Feb 22, 2021Blazing the Trail: Highlighting 3 Sports Industry Pioneers
By the late 1600s, the term ‘pioneer’ had evolved from referring to French foot soldiers who dug trenches — literally blazing trails — to take on a more metaphorical reference to trailblazers of industry.
From the early American settlers who migrated west in search of developing new communities to the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs building up the internet community, the days of pioneers referring to foot soldiers are long gone. In fact, pioneers — whether it be in industry, politics, civil rights, or athletics — lead the way in progressing human achievement.
They’re unconcerned with the conventional. They won’t be deterred by hearing “no.” And they can’t be bothered with the well-traveled path. They envision a better future and carry the conviction to see it to fruition.
And pioneers in the world of athletics are no different. While the athletes work on getting results between the lines of competition, there are many behind-the-scenes types working equally as hard to make the job of athletes easier — allowing them to perform longer, run faster, and, in one case, return to the game better than ever.
Training & Conditioning magazine has identified three industry pioneers who have worked tirelessly to help athletes continue to work tirelessly. These are their stories.
Rarely in the world of athletics do sports fans have a working knowledge of sports physicians. Dr. James Andrews, however, defies the previous statement.
Known for his scientific and clinical research in knee, shoulder, and elbow injuries, Dr. Andrews — and his Andrews Institute located in Pensacola, Florida — is typically the last name you want to hear in reference to your favorite athletes. But his work with professional athletes, and Major League pitchers facing ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction surgery, in particular, has typically led to athletes returning to their respective sport better than ever.
He perfected replacing the UCL in the medial elbow, better known as Tommy John surgery, first done by orthopedic surgeon and Los Angeles Dodgers physician Frank Jobe on the aforementioned pitcher. Now a regular surgery for baseball hurlers, Tommy John surgeries done by Dr. Andrews have allowed pitches to come back stronger, often adding a few miles per hour on their fastballs.
Dr. Andrews graduated from Louisiana State University (LSU) in 1963 and was even a decorated indoor and outdoor collegiate pole vaulter. He completed LSU School of Medicine in 1967, and he completed his orthopedic residency at Tulane Medical School in 1972. He had surgical fellowships in sports medicine at the University of Virginia Medical School in early 1972 with Dr. Frank McCue, III. And at the University of Lyon in Lyon, France in late 1972, with the late professor Albert Trillat, M.D., who was known as the Father of European Knee Surgery.
He has since served on multiple professional and NCAA collegiate sports teams, from the Tampa Bay Rays to Auburn University to the LPGA to the University of Alabama to the United States Olympic Committee. And his reach has gone far beyond the lines of competition. Dr. Andrews has mentored more than 450 orthopedic sports medicine fellows and more than 90 primary care sports medicine fellows. Additionally, he has held major presentations on every continent while authoring a number of scientific articles and books.
Dr. Andrews opened the Andrews Institute in 2007 in Pensacola, making northwest Florida a central hub for musculoskeletal treatments and research. Since the initial opening, there are now 16 locations in the area that offer patient care, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.
While the first power rack resides in the Lutcher Stark Museum at the University of Texas in Austin, the one used by virtually every athletic program, fitness center, and weight room across the country was birthed two states north in Nebraska.
Developed by former University of Nebraska head strength and conditioning coach Boyd Epley, Nebraska’s first power rack had humble beginnings — made from street posts after a nearby campus road was relocated. It lived in a 416 square foot room in Shulte Fieldhouse under the North Stadium.
Before Epley stepped in, the York Power Rack doubled as an Isometric Rack and a rack for Olympic lifting, however it was hard to squat because the posts were too close together. Flash forward to 1995 and the Husker Power Rack was developed by Epley and the Wynmor equipment company, whose owner’s brother played on the Cornhuskers football team at the time. The multi-purpose rack not only littered the weight room in Nebraska but all over the country as well with other companies adopting the style.
