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Chiropractic in Sports!

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Destined to Go Big

San Francisco Giants

THERE IS UTTER SILENCE in the training room of the San Francisco Giants. There is a live game on the screen and over 40,000 people just hundreds of feet away, yet you could hear a pin drop on the floor in the training room on October 29 last year. The medical staff of the S.F. Giants is watching the final moments of the 2014 championship
game with nearly unbearable tension in the room. Several team members are silently pacing the room in an effort to relieve the mounting pressure in their bodies. In the one second it takes to realize that they have gone from competitors to winners of the championship, everything changes. There is rapid movement from the training room to the field with screaming fans, celebratory back slapping, media cameras everywhere, and emotional mayhem. Champagne sprays freely and grown adults are not ashamed to let their tears flow.

In the middle of this celebration is Life West alumni and the Giant’s team chiropractor, Dr. Michael Gazdar. While it is his third time in this position, he acknowledges that winning never gets old. The same thrill, the same overwhelming feeling of joy and the emotional roller coaster that comes with competing in a championship game remains the same every time.

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Opening Day

Gazdar seemed destined to connect to the San Francisco Giants. Gazdar was born in Richmond, California, just six days before the Giants played their first-ever home game.

After finishing high school, Gazdar earned a BA in psychology from UC Berkeley and continued his schooling towards a master’s degree in clinical psychology at Cal State University East Bay.

Gazdar was tossing around the idea of medical school when Dr. Malik Slosberg shared words of encouragement towards chiropractic. After experiencing the relief of his lifelong affliction with asthma after a chiropractic adjustment, a new career path opened up. Gazdar chose Life West because he saw that Life West students seemed happier and healthier than the medical students he met. Off he went to school once again but this time was different. This time it was transformative.

Covering All the Bases

After graduating in 1989, Gazdar taught chiropractic technique at Life West. He also took a yearlong position with Dr. Dan Murphy, whom he had been working with in the preceptorship program since his 11th quarter at Life West. Gazdar opened his own practice in 1990. He focused his work with sports teams, sometimes pro-bono, to gain the knowledge and experience he needed to move ahead.

Gazdar was looking out for clients everywhere. He met a woman working for a grocery store and begun to interact with her. He found out that she was training to be a body builder when she was in a car accident that adversely impacted her health. He offered to take her on as a patient but she politely declined as she already had a chiropractor. Quickly, the young doctor asked her out on a date and got her number. But it wasn’t happily ever after. In his rush, he lost her number. After five months, he finally found her number and their first date was Jun 29, 1989. They were engaged on June 29, 1990 and married on June 29, 1991. He has been married to his wife, Teri for 23 years.

Shortly after their marriage, his life once again shifted drastically. Gazdar had the opportunity to adjust the youngest client in his career, his own son. Today with three kids between the ages of 20 and 12, this couple juggles a full family life.

In It to Win It

In 1997, Dr. Nicolas J. Athens, the S.F. Giants chiropractor at the time, spoke at Life West. Gazdar listened closely and he was hooked. He set a goal of one day being the chiropractor for the S.F. Giants. He wrote this goal down and reread it daily.

Years later, he jumped at the opportunity to work in minor league baseball to gain experience. This experience served him well because in 2007, the S.F. Giants interviewed him for the position he had dreamed about as the team chiropractor. Six weeks later, he had the job. Since he had worked with the minor league, the transition for Gazdar was gloriously easy. Today, Gazdar adjusts team members when they are in-training or at home games. He also travels with the team during playoffs.

What did he learn about a successful role in professional sports? Gazdar says it is important to understand and accept that everything will go through the head trainer. The medical team works as a team and the head trainer leads that team. Being calm and collaborative is an asset, given the high amount of stress that professional sports puts on every member of the team.

“Be highly competent in your skill. Once you are highly competent, always be a team player. Understand that you are one part of a much larger team and you will want to work within the perimeters of your team,” adds Gazdar.

Once he started with the Giants, Gazdar set his goal to get three championship rings so he could give one to each of his kids. Each member of the medical team gets their own personalized ring. Now that he has three rings, he thinks his wife might like one too.

“I really feel truly blessed at my fortune. My family, my practice, my education at Life West and working with the S.F. Giants – I think about how fortunate I am every day,” said Gazdar. And after a moment of reflection, he added, “While everything I do with the S.F. Giants is truly amazing, at the end of the day, it is all about the patients for me.”

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Stepping Up to the Plate

Gazdar’s goal is to stay working with the S.F. Giants as long as possible. Once that chapter has finished, he looks forward to reconnecting with Life West to find opportunities where he can help promote them, support them, and work with them.

