The athletes locals can watch competing in this year's Summer Olympics in London probably seem like a world away. Not only do the athletes themselves seem distant, but so do the resources they use that have turned their bodies and minds into demonstrations of athletic excellence.
Though the Olympic team and trainers may not reside in central Pennsylvania, that doesn't mean similar resources don't reside here - along with athletes who hold similar Olympic dreams.
Just ask Chris Fischer, who will enter his junior year in the fall at St. Francis University in Loretto as a Division I athlete, running track and cross country. Fischer trains six days a week with the team during the school year and works with personal trainer Allen Coble, the founder of Sports Evolution -?located in the Summit Tennis and Athletic Club - for more special attention.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Allen Coble (right), a certified strength and conditioning specialist, secures a resisted running band for Chris Fischer, 20, of Altoona, at Sports Evolution, Located in the Summit?Tennis and Athletic Club in Altoona.
"It keeps me really busy at school," Fischer, 20, of Altoona, said of his collegiate athletic career. "You have to learn how to balance being a high-quality athlete and also schoolwork and everything else."
But once he finishes school, Fischer may start an even more intense training schedule if he decides to pursue his dream of competing in a biathlon, which in the Summer Olympics combines cross-country running and rifle shooting and in the Winter Olympics consists of shooting and cross-country skiing.
Fischer said he's been shooting his whole life, and he was a junior national biathlon champion in high school.
"I put it on hold now to get through school," he said, "but once my education starts winding down, I may want to start doing that again."
Fischer works with a personal trainer to help with his cross-country running. He said that because he is a taller athlete, he has to work more to get better leg turnover on hills than a shorter runner would.
"[Coble] works with me one-on-one to give me the power so I can turn my weaknesses into strengths and make me a better overall athlete," Fischer said.
Coble, who founded Sports Evolution after noticing there weren't many personal training options for athletes in the area, said he trains for both adult and youth fitness. But the main things he focuses on are sport performance or cross-fitness training.
"There is definitely a need for it in the area," he said. "There's probably a need for it in every community."
Of the young athletes he works with, Coble said about 50 percent of them have dreams of playing sports in college or beyond. Though he has never trained an Olympic athlete himself, Coble said that one thing most people wouldn't think of that could hold an athlete back from performing on that level would be neglecting the educational part of the sport.
"You have a lot of great athletes that don't make it to that level because psychologically, somehow, they don't make it to that point," he said.
For athletes who want to sharpen their mind as well as their body, or who may need to work on their hand-eye coordination to be the best at their sport, HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Altoona has new technology to offer.
The hospital has recently purchased a D2 machine from Dynavision International, a company that specializes in vision therapy products and was founded by former Canadian professional football player Phil Jones.
The machine measures and records the visual-motor response time of the user by having them read words or numbers aloud while also attempting to hit one of 64 lit squares on a large board. Olympic athletes like soccer player Hope Solo and tennis star Serena Williams have used the D2 technology, a PR representative for Dynavision said.
"An athlete like Serena Williams needs that really sharp visual motor response time so that she can then have the appropriate motor response time," said Krista Gabello, a regional clinical specialist for Bioness, which distributes Dynavision equipment. "That's critical. The faster she can respond, hopefully the more successful she is in her tennis match."
But Gabello, who visited HealthSouth Tuesday to train therapists to use the equipment, wasn't just there to show them how to use the benefits of D2 on athletes. The technology can now be used to rehabilitate sufferers of strokes, traumatic brain injuries or those with post-concussive symptoms, Gabello said.
"So from that setting to help train athletes, it's been now taken into a setting like HealthSouth where we can help to retrain visual motor coordination in patients who have had some type of neurological injury," she said. "It really can take a look at how to make some compensatory strategies if there has been visual damage from whatever type of injury or deficit they had."
"I think it will definitely have a benefit for our patients," added Paula Sutton, director of clinical services for HealthSouth. "They won't be at the same level as Serena Williams is, but it will definitely be a nice way for them to show improvement, and an interesting way for them to work on it."
When it comes to any athlete with college and professional goals, Coble said it will take a high level of physical and mental training.
"But I think it takes someone on that special level to go above and beyond that," he said. "I haven't encountered anyone who knew in their heart they wanted to be an Olympian."
Fischer said he thinks it'd be a really rewarding experience to work his body and mind toward representing the United States at the Olympic Games someday.
"It would also be very demanding," he said. "I'd have to be even more focused and even more time would be put into working so that I'd be the best athlete I can be to represent the U.S."
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.