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Once a Cavalier, now a SpartanNew BHS trainer Chris Tucker boasts some big-league credentials.
Last year at this time, Chris Tucker was preparing for the Cleveland Cavaliers' upcoming NBA season as the team's head trainer.Now, he's helping Spartan athletic teams preparing for their respective seasons in what might be seen as an unusual career move.But as Tucker explains it, the motive is simple: After five years of travel, it was time to leave and give my wife some time, he said. I needed a change of lifestyle. So he happily took a job with the Human Performance Center, with the understanding that part of the job would involve working with high school athletics.As he followed the Spartan gridders onto the field at Nathan Hale High School yesterday, Tucker was in a sense returning to his roots of two decades ago when he was a prep all-state linebacker in Salt Lake City. His gridiron prowess resulted in the offer of a full ride scholarship to play football at the University of Southern Utah.He turned it down.With my height and weight, I knew that college was as far as I would go in football, he said.So he turned his considerable energy to a career in sports medicine, attracting another full ride at a student trainer at the University of Utah. He worked all 22 sports there, with an emphasis on football and basketball.But he didn't get his degree in fitness and nutrition as a Ute.The reason: In 1984, while still a junior, he beat out more than 60 other applicants to be hired as the head athletic trainer and head strength and conditioning coach for the U.S. Ski Team. That set off a frenetic lifestyle.I was responsible for 60 skiers in the Olympic program and a total of 600 skiers, he says. I'd be in a different country every three days. In the summer, we'd be in New Zealand, Chile, Argentina. Then Europe in the winter.After two World Championships, four U.S. National Championships and the 1988 Olympics, the travel had worn him out. By then, he'd earned a degree in fitness and nutrition from Pacific Western University in Los Angeles. So he headed for the University of South Carolina at Aiken.I wanted something different, says. I was the first certified trainer the school had had, so I had the chance to build something from scratch.Two years later, he became head athletic trainer at Loyola Marymount University in California, overseeing 22 sports and a student trainer staff of 25. He also taught sports medicine and kinesiology - not to mention working for the U.S. Tennis Association, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Clippers, and several other pro teams. There was one other benefit as well: He met his wife Lynn, who was an All-American tennis player and now works as a para-professional in special education at BHS.In 1996, he began four years with the Atlanta Hawks, the last three as head trainer and head strength and conditioning coach.In my field, that's the ultimate job, he says. He had no trouble adjusting to being around the multi-millionaires whose well-being he was suddenly responsible for.The biggest stress is that the franchise looks at its players as an investment, he says. So when they're injured, you need to get them back fast and even better. But I thrived on the pressure. You'd always read articles that wondered when a player would come back. And I loved getting guys back faster than they were expected.For Tucker, it was just a part of the ethos that permeated the entire league. The pros are so competitive, he says. Even in practice, they'd bet a thousand dollars for making a shot.At first, he enjoyed the experience. He recalls a playoff game in the Georgia Dome that marked Michael Jordan's final local appearance. There were 64,000 people there, he says. And walking out in front of all of them to look at someone, when you know that everybody's looking at you, that adds a sense of excitement.But then the Hawks fired coach Lenny Wilkens. So Tucker was ready when the Cavaliers offered him their head trainer position.It was more money and more prestige, he says. When Lenny left, I didn't have a loyalty to anyone because he'd helped hire me.But much of the rush had worn off. And there was still the constant travel. We'd spend Christmas on the road, we'd be practicing on New Year's Eve, he says. The NBA lifestyle isn't great for seeing your family.To BainbridgeSo he submitted his resignation after one season with the Cavs. With Lynn having grown up in Bothell and her family in the area, the job with the HPC was a good fit.I'm not sure I would have taken the job if it didn't involve working with the high school kids, he says. I feel like I can help out more at this level. In three weeks I treated 296 injuries. Because of my 21 years in sports medicine, I can do rehab instead of just throwing some ice on a problem. His background also lets potential collegiate athletes to know what to expect.It's much much more intense, he says. You don't get any weekends off in college.He works at least half time at BHS - in addition to sports medicine he also works with the football team for on-field conditioning and weights - and notes that HPC is donating his time.This is absolutely wonderful because the school is getting somebody for free, he says. In theory, I could be at the HPC making money for them instead.While the initial commitment to the BHS program is for one year, Tucker hopes that it becomes a long-term situation, believing that it would be part of an island-wide sports medicine program that would benefit both HPC members and the general community.Despite his lofty credentials, Tucker is down-to-earth as more than a dozen athletes with ailments of varying degrees of seriousness file in when the school day ends and the practice day begins. One ever-popular icebreaker item in the training room is the size-22 basketball shoe that once belonged to 7-2 center Dikembe Mutombo, now with the Philadelphia 76ers after a mid-season trade from Atlanta. A female freshman soccer player's eyes widen as she compares it with her own diminutive size-six.He's my favorite player of all time and my best friend, says Tucker. We both joined the Hawks at the same time. I'd often treat him on planes and in his room. He was the ultimate professional.Assistant football coach Jake Haley is delighted to have Tucker involved.He does a great job interacting with the kids, Haley says. He's always positive. And while his first concern is always safety, he also helps them to stay competitive and get back sooner. Without him, I don't think we'd be doing as well as we are. He's been a great addition to the program.