From Sports to Chiropractic

By Steve LaBate
Three DCs reflect on the connection between the sporting life and the healing life

The inclination toward Chiropractic comes from a variety of sources, depending on whom you ask: Some find that a vitalistic lifestyle brings a sense of calm and inner peace; some are drawn to Chiropractic for the obvious health benefits; some get hooked on the effect it has on athletic
performance (frequently, it’s a mixture of these qualities, and more).

An active, healthy lifestyle is central to chiropractic philosophy. So, it’s not uncommon to find athletes-turned-chiros who can speak firsthand about how Chiropractic has helped both them and their patients maintain their game face. Once an athlete, always an athlete, after all.

TCL sat down with three such chiropractors to find out about the influence sports and athletics has had on their outlooks, their practices and their lives.

Paying it forward
Freshman football sensation Robert Gould was down with two herniated disks in his neck. Before he’d had a chance to make his mark, the future of Hobart College’s promising Division III football program was out for the season—maybe forever, the MDs said. But Gould and his chiropractor, Matthew DiDuro, refused to throw in the towel. They spent the summer working diligently together to get him back on the field, and Gould went on to become a two-time All American.

“When everybody else told me I had to give up the sport I loved,” Gould later wrote DiDuro in a heartfelt letter, “you found a way to help correct my problem and get me working properly.” As DiDuro sees it, he was just returning the favor.

“My sophomore year of college, I got injured pretty bad in a fall lacrosse event,” he says. “I got hit with a stick from behind and basically had whiplash in my neck. The next day, when I woke up, I had a really bad stiff neck and couldn’t even lift my right arm.”

DiDuro went through the team trainer, the orthopedist, physical therapy, but they were focusing entirely on his arm and hand, and nothing was working. He had an MRI, and was finally sent to a neurosurgeon. “I’ll never forget him,” DiDuro says. “He insisted that I needed surgery. I had lost 80 percent of the strength in my right arm. I couldn’t even think about playing lacrosse I was in so much pain.”

In his pre-op meeting, the surgeon told DiDuro he would never be able to play contact sports again. “I was crushed,” he says. “I don’t think I would’ve gone to college if it wasn’t for the fact that I could play lacrosse.”

Luckily, DiDuro’s older brother Joseph was a recent graduate of Palmer College of Chiropractic, and convinced him to come in for an adjustment. “‘Joe, I’m in bad shape,’ I told him,” Matthew remembers. “‘I don’t want anybody to touch me.’”

His brother took an X-Ray and found some bones out of place in his neck. So, he put him on the table and delivered some adjustments. At first, it didn’t seem like anything had happened. “But when I got in my car and went to back up,” DiDuro says, “I could actually turn and look over my shoulder.”

By the end of the first week, he was lifting his arm without the sling; by the second week, he was using five-pound dumbbells; by the third week, he was lifting 10 to 15 pounds and he was feeling great. By the time his next pre-surgery appointment came around, DiDuro was so impressed with his recovery, he decided to help spread the word—by going to chiropractic college.

In the end, DiDuro got to play all four years of lacrosse at Nazareth College, went on to play the sport at a semi-pro level and, at 45, is still active today. “If it wasn’t for Chiropractic,” he says, “I’d be disabled.”

After graduating in 1989, DiDuro left behind his lifelong home, upstate New York, and venture south to Georgia to make good on the vow he’d taken after his recovery. DiDuro enrolled at Life University, earned his Doctor of Chiroppractic degree and, in January 1995, moved back home to open his own private practice.

“Right off the bat,” he says, “I felt I was still an athlete, so I went and talked to all the coaches I used to play for and I’d bring my table and work on some of the players.”

Within two months of graduating from LIFE, DiDuro landed a gig as team chiropractor with the Nighthawks, a pro indoor lacrosse team from Rochester, N.Y. “I knew some of the players,” DiDuro explains. “They helped get me into the program, and it didn’t take long for other players who played lacrosse and other sports to want to come get checked out afterwards.”

In 1996, DiDuro began working with Hobart College’s football team (where he’d encounter Robert Gould). “The next thing you know,” he says, “I was working with their lacrosse team, women’s basketball, men’s basketball, their crew team. It was just awesome. I was the unofficial chiropractor for this great Division III sports college.”

Before long, he was also coaching at the local high school, working with several YMCA programs and youth girls’ lacrosse teams. “Being involved in something you have a passion for,” he says, “and being able to take care of some of the players as well, was a big plus for growing my practice.”

