Reason 3: Essential Hands-on Treatment
It’s not always a matter of just wanting to see the expert in person; it’s often a need. Healing an injury, for instance, is hard to do over the phone.
Take Eric Reid, a busy Hollywood executive and talented age grouper who battled a nagging Achilles injury for two years. In advance of his first half-Ironman, he was derailed from running for three months. As a last-ditch effort to get Reid through his race, his coach Matt Dixon advised him to see John Ball, a specialized sports chiropractor at Maximum Mobility Chiropractic in Chandler, Ariz. Dixon told him to spend two days with Ball, optimistic that he could fix the problem.
Although Reid was hesitant at first, he was also desperate, so he flew out to meet with the specialist. For eight hours a day, two days in a row, Ball did a combination of ART and soft tissue work combined with exercises and icing followed by trial runs.
“I ran the whole race two days [of therapy] later. I hadn’t run in three months,” Reid says. “I was so skeptical—I don’t believe in this stuff, but it totally worked. Ever since, if I have a problem I will fly to Phoenix just to go see him.”
Ball’s approach to treating an individual has distinguished him from other injury rehab professionals. He says his success could be attributed to the thought process.
“Take an average runner with a knee problem,” Ball says. “You send them into an M.D. and they get one treatment. You send them into a P.T. they get one treatment. All these different treatments depend on where that person went to school, what their training was, instead of what was actually going on with [the patient]. It never made sense when I started in the practice. If you have a given problem, there’s a given solution for that problem.”
Working with out-of-state patients has become common practice for Ball. He’s worked his way into the sports niche, particularly with elite-level runners—he has patient files on more than a dozen athletes on the USA Track Team—and endurance athletes of all kinds. Off the top of his head, he listed working with professional triathletes Linsey Corbin, Rachel Joyce and Chris Lieto.
When someone flies in, he or she will typically “live” at the office for at least two days, although even that is a short period. “We can still do a lot of good work, but you’re not going to fix a lot of these things in two to three days. People are leaving in much better shape or they’re running much freer or having fewer symptoms. That’s the beautiful thing about soft tissue work. When it’s done right, you should get almost immediate changes in the system.”
But in a lot of cases—high-hamstring tendinosis, for instance—Ball says it takes a long period of time with a specific loading program to repair the hamstring. “When you’re leaving to go home, you would be discharged with an exercise program, recovery and follow-up with someone in your hometown,” he says. “You can do a lot of soft tissue work and define where it’s coming from, but can you fix it all in a couple days? In most cases, no.”
Given the cost and time it takes to fly to Arizona, there can be high expectations associated with an athlete’s visit. “I guess there is [pressure] in the sense that sometimes people expect unrealistic things,” Ball says. “But I think we do a pretty good job of telling them the reality. … At this point there is more pressure when people think you’re going to do something like a laying of the hands and they’re going to walk out of the clinic and be free. It’s just not the reality of the situation.”
Reason 4: Big Focus on a Weakness
Sarah Piampiano was living in New York City working a full-time, high-pressure financial job on Wall Street when she decided to go pro under the guidance of coach Matt Dixon. But with mid-pack swim times, Piampiano was going to need a serious overhaul to keep up in the pro ranks.
“If you’re coming out six minutes back in a half-Ironman or 10–12 minutes back in an Ironman, it just puts you in a tough position if you’re trying to make it to the podium,” Piampiano says. “I knew that if I wanted to be successful as a pro, I had to change my swim.”
She found the coach she needed in open-water authority (and Dixon’s go-to specialist) Gerry Rodrigues of Tower 26. With a triathlon-specific swim program in Los Angeles including a Wednesday morning ocean session that draws hundreds, Piampiano knew she could improve under his watch.
So she quit her job and moved across the country last January. Over the winter, she dedicated nearly 70 percent of her training to swimming, sometimes twice a day, accumulating 60,000–70,000 yards a week.
“Working very closely with Gerry on developing strength, swim technique, race strategy and having the opportunity to train with a coach who’s there day in and day out was important,” Piampiano says. “Before I moved, it was a struggle everyday to get motivated to be in the water. The improvements I’ve made and how much stronger I’ve gotten as an athlete … I enjoy swimming now.”
In addition to Piampiano, other upstart pros have moved to work with Rodrigues full-time, including 3:56 miler-turned-ITU triathlete Sean Jefferson. Although he could bike well and run fantastically in races, he would exit the water minutes behind the leaders, putting him at a distinct disadvantage in draft-legal racing. “I knew going forward I needed to make a bigger change,” Jefferson says. He left his home in Florida and moved to L.A. in February of 2012.
“One of the things I’ve noticed is that a lot of Masters programs are geared toward Masters swimmers,” Jefferson says. “This is a Masters program catered to triathletes. Gerry has so much open-water experience that he knows what needs to be done in the pool to simulate the type of things you’ll experience at the beginning of a race.
Rodrigues will take out lane lines in the pool and plop in buoys to practice sighting, or he’ll have the athletes form pace-line trains to work on drafting skills. Whereas most Masters programs may swim 400 as a “long” interval, Rodrigues will have his swimmers do 3×1000 to simulate race efforts. And his open-water workouts are not just “go swim from that buoy to that buoy.” They are fast-paced, circuit-style swims that create the fluster and competitive feel of a race start.
So far it’s paid off for Jefferson: At the 2011 Myrtle Beach ITU Triathlon Pan American Cup, Jefferson was 3:30 down on the swim behind the lead pack and 4:30 down from the fastest swimmer. At the Los Angeles Triathlon in August 2012, he got out of the water only 30 seconds behind Olympian Hunter Kemper and 40 seconds down on the fastest swimmer (he ultimately pulled out due to a flat). In an open-water mile race in 2011, he placed 34th in 22:40; in 2012 he took eighth place in 18:50.
The coach doesn’t take his athletes’ cross-country moves lightly. “People are resting their dreams at your doorstep,” Rodrigues says. “That’s a pretty awesome responsibility to have. I grew up in Trinidad and moved to the United States at 16 to lay my dreams on some coach’s footstep, so I know what that feels like.”
Rodrigues has also played a big part in helping pro Jen Tetrick—another transplant from Washington, D.C., to L.A.—get her 70.3 swim from 34 minutes to 28, Piampiano has gone from 36 to 30 and Jesse Thomas, who has worked with Rodrigues at some capacity since 2010, has taken his 29 minutes to 24.
Although the full-time pros certainly reap the rewards of Rodrigues’ expertise, the majority of his athletes are dedicated age groupers who travel from all over the L.A. area to meet on the beach at 6 a.m., even on dark, foggy weekday mornings. There’s a range of success stories, from “I couldn’t swim a lap a year ago” to “I’m now the first out of the water in my age group.” It’s also common for out-of-towners to drop by Tower 26 workouts when they’re in L.A.: Former 70.3 world champ Terenzo Bozzone and WTC CEO Andrew Messick recently swam with the group.
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