 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.

High Ankle Sprain Management

High Ankle Sprain Management

Managing a high ankle sprain is not easy, and rehab requires a significant amount of experience.  It reflects a balance of properly stabilizing the entire lower leg while assessing the athlete’s function prior to the game for optimal results.  Read on to learn more.

What the Heck is a High Ankle Sprain?

An ankle sprain is considered to be of the high or “interosseous” variety when the ligamentous damage involves the structures above or high up on the ankle.  The shin bone is made up of two long bones (the tibia and fibula) that are stabilized by a thick, strong interosseous membrane between them.

When the ankle is pinned to the ground and rotated excessively in relation to the shin, the talus bone in the ankle forces the two shin bones to spread apart (similar to a wedge between two pieces of wood).  When this extreme rotational spreading tears the interosseous membrane and stabilizing ligaments above the ankle, voila…a “high ankle sprain” is born.

Key Steps to Address an Interosseous Ankle Sprain

Some key factors must be considered when rehabbing a high ankle sprain to get back to the sport or activity you love.

Rest – Allowing the interosseous membrane and stabilizing ligaments to tighten up is of utmost importance, as activities that negatively impact ankle and distal shin stability will only worsen the problem.

Walking Boot – It’s simple, yet effective.  “The Boot” allows the ankle to rest during walking by minimizing motions such as twisting.

Ice, Ice & More Ice – This is necessary to decrease swelling and pain. Inflammation is not your friend, and cryotherapy is the key.  The more acidic blood that pools within healing tissue, the longer the healing time.

Pain-Free Strengthening – As long as strengthening activities are pain-free and don’t increase swelling, they can be performed with a limited range of motion.  I like to rely on the expression:  If you’re not going to make the athlete better, at least don’t make them worse.  It’s tempting to initiate an aggressive strengthening regimen for a high ankle sprain when heading into an important game, for example:  players may want to prove their “toughness” and show they are working hard, when in fact doing so will only worsen the problem!  Rehabbing smarter, not harder, is always important when it comes to a high ankle sprain.

Factors That Impact the Decision to Play With a High Ankle Sprain

A few key factors must be considered to determine if it’s okay for an athlete to play in a game with a high ankle sprain.  This is where an athletic trainer’s experience comes into play and he/she really earns their money. It’s time to dust off the ol’ crystal ball and show your worth by considering the following questions.  

Efficient vs Effective – Will the athlete be able to play for more time at 80% speed (efficiency) or less time with 95% speed and greater power (effectiveness)?

The Long View – Will playing injured in one particular game create long-term damage that will negatively impact the athlete’s remaining career?

Consider the Whole Enchilada – How long exactly can the athlete remain in the game?  The start of the second half is a telling time in sports like football, soccer, or basketball, for example, as the ankle can become sore or stiffen up while at rest during halftime.

Taping, Orthotics, Shoe Alteration and/or Bracing – No book, seminar or Seven Wise Men can easily solve questions surrounding these items. How do I tape a high ankle sprain?  Will orthotics effectively minimize rotation in the talus bone?  Will higher shoes with more stability help or hurt an athlete who needs to quickly change direction?  Will shoe taping help or put too much pressure on the injury site?  So much to think about!

My Rule of Thumb:  It takes lots of experience and one-on-one time with the athlete on the practice field to answer all of these questions, as well as great listening skills, a sharp eye and trust in each other to do this right.  Performing combinations of varied tape jobs and ankle postings during drills alongside honest athlete feedback are critical.  Intertwined with an immense amount of trial and error, I know how to influence body mechanics and pain while the athlete knows what is required to perform. Working together ultimately strikes a balance between stability and mobility that allows the athlete to play effectively.

A Final Word About Ankle Rehab

Managing high ankle sprains is stressful, but I love it!  Successfully rehabbing this injury truly tests my ability to work with athletes, as there is no magic pill or brace to get them back in the game.  I’ve developed many strong bonds with athletes rehabbing high ankle sprains, specifically, and it’s those relationships that help make my profession so rewarding.