Tim Dempsey '85 specializes in combinations. He sees overlaps that others might miss.
Such crossovers have been part of Dempsey's life since he started as a college student at the former Marycrest College yet competed for the St. Ambrose club track team.
Lured by a work-study opportunity as an assistant football trainer, Dempsey decided to transfer to St. Ambrose just before the 1983 school year. Within three days, he'd moved into the dorms and begun work with the football team. "I got so much responsibility with athletic training at St. Ambrose," he said.
He graduated with a degree in sociology, but has made personal training his vocation. He said the mix fits well.
"You learn how to listen to people, deal with people from all walks of life," said Dempsey, who worked in Mexico for several years.
Now at Riekes Center for Human Enhancement in Menlo Park, Calif., he brings his sociology-sports blend to a workplace that represents his "dream situation."
Dempsey has found a niche where weaving two concepts becomes an everyday adventure. "We're moving personal training into the medical profession," he said.
In the past few years, Dempsey has started working with wheelchair athletes-Paralympians, and wounded war veterans from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan who have experienced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or effects of traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
He has explored a cross-pattern training regimen that has gained notoriety in the sports and medical disciplines. The technique forces athletes to complete exercises by working across their bodies and can activate muscles that might be atrophying in wheelchair athletes.
He recently presented the early results of his techniques at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado, and is working with researchers at Stanford University to explore how to rigorously test the benefits of cross-pattern workouts.
Sharing a trait with wounded warriors who have hidden scars helps him to help them heal, he said.
During his senior year at St. Ambrose, Dempsey struggled with severe depression. He credited the concerned and attentive faculty and the intimacy that comes with attending a small school for helping him overcome it. Similar to the athletes with whom Dempsey now works, he also found healing in sports.
He can recall one day when a runner, someone from town, joined the mid-distance crew on a training run. The man didn't stay long.
"He says, ‘Is this a group therapy session or are you the St. Ambrose track team?'" Dempsey remembered. "When you weren't pushing the pace, you had in-depth conversations with those guys. We were very close. The physical exercise and the conversations, that was my only outlet."
Dempsey now serves as a resource for people who might need such an outlet, even if they only think of him as their strength and conditioning coach. What his athletes get is someone who knows not only the toughness needed for sports, but also the fortitude necessary to keep an open mind for new ways to train.
Crossing those two will keep anyone busy.