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Stephen Osterer’s Story

Growing up, I always considered myself a two-sport athlete. Being the typical Canadian kid, hockey was always number one for me. From the first time that I laced up the skates I knew where my athletic passion was. As such, I would play hockey year-round and mix in baseball for a few months in the summer. Although I was proficient enough to play both sports at the highest levels in Ottawa, I never envisioned myself going down a path other than hockey.

I distinctly remember entering high school with the mindset that I was going to get a US collegiate scholarship in hockey. That lead me to enlist in a strength and conditioning program with Lorne Goldenberg – a renowned strength coach & conditioning coach in the hockey world. I’ll never forget my first day at the Athletic Conditioning Center, trying to pump out a chin-up as part of my testing, while 4 or 5 NHLers watched in the background. It was my first taste of the gym and I couldn’t have picked a better environment. Although I had made one of the local elite 19U baseball teams as a fifteen-year-old, baseball still took a backseat to playing puck. That summer I spent more time lifting weights and playing summer hockey than I did throwing baseballs.

I continued to train intensely in the summer between grades ten and eleven, hoping to make my local Junior A hockey club. A team that eventually produced NCAA D1 scholarships for six of their seven defensemen that year. I was the last cut. I was heartbroken.

I decided that I couldn’t just give up hockey so that winter I continued my strength and conditioning program, even during hockey season, and mentally committed to making that team the following season.

When the summer rolled around, I was faced with the decision to either continue playing baseball or to just focus on preparing for the upcoming hockey season. Thankfully, I decided to do both, but was very close to quitting baseball altogether. If it weren’t for the friendships and coaches like Donny Campbell I would’ve just walked away.

That summer our team happened to be very good (for an Ottawa team). I mostly played (an average) left field and pitched in relief when needed. I remember feeling stronger and faster than the year before, but no one, including myself, had any indication about how much that may have been. We didn’t have scout days, showcases or even a radar gun. We just played baseball.

During a tournament in Montreal, I came for relief and pitched a scoreless seventh inning to notch a save. Nothing out of the ordinary – save for maybe not walking the house and throwing a few wild pitches. After the game, I spotted my father talking to a stranger holding a radar gun. I walked up to them, and Walt Burrows, the head of Canada’s MLB scouting bureau at the time, introduced himself. I stood there in shock as he told me how impressed he was by my pitching and that I was sitting 86 MPH. He then invited me to attend a tryout to represent Ontario at the Canada Cup in a week.

Shortly thereafter, I attended the tryout, was forced onto the team by Walt, and was given three weeks to prepare for the Canada Cup – a tournament in which the best players in the country compete for their province, and a shot at making the Canadian Junior National team. Knowing that I was relatively unknown, and that there was going to be several MLB scouts and collegiate coaches at the tournament, I decided to embark on a weighted baseball program to add velocity. Mind you, this was in 2004, before any online products or programs were mainstream or commercialized. At that point, I thought that I had a basic understanding of anatomy and strength training concepts and thought ‘why not?’ I dunked three or four weighted baseballs into a bucket of water and started throwing long toss with them. Great idea, right?

Three weeks later, in the opening game of the tournament, I came in for a save opportunity. It was the top of the sixth inning with two out and a man on first against Alberta. In front of over two thousand people I struck out the next four batters to seal the deal. After the game, I met my dad with a big smile, and he told me that I was hitting 89 MPH. I was stunned. I gained an uptick of 3MPH in just under three weeks.

Awesome, right?

Kinda.

After the game, I couldn’t extend my elbow. I was in a lot of pain. I knew that

there was something wrong, but I couldn’t tell my coaches. In my mind, this was my only shot at getting to the next level and I had to just push through it.

I was only able to throw one more time in the tournament and it wasn’t very pretty. I didn’t make the Junior National team, but I did, however, get enough attention to eventually land a spot to pitch at Cornell University.

After receiving my offer, I was filled with mixed emotions. As happy as I was to have achieved a chance to play a college sport down south, it was for the wrong sport and there was still a big problem. I couldn’t throw without pain. I couldn’t even extend my elbow without pain.

