A Career Working With Athletic Champions

By Ryan Halvorson
Mar 2, 2017

Perhaps it goes without saying that a career working with champions is inspiring. Top athletes sacrifice a great deal and possess an unfaltering work ethic to become the world’s best competitors. In a way, they embody everything most fitness professionals desire of their clients.

“It’s an honor to bear witness to anyone who is uncommonly consistent in their pursuit of being at their best,” says Adam O’Neil, MA, a mindset skills specialist. “To pursue one’s potential is not something you see people actually working toward every day. Lots of people talk about wanting to be at their best, but it seems that few people actually do the difficult things that are necessary to trust themselves and their skills when the world is watching.”

O’Neil has worked with Olympic athletes for the past 7 years under the guidance of Michael Gervais, PhD, director of the DISC Sports & Spine Center’s High Performance Program in Southern California.

Mike Clark, DPT, founder of Fusionetics® in Atlanta, witnessed an athlete’s keen determination in his wife Melissa “Mel” Mueller, who decided to switch from hurdling and long jump to pole vault after graduating from college—and managed to qualify for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. “[Some people] are so determined to seek out excellence and perfection that they’re willing to endure whatever it takes to get there,” he says. “Most athletes begin training for their sport at a very early age. Melissa took on the pole vault late in her career. For someone to pick that up and compete is incredible—it’s [about] more than speed and strength; it requires a lot of precision and technique. It’s inspiring to watch.”

Mueller may be one of those fortunate individuals born with the talent to excel athletically, but Clark says this will get you only so far. To succeed, athletes at this level must undergo rigorous daily training for months—even years—on end. His athletes complete three separate training sessions every single day.

“One session includes lifting; core and balance training; speed, agility and quickness; plyometrics; and energy system development,” says Clark. “A second session emphasizes recovery and includes integrated manual therapy, vibration therapy, compression and neuromuscular stretching, for example. The third session is working with a skill coach on techniques specific to their event.”

Preparation to compete takes a toll physically, mentally and emotionally, and what separate the top competitors from other athletes, according to Clark, are an unfaltering mindset and the willingness to do whatever it takes to win.

Brent Callaway, in Coto de Caza, California, is the performance director for EXOS™ and is responsible for staffing and managing the performance teams for the organization’s international customers. Their client roster includes more than 100 Olympic athletes.

“I most enjoy the ‘light-bulb’ moments that fire off during training,” he says. “These moments of realization are the key to unlocking potential. For example, if an athlete has executed a sport-specific skill for most of his career in a certain manner, and you find an error in a movement pattern, or a subconscious compensation that limits results and can educate the athlete on why and how this happens, then you can correct it or deliver a cue to facilitate a better result.”

Toronto-based John Berardi, PhD, co-founder of Precision Nutrition, enjoys the problem-solving nature of his work with Olympians.

“I often work as a high-performance adviser specializing in nutrition and supplementation,” he says. “This involves reviewing physiological and performance data and making nutrition, supplementation and lifestyle recommendations aimed at improving training capacity and competition results.”

A large part of his efforts involve analyzing blood chemistry and microbiome data to determine the best nutrition and supplement approach for each client. “I like solving puzzles and translating my knowledge of how the body works into advice that helps both rising talent and seasoned veterans make changes in the way they eat, move and live,” says Berardi.

Sometimes working with Olympians is simply part of the job description, according to Dan McDonogh, senior manager of performance training for Under Armour® in Portland, Oregon. “[Training Olympians] certainly was a draw for me,” explains McDonogh, a former athlete himself. Since taking the job, he has worked intensively with the USA Speed Skating team, which is currently preparing for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

What inspires McDonough most about his work? “I think it’s just how much [the athletes] invest in a goal,” he says. “It’s the world stage, and I think anyone who has been an athlete or is one dreams of representing his or her country. Aside from that, I appreciate all the working parts that go into an Olympian’s journey. The organization and coordination of putting the right people in the right places fascinate me.”

To get the inside scoop on what it’s like to work with the world’s best athletes, please see “The People Behind the Champions” in the online IDEA Library or in the July-August 2016 print issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

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Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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