In the past few years, Gazdar got a call from the Oakland A’s who were looking for a new chiropractor. He happily referred Dr. Bruce Chester, who was one of his students in his early days of teaching. Later they were colleagues when they both taught at Life West. With this referral, another chiropractor’s dream started to come true.

The Ultimate Sportsman

Oakland A’s

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Growing Up Rookie Strong

Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, Bruce Chester’s beginnings were humble. He went to college in Philadelphia, where he became a physical educational teacher for a short period of time and had no real complaints about life. While he was reasonably happy, he yearned for something more.

Chester then created a sign company in his home town, which gave him plenty of flexibility to play golf and soccer. The new job provided him with good money and gave him lots of free time, but he yearned to get back into sports. In 1985 he became a physical therapist with plans to open a private practice and focus on working with athletes. His grand plan seemed to be firmly in place.

It wasn’t until his father had spinal challenges that he recognized what the next big step in his career life needed to be. Observing his father’s care was a magical ‘ah-ha’ moment for the young professional. The way the chiropractor skillfully relieved his father’s pain was astonishing. After the chiropractic visit, his father felt fully restored back to health and hasn’t had any reoccurring spinal pain issue since then. That day, over twenty years ago, was a turning point for Chester. He knew chiropractic was a worthy fit for him. He immediately transferred to the Bay Area to take the next step in his chiropractic journey; academia.

During his time at Life West, Chester met and eventually worked with Dr. Dan Murphy. He considered Murphy a top leader in the chiropractic world and wanted the experience of working with him. After graduation he moved into private practice.

Chester established his private practice in 1991 in Pleasanton, California. His private practice always had a sports slant to it. From baseball to rugby to golfers, he was adjusting athletes on a regular basis.

After seven years, Chester moved his practice to Hayward in order to be closer to the Life West campus, where he became a professor and administrator. Currently, Chester is the Director of Clinical Competency at Life Chiropractic College West.

“I work part time at my practice in Hayward and I reduce my hours during the baseball season. I have really long days, but I have a really good thing going on at Life West. I went to school there and it is almost like I really never left school. They can’t get rid of me,” said Chester with a smile.

The Best Pitch Ever

It was his old classmate, Gazdar that ended up recommending Chester to the Oakland A’s. The head trainer, Nick Paperesta
called Chester in to test him out. Nearly two months later, Chester got a call from Nick on Christmas evening to say that the Oakland A’s had a contract for him to sign. His gift that year was a dream come true.

What challenges faced Chester coming to his new team?

“After the novelty wore off, it was my job. I realized it could be a grind. I had 12-plus hour work days,” said Chester. “And yet, it is really high energy when I get there. The Oakland A’s had a very great first half of the season but after they traded Yoenis Cespedes to Boston, the season quickly turned on the club. They lost in a one game playoff and missed the post season.”

Being a lifelong learner, he quickly got a handle on what was required of him; all the positions on the team are very clearly defined. Assessing and adjusting team members was his focus. It is a highly charged up environment that requires precision, razor sharp focus and a good sense of character.

What is his advice on working with a professional sports team? You must quickly learn what you are allowed to do and not allowed to do.

“It is great work. I love baseball. You are part of a team. The team vibe makes you realize that you are part of something much bigger. They treat us well and it is a really good feeling,” 1notes Chester. “The A’s are a blessing for me.”

Extra Innings

As if all this wasn’t enough, Chester also became the team doctor for the Hayward Griffins in 1993. The rugby team won two national championships and gave Chester an amazing idea to marry rugby with the college and chiropractic.

When a new president, Dr. Brian Kelly, arrived at the college, Chester saw the opportunity to start a Life West rugby team and he became one of the founding fathers of the Life West Gladiators. After getting approval from the Board of Regents, the Gladiators went on a fairy tale run in their first year to the National Finals, finishing second in the nation.

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Chester’s long-term goal is to be involved, in some capacity, in the creation of a professional rugby team in the United States. Starting a professional league requires a lot of influence, money and resources; however Chester is driven to make it happen.

Chester’s visions have always been lofty and a fellow chiropractor, who grew up in a neighboring city to Chester’s Pleasanton practice, shares his notion of mammoth-sized goals.

Youthful Overachiever

Oakland Raiders

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Kyle’s Kickof

Born in Hayward and raised in Livermore, Kyle Prusso was the first and only person in his family to pursue chiropractic. His father was a contractor and his brother followed in their father’s footsteps. Prusso felt he wanted to pave his own path towards success.

Prusso’s dad took on a contract to build a chiropractic office for Dr. Richard Lubin and his father had no idea how this would dramatically change his own son’s future. After the contract was finished, his family started going to the chiropractor on a regular basis. At age 12, Kyle experienced an elbow injury while playing Little League Baseball. Prusso was always impressed that Lubin committed everyone’s name and patient history to memory.

