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Vol. LXI, No. 34
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
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(Photo courtesy of the Sports Physical Therapy Institute)

HEALING ART: Marc Nowak of the Sports Physical Therapy Institute in Princeton works with a member of the USRowing national team. This week, Nowak, the official physical therapist for the U.S. national team, is tending to the rowers' needs at the 2006 World Rowing Championships in Munich, Germany.

Princeton-Area Physical Therapist Nowak Embarks on Latest Journey With USRowing

Bill Alden

When Marc Nowak entered a masters program in physical therapy in the early 1980s, he saw it as a stepping stone to medical school.

But it didn't take him long to realize that he had found his life's calling.

"I knew very little about physical therapy," said Nowak, who graduated with a degree in biology from LaSalle University before entering the physical therapy program at Arcadia University.

"I knew some women at Temple who were in exercise science and they said I should do the program. I thought I would do it to keep in school and that it would look good on my transcript. Once I got into the program, I realized this is where I want to be, this is what I wanted to do."

Nowak, though, didn't realize at the time that his move into physical therapy would see him traveling all over the world to ply his craft.

After graduating from Arcadia, Nowak worked with a sports medicine group in the Atlanta area. In 1991, he came to New Jersey where he started working for the Sports Physical Therapy Institute (SPTI) office in Somerset.

In 1995, he moved to the SPTI's office in Princeton and started with college and national team rowers. By 2003, he was the official physical therapist for the USRowing national program and covered the FISA World Rowing Championships in Milan, Italy. A year later, he worked with the U.S. rowers at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens.

This week, Nowak will be in Munich, Germany for the 2006 World Rowing Championships which will run from August 26 through September 2.

For Nowak, the chance to work with the crew athletes is a treat he looks forward to "They are the best athletes I have ever dealt with," asserted Nowak, 49, who is the Director of Clinical Education at SPTI in addition to handling a full therapy load.

"They are well educated, motivated, and so thankful for our help. It's an incredible group to deal with, they don't get to this level without being forward-thinking and positive."

When he is at a competition, Nowak strives to create a positive atmosphere for the rower. "The rowers start going to the water around 6:30 a.m. and they will be there until 9 or so," explained Nowak. "They'll come back to the hotel around lunch and I'll set up a clinic there. We'll be open from 1 to 4 p.m. and we'll have the athletes set up appointments. We try to make it a fun atmosphere. We have music playing and the rowers hanging around and joking."

The laid-back approach helps Nowak get a better handle on the athletes and their needs.

"I get to know the athletes," added Nowak. "I learn their idiosyncrasies and their chronic problems. Since I already know the athletes, I know what is a real problem or what might be an exacerbation of a pre-existing condition."

Nowak's role extends beyond keeping the rowers up and running physically. "You are a confidante," added Nowak. "They need someone in their corner, someone to listen to them and prop them up when they have had a bad day."

A key aspect of Nowak's work between competitions is to prevent injury for the rowers who are commonly hit with problems that involve the rib and neck area and the lower back.

"They really need something different from the rowing motion," said Nowak, who advocates the use of stability ball exercises to help prevent injury.

"We need their bodies to be more symmetrical. They need their joints to be balanced so there is not so much overload."

It was hard for Nowak to get a balanced perspective as he worked at the 2004 Olympics. "You don't get a sense of the magnitude of the event until it's over and you see the flag going up and the kids on the podium," said Nowak.

"That really brings things home. It's like the world championships but with more intensity. You also get a sense of how good luck plays a role. You have to have a good mindset. On any day, anyone there can come up with a great performance; so much depends on fate."

In an effort to lessen the role of fate when it comes to keeping his rowers healthy, Nowak has changed his schedule to devote two days a week exclusively to rowers.

"It is good to make it as simple as possible for them," said Nowak, who sees the athletes on Tuesdays and Fridays. "They can come in and really utilize the facility. I've been full both days; the rowers have made it part of their routine."

The lessons Nowak has learned from working the rowers has changed how he approaches his other clients.

"What I do with rowers in connection with the prevention of injuries and dealing with problems early rather than when things break down is something I am doing more and more with the rest of my client population," said Nowak.

"We can transfer those same principles to the general clients. It gives us courage to take it to the insurance companies to get them to cover that kind of treatment."

Nowak is looking forward to covering things this week in Munich. "I enjoy packing up and getting away," said Nowak, who also travelled with the U.S. team to the 2005 Word Rowing Championships in Gifu, Japan.

"You have to stay upbeat, you can't have a bad day. The host country people are always so nice, they know the event is going on and they go the extra mile to make it comfortable for everybody."

And Nowak has enjoyed going the extra mile and then some for the U.S. rowers.

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