Scott Hettenbach is director of sports performance for Sanford Health and often has conversations with people who are curious about how the programs offered can help them.
They ask the kind of questions you would expect: How can Sanford Sports Performance help my kids become better athletes? How can they help me be a better athlete? How can they help me get back to full speed after an injury?
Hettenbach, former strength and conditioning coach at the University of Wisconsin, listens and then tells them why looking into Sanford Sports Performance is a good idea.
“When people come through the door, whether it is an athlete, a family or a coach, I’ve always been able to say ‘yes,’” Hettenbach said. “We’ve never had to turn anyone away because we couldn’t offer them what they needed.”
The circumstances that compel people to want to know more about the opportunities at Sanford Sports Performance vary greatly. Even so, Hettenbach can tell them all how the staff and the facilities can help them reach their goals.
“The first thing we do with someone is sit down and do a free consult,” Hettenbach said. “Come in and tell us your story. Let’s get all the information and then let’s talk about where you’ve been, where you’re at and where you want to go. We do all those things. That’s what I love about this.”
From pros to middle-schoolers
Sanford Sports Performance was formerly Sanford POWER and has been around for a quarter century. It has six full-time locations in four states – North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and California – and offers as its cornerstone ground-based athletic programs that closely simulate what takes place during actual competition.
These programs, designed by Sanford, enable athletes to use their speed, quickness and power in game-like situations. They range from personalized plans that target sports-specific individual goals to those set up for large groups of kids or adults hoping to improve overall fitness and athleticism. The clientele ranges from professional athletes looking for an edge to middle-schoolers developing an athletic foundation.
All those who seek out Sanford Sports Performance programs are supported by a unique connectivity to medical expertise. Many health care systems outsource sports performance while Sanford delivers an integrated approach. The same organization that helps kids develop an interest in athletics helps them take on sports challenges at full speed.
Sanford Sports athletes also benefit from expertise in mental performance and nutrition. This is in addition to access to Sanford’s distinctive efforts in sports science that include biomechanics and sweat testing.
In short, the benefits go way beyond trying to land a college scholarship.
“Getting kids involved in sports at a young age helps them build confidence, improve relationship skillsets and make better lifestyle choices – the whole gamut of care,” said Melissa Moyer, director of therapy and rehabilitation at Sanford Sports. “You can talk about how it applies to physical health, but you can also talk about how it can help with behavioral health.”
Two sports, one goal
Erin Palmer of Bismarck, North Dakota, is an NCAA runner and swimmer at the University of Utah who used her training at Sanford Sports to become an athlete who competes in two sports at a Pac-12 school.
“Going into college you have a new environment – new classes, new coaches, new teammates – but when I walked into Utah’s lifting facility it was like ‘Oh, I know what to do,’” Palmer said. “It was a comfortable space for me those first few months here. With my high level of training I was able to just go right into it as a collegiate athlete and build my confidence.”
Palmer began her life in sports by joining a club swimming team as a 7-year-old. By middle school she began building her athleticism under the guidance of Sanford’s certified strength and conditioning coaches.
When she began to understand how much her Sanford sessions were helping her, she couldn’t get enough of it.
“Over the years I was pretty consistent – I was working with them four or five times a week,” Palmer said. “The coaches were super-motivational and very specific with their instructions about how what I was doing was going to help me improve in my specific sports. I found it really interesting to learn about those things and I also enjoyed applying it. For me, it’s just fun being a part of it all.”
When Palmer comes home at the end of the school year she’ll resume working with some of the same people who introduced her to the world of strength and conditioning training in Bismarck as a youngster.
The opportunity to meet people she probably wouldn’t meet otherwise was an unintended but much appreciated bonus. And it underscores the diversity of clients seeking strength and conditioning guidance with Sanford Sports Performance.
“How cool is it that you can train with so many different athletes of all ages in all sports? You get to learn how to push each other, even if there is an age gap or a sports gap,” Palmer said. “I’ve made a lot of friends that are younger or older than I am because I’ve been involved in Sanford programs. A lot of those friendships are going to last a long time.”
All walks of life
Walker Duehr is a professional hockey player from Sioux Falls who recently played in his first National Hockey League game.
Christina Devlin is the mother of four who wanted access to the kind of fitness and strength training that made her feel better about herself.
Grant Burger is a high school hockey and football player who has seen firsthand the benefits of working with Sanford’s certified strength and conditioning coaches and sports-certified physical therapists after suffering a serious knee injury.
