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Strack, Donnie_opt
A thundering success

Hard work and determination (and a UIndy education) will get you wherever you need to go. UIndy grad Donnie Strack, who has been working at his dream job since 2008, is a case in point. Donnie is director of medical services for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder. He leads the team’s medical staff and acts clinically as a physical therapist. A 2002 graduate with a degree in athletic training, Donnie went on to get a physical therapy doctoral degree from UIndy in 2005. Those studies offered priceless knowledge and lessons that helped him get where he is today.

“UIndy provided me a strong academic foundation in both athletic training and physical therapy that helped set the baseline for all my opportunities in the medical field,” Donnie says. “Specifically, both the athletic training and physical therapy curriculum that were offered set me on a path, and created opportunities that other students who did not attend UIndy may not have had.” The sense of both community and excellence at UIndy helped shape Donnie’s perspective, he says.

“Connie Pumpelly, chair of the athletic training department, and Ned Shannon, head athletic trainer, have created a family-type atmosphere within UIndy’s athletic training program. It’s fostered an environment of encouragement and professionalism that I have looked to emulate with each step of my career.” Donnie also appreciated the opportunities to put his classroom learning to work while he was still a student. “I feel very fortunate,” he says, “to have so many hands-on learning experiences afforded to me at such an early age in the UIndy athletic training room.”

Want to follow in his footsteps?

While being a physical therapist for an NBA team may seem like a dream, here’s some advice to help you out. First, clinical experiences are invaluable. Those are usually easier to find in a private practice, rather than within a professional sport. If you focus on a specific area of care, Donnie says, it’s likely you will reach a “plateau” of learning, because the ranges of patients and diagnoses are much smaller. Also, it would probably be beneficial to pursue board certification in orthopedics or sports. This type of certification is becoming more and more valuable to professional teams.

“I would encourage all graduating physical therapists who want to work in elite sport to attempt to work in a direct-access, physical therapist-owned, private practice environment,” Donnie says. “The direct access environment undoubtedly best prepares the physical therapist to work in the high-pressure atmosphere of elite team sports.”

And he has some surprising advice. “Work for free! If professional sport is really where you want to be, seek out an internship or inquire how you could assist in any way, shape, or form. That’s the best way to determine if the professional sport job and culture is for you.”

So what might seem like an unreachable dream—working with pro athletes—could happen if you have the will and dedication to get there. (Studying in Indianapolis, the Amateur Sports Capital of the World, doesn’t hurt your chances either.)

Enjoy the ride

But while you’re working hard for your future, you should be sure to take advantage of all that college life has to offer, Donnie says. He advises you to enjoy the ride.

“Use the college experience to help form who you are going to be the rest of your life, not just what you are going to do,” he says. “I believe you do this by living for something bigger than yourself—making more of others and less of yourself. Use the time to invest both in knowledge and relationships. The seeds planted during this time in your life will bloom for many, many years.”

—Sarah K. Stierwalt ’13