Following the success of the Husker Power Rack, Epley teamed up with Wynmor again to create the Half Rack, which uses two bars and a platform with bumper plates that can be set at different heights.
“We preferred hang cleans to power cleans and the half rack was a great rack for it,” Epley said. “We couldn’t think of a better name, so we went with Half Rack because it had half the posts of a Power Rack.”
Over time, Epley developed endorsement deals for his products with Hammer Strength, Life Fitness, and, eventually, Power Lift, which enhanced the Half Rack to be more compact and portable — the Power Lift Tri-X Half Rack.
Despite the success and mass adoption of the advanced power rack, Epley wasn’t satisfied with the results. He continued to test the boundaries — just like he always asked his football players to do in the weight room. To usher in the new millennium, Epley went back to work. In 2000, he developed a custom 12-foot tall power rack for Nebraska’s national shot put champion, Carl Myerscough. At 6-foot-10, 340-pounds, Myerscough could squat 810 pounds, but he wanted to be more explosive.
“This unit allowed the bar to be thrown overhead in a Snatch motion, then float down safely controlled by a hydraulic valve,” Epley said.
In 2002, continuing to redefine how athletes build speed, power, and strength, Epley developed the Transformer, a machine that allows athletes that train with free weights to have unprecedented safety while doing it. These electric machines also allow for the best environment for teaching proper lifting techniques for both explosive Olympic moves and the slower strength lifts, according to Epley. The enhancement did come at a cost, and an expensive one at that — $30,000 a transformer. But you can’t put a cost on player safety.
“We asked the [Nebraska] athletes to name this machine and, at first, they called it ‘Megasoreass,’ but the head coach said no,” Epley said. “We ended up calling it the Transformer because it transforms from a squat unit to a hang clean unit or a push-press unit with the touch of a button.”
Continuing to push the limits — both in developing strength equipment and future NFL players.
The Cornhuskers may be able to stake claim to the reimagined power rack, but the University of Florida can say that Gatorade was birthed in the swamps of Gainesville for the Gator’s football program. With the constant presence of high heat and humidity, a Gators assistant coach went to university physicians in the summer of 1965 to find out why so many players were so greatly affected by the heat.
The researchers — Dr. Robert Cade, Dr. Dana Shires, Dr. H. James Free, and Dr. Alejandro de Quesada — soon discovered two key factors that were causing the Gator players’ performance to diminish: the fluids and electrolytes the players lost through sweat were not being replaced, and the large amounts of carbohydrates the players’ bodies used for energy were not being replenished.
With their findings in hand, the group of researchers went to the lab and created a precisely balanced carbohydrate-electrolyte beverage that would replace the key components that get lost through sweat and exercise.
And the positive effects showed immediately. A year after introducing Gatorade to the Florida team, the Gators finished the 1966 season at 9-2 and won the program’s first-ever Orange Bowl. Word of the secret elixir spread through the NCAA and, today Gatorade is the official sports drink of more than 70 Division I colleges in men’s and women’s athletics.
Despite the collective buy-in by NCAA teams across the country, Gatorade continued to plunge further into increasing athletic performance. In the late 1980s, the Gatorade Sports Science Institute was founded to conduct research in the areas of exercise science, hydration, and sports nutrition, and later expanded to provide advanced testing for athletes.
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To usher in the next generation of athletes, Gatorade teamed up with auto racing organizations to develop hydration tools that could withstand 130-degree temperatures and keep drivers hydrated safely through the course of a race. And in addition to being found in seemingly any convenience store, the sports drink is the official drink of the NBA, PGA, MLB, MLS, and various other professional organizations and leagues.
Gatorade, looking to expand its reach in the sports performance world, continues to find ways to adapt to the ever-changing environment. From the lab testing of athletes to new flavor and delivery system development to the publication and distribution of scientific research, they study new and innovative ways to help athletes improve performance by facilitating proper hydration and nutrition.