For the next eight months, I went through four sports medicine doctors, two physiotherapists, had two MRIs, one X-ray, and made zero progress. After exhausting every option locally, nothing had changed. I was about four months from heading to pitch at Cornell and no one could give me a straight answer about what was wrong or what to do about it. Needless to say, the anxiety was mounting with each passing day and I even contemplated quitting baseball altogether to go back to hockey.

Luckily, through the help of MLB HOF’er Bob Elliot, I got an opportunity to see the orthopedic surgeon for the Blue Jays at the time, Dr. Erin Boynton. After another MRI, physical examination, and two anti-inflammatory injections, she concluded two things.

  1. I was too old and threw too hard to get away with not preparing my body for pitching – in the off-season and before games. I couldn’t just walk onto a baseball field anymore without gradually building up my throwing load.
  2. I need to see a chiropractor immediately for soft tissue therapy. I was referred to the Toronto Blue Jays chiropractor (Dr. Mike Prebeg), got treated that night, and was then referred to someone he trusted back in Ottawa. For the next two months, I got a lot of hands on therapy to my shoulder, very little to my elbow, and absolutely nothing to my spine.

When I was finally cleared to try throwing again I almost cried when there wasn’t any pain. A chiropractor, of all people, helped my elbow problem. (Thank you Dr. Glennie). In the back of my mind, I knew that this was a profession perfectly suited for me.

Before I headed to Cornell in the fall, I was finally able to pitch in two games. Pain free. From that point on I took my training seriously, consistently received manual therapy, and made it through four years without succumbing to any major arm issues.

After reading the first part of this story, it shouldn’t surprise you that I majored in neurobiology and minored in business and psychology. I hadn’t planned it, but I was inadvertently taking courses that would constitute a baseline education for a career in athletic development. My days were filled with classes in anatomy, physiology, human behaviour, statistics, consumer psychology, and I even mixed in a semester of argumentation and debate (just in case you don’t believe me).

My interest in strength and conditioning carried over into my time at Cornell. I spent a lot of my free time getting ‘extra work’ in at the gym, and even spent an entire summer in Ithaca learning from and questioning my strength and conditioning coach.

By the time I graduated from Cornell, I had a pretty good idea that I wanted to continue my education and become a chiropractor. In 2010, I headed to the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College with a singular goal. One that is still the driving force behind my day-to-day – being the number one authority on baseball injuries and performance in Canada. While the rest of my peers spent their extra time and money on escaping from the stressors of school, I was reading textbooks, shadowing my mentors, or researching questions that kept me from sleeping.

In particular, I spent a lot of time chatting and learning from two specific mentors; Dr. Andrew Robb and Dr. Michael Chivers. Dr. Robb, who ended up being my supervising clinician in my last year at school, loved baseball as much as I did and even completed his masters in Alabama under the watchful eye of famous sports surgeon Dr. James Andrews. He is now consulting with the Toronto Blue Jays. Dr. Chivers, a lead instructor of the Functional Range Systems courses, taught me how to hone my therapy skills and opened my eyes on movement in general. By the time I graduated chiropractic school, I was fortunate enough to have spent a great deal of time being mentored by two truly world-class baseball specific manual therapist.

My roommates and I, one who is now the lead therapist at Altis, the other who is a therapist for Athletics Canada, spent hours practicing, debating and developing our theories on athletic performance. We spent countless nights watching performance DVDs, arguing over technique and experimenting with workout programs. In our second year, we even co-founded the school’s first Strength and Conditioning Club. I began applying my performance programs to friends, colleagues and baseball players back in Ottawa. On top of my Doctorate, I spent thousands of dollars on continuing education specifically for strength and conditioning. I knew that there was an intimate connection between the gym and the therapy room and that bridging the gap was where I need to go.

Since graduating, and after having found John, I have continued to focus on how I can be a better clinician, strength coach and mentor to ever player that I encounter. It has led down a path of business ownership, co-founding the Baseball Development Group and has ultimately given me clear direction professionally; to never let another Stephen Osterer happen again.