USA Olympic Gymnastics and National Team Doctor Larry Nassar Has it “RIGHT”!!! – Part I

Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to communicate with our United States Olympic Gymnastics and National Team doctor…Dr. Larry Nassar. The discussion we had took place through my Facebook account, which appears to have a higher purpose and functionality than just a picture and “what’s on your mind” posting site…at least for me anyway.

I can’t begin to express what an honor it was to talk with Dr. Nassar regarding our seemingly congruent philosophies on success in sports…the idea that there is much more to athletic success than winning a national, Olympic, and/or World Championship gold medal. Here is a man, a medical professional, who has all his ducks in a row….one who knows the score…KNOWS where the importance of competitive sports should be placed.

And his prowess in the field of sports medicine is likely second to none, as keeping athletes like Jordyn Wieber, McKayla Maroney, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross, Simone Biles and Brenna Dowell healthy and competing at their best is no simple task. Particularly in a sport like gymnastics, where the intense training (and risk) puts an incredible amount of stress on the bodies of these athletes.

This is a man, a well-respected sports medical professional, who completely understands how essential it is to STAY focused on the process…the idea of keeping the outcomes (those medals and championships) in perspective― as simply a byproduct of that process. It is something he makes crystal clear in his comments here, regarding the success of the Fierce Five at the 2012 London Olympics.

It is with all of this in mind that I would like to share with you a piece Dr. Nassar wrote back in December of 2000 titled Money and Medals: The Core Purpose of Sport? Published originally through the Path of Potential, it is an excellent piece (a story) with a great message.

Please do not miss the second half of Dr. Nassar’s story, and most notably his reflection and comment on that story, as the value in them is immeasurable.

Money and Medals: The Core Purpose of Sport?
By: Lawrence Nassar, DO, ATC
USA Gymnastics National Medical Coordinator
Associate Professor and Team Physician
Michigan State University’s
College of Osteopathic Medicine
Department of Radiology

Stories are means to either pass on values, ethics and morals, or stimulate purposeful conversation and reflection; my hope is that this story will do both.  “Money and Medals:  The Core Purpose of Sport,” possesses basic highlights that are intended to carry a deeper message that is a result of my reflection upon twenty-seven years of experience in sports as an athlete, athletic trainer, and now a team physician and national medical coordinator for U. S. A. gymnastics.

“Let’s shoot the basketball around,” Dan calls to his son.  Eight-year-old Billy pulls himself away from the computer game he was playing and runs to the garage to grab his small sized basketball.  Dan loves to play basketball with his son.  The interaction between them is fun in its purest sense; it is an expression of love between a father and son.

Dan’s father died and the funeral was last month.  Playing basketball with his son brings back wonderful memories of the times he played with his brothers and his own father.  They did not have much money when he was a child, and playing recreational sports was inexpensive.  Dan’s father, John, emigrated from Europe and found work in an iron ore mine in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Life was difficult at times for John, but he found that playing sports with his children was a great way to spend time with them and unwind from work.  John taught his children many valuable lessons through sport:  Enjoy the game . . . have fun . . . and play fair; these were some main principles that Dan’s father impressed upon them.

Dan never became a superstar in basketball, but he had wonderful experiences playing on his small high school team.  They did not have much money for equipment, uniforms, and training aids; they just had a good coach with a spirit for the essence of sport. They would travel many hours in a crowded station wagon and a couple of pick-up trucks to the Detroit area for pre-season tournaments.  The team was always amazed at both the expensive uniforms their opponents wore and the spectacular courts on which they played.  Dan felt a sense of envy, but he never admitted it.

Billy, his son, was gifted.  It seemed to be natural for him to shoot the ball.  Besides his slender stick-like tall body size, his large hands made it easy for him to handle the ball.  By the time he was 12 years old, the family had moved to Detroit and he had made the Junior Olympic Development Team.  Four years later, he was one of the top players in the state. The days of playing basketball for pure fun seemed to be a distant memory for Billy.  He felt a great deal of pressure to be the best and to constantly win. His family life had dramatically changed.

A large financial burden was placed on his family to allow him to continue playing basketball on the Junior Olympic Team.  The uniforms were expensive and the cost to travel around the country was incredible.  His mother had to go back to work as a waitress to make extra money.  Dan loved his prior job, but had to take a job that he truly disliked in order for them to meet the added expense Billy’s basketball playing placed on the family.

Yes, Billy’s days of playing basketball for fun with his father were gone.  Now, Dan would attempt to coach his son more than play with him.  He would constantly critique Billy’s skills.  Instead of cheers of support from the stands, Billy would hear his father yell at the coach and referee, or scream out corrections to him.  His father even regulated Billy’s diet; he needed to gain weight.  He had the height, but he needed the larger size to be more aggressive.  This is when the real trouble truly started.

Dan began to bring home supplements from the health food store that were supposed to increase Billy’s muscle development.  Billy disliked the taste of the supplements, but his father forced him to eat and drink them.  Dan started to tell Billy how many sacrifices the family had made to help him; as a result, Billy started to feel more pressure to succeed from his father than he did from his coach.  Billy started to look for alternative ways to increase his size.  He knew that a friend of his used anabolic steroids to increase his muscle bulk, so he found out how to obtain these banned substances and started to use them.

Billy’s muscular size did increase and his performance improved, but the improvement was short-lived.  Several months later, near the end of the season, Billy’s performance started to deteriorate.  His personality started to change as the side effects from the supplements combined with the intense pressure he felt.  He had wild mood swings; he began to anger easily, foul out of games, and receive technical fouls for his outbursts in games. Despite the negative slope Billy appeared to be riding, his Junior Olympic Development Team finished in the top three in the country; it was now time for his senior year in high school.


To find out what happens to Billy next, don’t miss Part II of Dr. Nassar’s Money and Medals: The Core Purpose of Sport? coming Monday, October 28th.

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Tags: Olympics, Parenting, Sports


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