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Olympian task: PT professor and athletic trainer aims to help elite wrestlers on their way to the medal stand

Terry Grindstaff, PhD, a professor in the Department of Physical Therapy served as a volunteer medical provider for the USA Wrestling Team at a major international tournament in Russia in January 2018.For at least as long as he’s been a physical therapist and certified athletic trainer — and probably since his own days as a wrestler — Terry Grindstaff, PhD, has held the dream of one day working the mats as a medical professional at the Olympic Games with the USA Wrestling Team.

Last month, Grindstaff, an associate professor of physical therapy in the Creighton University School of Pharmacy and Health Professions, took another step toward that goal as he served as a medical volunteer for USA Wrestling as the 23-athlete team (19 men and four women) competed in the Ivan Yarygin Golden Grand Prix in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, a major international tournament that essentially kicks off the wrestling season.

“It is the next step and I like to think I’d be in the mix for an Olympics or a World Championships,” said Grindstaff, who wrestled collegiately at Dakota Wesleyan University. “Having a combined wrestling and medical background gives me insights into an athlete’s mindset and allows me to better anticipate athlete needs.”

In 2004, Grindstaff filed applications to become a part of the United States Olympic Committee’s volunteer medical pool and USA Wrestling’s medical team. A year later, he was accepted into the pool and participated in training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

In 2009, Grindstaff took his first international trip with USA Wrestling. He’s taken a trip with the team every year since and had provided medical coverage for age group (high school, early college) World Championships and senior level international tournaments. The senior-level athletes who wrestled in Russia in January and who will one day represent the U.S. in Olympic and World Championship competition. Grindstaff hopes he’s right alongside them when that day comes.

“I’ve worked with a number of these athletes from high school to early college and now they are on the national team preparing to win World and Olympic medals,” he said. “In a sense, I feel like I’ve grown up with them.”

While Grindstaff’s primary role is injury management, other responsibilities include nutrition (especially access to bottled water), recovery, and emotional support which, in a sport marked by its raw physicality, can sometimes get overlooked.

“Just being there, keeping it light, keeping them laughing, that can go a long way,” he said. “These are elite athletes who have access to all the latest in sports science and technology, but the personal interaction, trust, and rapport are critical. You’re filling a very small piece of what they need, but it’s an important piece.”

Keeping it light on this recent trip meant trying to keep it warm, too. Located in south-central Siberia, just north of Russia’s border with Mongolia, Krasnoyarsk and its surrounding area is renowned for its natural beauty, but also its forbidding winters.

Temperatures around the minus-40-degree Fahrenheit mark greeted the Americans on arrival, though things warmed to a balmy 10 degrees by the end of their 10-day stay.

“We had about a half-mile walk into the training center every day,” Grindstaff said. “If you bundle up, you’ll be in good shape. We were lucky there wasn’t much wind.”

In addition to representing the country in his work as a medical volunteer, Grindstaff said he also felt like he was helping to spread the Creighton name to another corner of the world.

“It’s a good thing,” he said. “People identify Creighton, not necessarily for wrestling, but as a school that has a reputation for outreach in the health professions and as a place with a global interest.”


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