What DiDuro loves most about Chiropractic, though, is being able to keep players in the game, or get them back to work. “When their medical doctor felt like they were going to just prescribe two weeks of pain pills and rest, we’d say, ‘No way. Let’s get in there and find the cause of your problem and work at correcting it, taking the pressure off.’ Coaches realized, ‘Wait, a second—this guy’s going to be out for three weeks? Let’s get a second opinion from DiDuro.’ And the results spoke for themselves.”

nothing but net
Jessica Thompson, D.C., grew up in Walled Lake, Mich., with a chiropractor father. She began playing basketball in junior high, was tall and talented and, in high school, went straight to varsity.

“Being from a chiropractic family definitely helped me throughout my basketball career,” she says. “I could feel it if I was off, physically, and knew that it would affect my game. I had a lot of problems with my ankles, and my dad would adjust them before games. It was a huge benefit.”

Just before she graduated, Thompson was offered a scholarship to nearby Oakland Community College where she went on to play center in a thrilling, undefeated season in which she had multiple triple or double games. “It was so awesome,” she remembers, “and it was great to finish with a state championship.”

After that year, though, Thompson did some soul searching and ended up leaving the court behind to pursue her dream of becoming a Doctor of Chiropractic. She enrolled at Life University and graduated in 2007. Now, she’s back in Walled Lake, working at her father’s practice, the O’Dell Chiropractic Center—a 32-year institution—but she keeps the lessons she learned as an athlete close to her heart, letting them guide her work as a DC.

“Basketball taught me perseverance,” she says. “Not all things have immediate rewards, but through perseverance most issues are able to be resolved. Basketball also taught me discipline. Sometimes you get a patient who stumps you—whether anatomically or philosophically. You try what’s worked with previous patients, and you try something else, but the patient still is not getting the full benefit. But you study and research and with that discipline—and a patient patient—it pays off.”

Thompson also says that her years playing hoops give her a unique ability to understand the needs and concerns of her athlete patients. “It’s like, ‘I remember going through that; I know what I can do to help you,’” she explains. “I had a woman who did a lot of marathons come in. She’d sprained her ankle and was unable to continue training because of the pain. In my basketball career, I had more ankle sprains than I can count, so I immediately understood the frustration she was feeling. More importantly, I knew I could help her. After one adjustment, she was able to see a difference and commence her training again.”

ironman
For the last 11 years, Phil McMaster, D.C., has been the director of Ironman New Zealand. The annual race—held in Taupo, New Zealand—is one of a worldwide series of backbreaking triathlons that opens with a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride and a full marathon, all executed in succession in 17 hours or less with no breaks. The event consumes the whole of Taupo in the weeks leading up to race day, and attracts more than 2,000 volunteers in a town of just 20,000.

“Whether you’re an elite athlete, a plodder or a volunteer,” McMaster says, “Ironman is a hugely moving event for everyone involved. I’m always impressed and inspired by the team of people I’m privileged to lead, as well as the athletes who compete in the grueling event that is Ironman.”

McMaster’s résumé doesn’t stop with the Ironman. He has been on the faculty of his alma mater, Sherman College of Straight Chiropractic, she served as interim president at the New Zealand College of Chiropractic from 2002 to 2003, and is now chairman of the Board of Trustees at the latter school. And he still finds time to run his own high-volume, subluxation-focused McMaster Chiropractic Centre, where he has been in full practice since 1986.

“I think most chiropractors tend to attract patients from within the circles of people they move in,” he says. “So, obviously, I have attracted many patients from different sporting backgrounds who understand the performance and health benefits they can enjoy from regular chiropractic care. And because Taupo is the home of Ironman in New Zealand, there’s a large, active multi-sport community here. Many of our local multisporters are patients of mine and I offer chiropractic care as a form of sponsorship to a number of our elite, young, up-and-coming athletes, as well as the King Country Rams Rugby Team.”

When McMaster was just 17 years old, his love of sports led to an interest in the workings of the body and human performance. At first, he considered a career in physiotherapy. While investigating the discipline, he attended a career night run by local chiropractors, thinking it would be similar. “Boy, did I find out I was wrong,” he says. “The chiropractors I met there were talking a whole different type of talk, and the vitalistic ideas of universal intelligence, innate intelligence and proactive care of the spine and nerve system absolutely resonated with me. So from there on in, I was always going to be a chiropractor.”

These days, McMaster refers to himself as a “bit of a chiropractic commando.” “With anybody who’s willing to listen,” he says, “I tend to seize every opportunity to extol the virtues of being free of subluxations and functioning as optimally as possible. So when I’m among other sports-loving people, which is often the case, they get it right between the eyes!”