Find a link to a video featuring Ralph Reiff and the partnership between St. Vincent Sports Performance and USA Track & Field on USATF.tv here.
Ralph Reiff reflects in his tone his more than three decades of experience as an athletic trainer. A recent inductee into the National Athletic Trainers Association Hall of Fame, he speaks humbly, intelligently and with admiration for those he has worked with. He is equally engaging.His story is one that would have been difficult for him to fathom in 1975. How could a farm kid from rural Indiana one day be sitting in his chair and accomplish what he has?
Among his many accomplishments, one of the most prominent is serving as the touchstone for USATF’s partnership with St. Vincent Sports Performance (SVSP), where he currently serves as executive director.
Serving as the Official Sports Medicine Partner and Official Sports Performance Services Partner of USATF, SVSP provides access to physicians, athletic trainers and physical therapists for Team USA athletes, as well as injury evaluation, diagnostics, X-Ray and MRI services, surgery, physiology and recovery plans.
Under Reiff’s watchful and supportive eye, SVSP staff also travel the country to provide services at USATF’s Sport Performance Workshops, which provide on-site sport science, biomechanical, coaching, sports psychology, nutrition and sports medicine services to Team USA’s most successful athletes.
Most recently, SVSP staff spent much of the summer helping to prepare atheltes for this month’s 2013 IAAF World Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Moscow.
As Reiff sat in an interview at SVSP, he told stories about personal encounters with professional athletes and his involvement with events that others only remember hearing about or recall watching on TV.
Most recently, the nation took notice when a gruesome injury to Louisville guard Kevin Ware brought the NCAA men’s basketball regional final between Duke and Louisville at Lucas Oil Stadium to a halt. Reiff and his staff took immediate action in assisting Ware. What seemed like an eternity for the game to resume, Reiff took great pride in his staff that play resumed in just eight minutes and 43 seconds.
The recovery for Ware was the epitome of what is important for Reiff and the vision of SVSP. It’s about relationships and working together to get an athlete quickly back to performing at their fullest.
“When we can put our resources together and find those pieces to the puzzle and at the end of that when that athlete can go back to do what they want to do there is a tremendous excitement for us,” he said. “That’s our fuel. That’s what cranks us up to be able to help an athlete get back to that point. All of that is behind the scenes and that is where we are most comfortable.”
Few in the field had more responsibility at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta than Reiff. Spending 18 months as the manager of athletic care, he was part of several iconoc storylines.
“Being the manager of athlete care was a daunting task,” he said. “I was charged with setting up medical stations and all the processes from the Olympic village to all practice facilities. It was a position that took 24 hours a day for many months to put all of that together. Everything from housing for volunteers to making sure the box lunches show up on time. Some of my greatest sports memories are from that event.”
Reiff points to the moment he stood beneath the Olympic caldron before the flame was lit at the Opening Ceremony. He stood feet away when Janet Evans turned with tears in her eyes and gave the Olympic flame to Muhammad Ali.
He speaks in awe of Michael Johnson. Months before the Atlanta Games, people questioned Johnson’s ability to become the first sprinter to win both the 200m and 400m in a single Olympic Games.
In May of 1996, Reiff was doing work at Chaney Stadium in Atlanta, which would later serve as a practice track for the Olympic Games. Johnson showed up by himself and pulled a set of starting blocks. For the next 90 minutes Reiff watched as Johnson worked on nothing but his start. In the Olympic 200m final, Johnson exploded out of the blocks in shattering the world record.
It’s those moments when seeing an athlete’s dedication where Reiff realizes his obligation to do all he can as an athletic trainer to help an athlete perform.
“He was going to find a way to make himself better. I have carried that with myself for a long time,” Reiff said of Johnson. “Athletes always find ways to get it done. That’s what I love about the Olympic movement.”
SVSP and USATF
Several years ago, Reiff sat on an airplane en route to an IAAF World Cross Country Championships where he would serve on the medical staff for Team USA. He jotted down notes and attempted to come up with a solution to a situation facing too many athletes.
It was on an earlier trip to a DecaNation meet with Team USA that Reiff spoke with an athlete on the team.
“One of the athletes said to me, ‘I shouldn’t have accepted this trip, but I needed health care,’” Reiff said. “That stuck with me that this needs to be fixed.”
So he began formulating a plan for a partnership with SVSP and USATF. It was a plan that would give elite athletes the proper care in recovering from injury. The SVSP-USATF relationship was born.
“The reason this relationship between St. Vincent Sports Performance and USA Track & Field works is because we are both focused on the greatest asset of USA Track & Field,” Reiff said. “And those are the athletes. We have been fortunate to have the right people on our team taking care of USA Track & Field’s team.”
It’s a relationship that has made a difference in countless athletes, many of whom will be pursuing their athletic dreams at the World Championships in Moscow - with a dose of help from St. Vincent.
RALPH AT A GLANCE
• MEd LAT ATC, Executive Director of St. Vincent Sports Performance
• 2013 inductee of the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) Hall of Fame
• Head Athletic Trainer and Manager of Athlete Care at 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games
• Managed medical aspects for more than 20 NCAA events, including three NCAA men’s final fours, the 1988 and 1996 U.S. Olympic Team Trials –Track and Field, 2003 World Basketball Championships, medical director for the 2004 FINA Swimming World Championships and 2006 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships
• Managed athlete health care, weight room and equipment and developed the athletic trainer curriculum at Butler University
• Worked as a professional athletic trainer since 1981
• Recognized as the Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer in Indiana
• Recognized with special citation from Senator Richard Lugar for health efforts