They’re different ages, have different goals and live in different places. All are utilizing Sanford Sports Performance.
Duehr made history as a member of the Calgary Flames earlier this year when he became the first South Dakotan to ever score an NHL goal. The 25-year-old, a former standout player at Minnesota State University, Mankato, got his start in Sioux Falls aided by work with certified strength and conditioning staff at what was then Sanford POWER.
Since the age of 14 he has lived away from home during hockey seasons, progressing through advancing levels of competition. Every summer he has returned to Sioux Falls for what has become increasingly elite training.
“I always knew working out and being in the gym was going to benefit me but I think I was around 15 or 16 when I really started noticing improvements,” Duehr said. “I started to realize it was like ‘Hey, I’m starting to put on muscle and this is really helping me on the ice.’ Being able to translate those things from the gym to the ice was very rewarding.”
Getting workouts, making friends
Devlin is a North Dakotan who moved back to her home state from Montana last year. She didn’t know anything about Sanford Sports Performance at the time but became intrigued when she visited the Columbia Mall in Grand Forks and saw through the storefront window what was going on in there.
“I could tell when I was looking in through the window that this was my kind of workout,” Devlin said. “I tried a free one-day trial session the next day, really liked it, and signed up right away. I love these workouts.”
She is a veteran of the workout experience, something that gives her perspective in finding a routine that she can maintain and build on. In Grand Forks she usually hits the 9 a.m. time slot and walks out later feeling better about the day.
“My strength and conditioning coaches are phenomenal,” Devlin said. “They tailor it to all ages and abilities. Wherever you’re at with training in your life they’re going to help you. We have people in our groups who are in their 20s up to people in their 70s.”
Whether it’s the workouts that are new or the people who are new, she quickly sensed she made the right decision about spending her time at the Sanford location.
“We just moved here last summer – that can be a little intimidating to start showing up at a new place,” she said. “But everyone here has been welcoming and helpful.”
Coming back from a knee injury
Burger, a junior at East Grand Forks High School, has participated in Sanford Sports Performance programs in Grand Forks for a long time. Last fall during a high school football game he tore his anterior cruciate ligament on a run that went for 13 yards.
He was looking at a long recovery and rehab that would demand he be fully engaged in the process. He needed expert care and then expert guidance. If that came with a lot of encouragement and support, all the better.
He got that with Anthony Morando, the general manager at Sanford Sports in Grand Forks who is a certified strength and conditioning coach.
“He spent a lot of time talking to my parents about what we were going to do,” Burger said. “It wasn’t just that I really wanted to get back to full speed. It was like he really wants me to get back, too. It has never felt like he’s helping me just because it’s his job. He really cares.”
What Burger discovered through his time training before he tore his ACL – and now during his rehab – is that Sanford’s collaborative effort on his behalf never ends.
That effort was about becoming a better athlete before he got injured and, though the workouts have changed some with physical therapy also involved, the ultimate goal remains the same.
At Sanford, getting back from an injury like Burger’s involves a distinctive return-to-performance element that follows an athlete from a clinical setting to the ice, the field or the court.
“Our Sanford Health Athletic Readiness Program is an intermediary between physical therapy and full return to performance,” Moyer said. “Our biggest market differentiator is that we have a full continuum of performance experts. We are within a phone call of an athlete’s surgeon, their sports doctors, their athletic trainers and their coaches. Our communication is top-notch in how we get an athlete back to performance.”
Making a full recovery
If Burger was working toward a return to a normal level of activity, his recovery would be different than if he’s a high school hockey and football player. In his case, that final 10% can mean everything.
“Getting athletes back to a high level of function is much different,” Moyer said. “Let’s say you’re a basketball player and you’re dealing with spine pain. You have all kinds of maneuvers – you have to jump, land, turn on a dime, etc. Certified sports therapists can help make that happen.”
“We can customize our programming and services to whatever is needed,” Hettenbach said. “We can meet the customer exactly where they’re at and put together a cohesive plan with our integrated team.”
For adults, the higher level of engagement in physical activity provided by Sanford Sports Performance can be the route to a healthier lifestyle. For young people, cultivating an interest in athletics can deliver physical and behavioral benefits that remain long after the practices and games have ended.
“If you can influence children at a young age to live healthier lives, we will have a healthier community,” Moyer said. “The goal is community health for the long-term. Getting kids involved in sports not only builds confidence; it also promotes making better health and lifestyle choices.”
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