“I would come in many years later and he would still ask about my elbow. My chiropractor really knew each patient as an individual. It struck me how unique and wonderful that was,” said Prusso.

On the Line of Scrimmage

Prusso went to Las Positas College and continued to San Jose State University where he studied mechanical design. He was
always a working student and didn’t mind the struggle of working and studying at the same time. Beginning at age 14, he
worked in a bicycle shop where he remained for over a decade.

Prusso candidly shared, “I just hated working in technical design. I was sitting in a shop. I was programming in an office with no outside human contact. I realized that it had been two weeks since I had met any one new at work. I really needed a job where I could regularly meet new people.”

This was his transformational moment. He sat down and made a list of the pros and cons of a career in design. It was clear that it was time for a seismic change in his life. He created another list on the professions that attracted him. Chiropractic and medicine were at the top.

Comparing mechanical design to chiropractic, Prusso said, “Those concepts are not that far apart actually. It wasn’t as big of a jump as you might think.”

His family chiropractor referred him to Life West and in 9 months he went from a person on a campus tour to being an enrolled student.

“The education part of was easy for me. I never really struggled at all. I was extremely focused and I was in it 100%,”said Prusso. “The biggest challenge was blending my two lives. I lived with my family in Livermore and I had my Life West and chiropractic families in the Hayward area.”

Prusso maintained a private practice in Livermore for six years but decided it was not for him. For Prusso, private practice felt like operating on an island. He missed being part of a team. He wanted to work in a multi-disciplined environment and scaled back his private practice.

Not Benched

So how did Prusso move into the professional sports circle so early in his career? In the summer of 2005, Prusso took a
temporary job with his brother’s construction company as a foreman. He was managing the extension of the home of Rod
Martin, head trainer for the Oakland Raiders. When Prusso first met him, Martin admitted freely that he was looking for a chiropractor for the team. Over the months of this construction project, Prusso felt he was being closely observed. The trainer was always asking him interview-like questions to gauge how he would react in a particular situation. He wanted to know how the young doctor would get along with the team. Within six months, Prusso officially became the chiropractor for the Oakland Raiders.

“In professional sports, a big ego can be a problem for the chiropractor. It is important to fit in with the medical team and the players. You have to learn when you should speak up and when you need to shut up. You need to be a great communicator for the value of the chiropractic approach when the opportunity arises. You need to be a team player, “said Prusso, who is in his 10th season with the Oakland Raiders. “Sometimes you catch yourself wondering if it is a dream. There is nothing like game day and running out of the tunnel with the team towards the field. The crowd is just crazy.”

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Prusso stays on the sidelines with his team during games and travels with them too. Football travel is easier and more predictable than many professional sports because games are mostly during the weekends. Pre-season and training camp gets quite hectic for Prusso. He takes his kids to the training camp to help out which incorporates his family into the master plan.

What is the wisdom he would like to impart on those seeking to follow in his footsteps? Prusso says that chiropractors get to their professional sports teams in many different ways. There is not one way in. It is essential to have solid skills and it is equally important to have integrity.

Prusso cautioned, “Those involved in professional sports have heard every line and every story. They can sniff out posers from miles away. Integrity is imperative. These guys’ BS meters are finely tuned.”

In the End Zone

Admittedly, Prusso doesn’t have a lot of free time these days while occupied with the football season, his work and his family. He and his wife of 18 years, Belen, have their hands happily filled with their two sons; Dylan, age 12 and Jack, age 9.

He does have a mission. Prusso serves as the president of the Professional Football Chiropractic Society (PFCS). The mission of the nonprofit organization is to educate and communicate about professional sports chiropractic and to share the knowledge and information learned from being an NFL chiropractor. The PFCS holds an Annual Educational Symposium in conjunction with the NFL’s Scouting Combine.

What is his next goal? If there is one thing he’d like to change about chiropractic, it is the infrastructure for launching new graduates. Students graduate school often with a large debt. So many students become an associate for a chiropractor, and are often overworked and underpaid in his opinion. Prusso chose another route. Post-graduation, he worked as an independent contractor with Dr. Christina McDonald, who gave him more support and independence. McDonald taught him the ropes of being a business owner. It was very altruistic of her he said.

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Prusso’s parting thoughts are, “If everyone looked at the new graduates in that way, we’d be a lot further along in developing a sustainable system.”

Three chiropractors. Three vastly different paths. However, all three are on a larger mission to spread the word about the benefits of chiropractic care to their communities, their professional sports associates and to the world. Together, it is clear the path forward is bright for chiropractic in professional sports.

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