In late June, Athletes’ Performance (AP), an integrated performance training brand with six facilities across the U.S., announced it would partner with the non-profit medical and research group, Mayo Clinic. Together, the two organizations plan to venture into many of the most pressing topics affecting the health and performance of athletes (and non-athletes), including concussions. STACK had the opportunity to catch up with Mark Verstegen, AP’s founder, and Dr. David Dodick, director of concussion and headache programs at the Mayo Clinic.
STACK: Will concussions be the number one priority for this new partnership?
Mark Verstegen: I don’t know that it’s the first priority, but it’s certainly one of the top ones. There are going to be initiatives looking at injuries above and below the neck. We’d like to decrease the incidence and severity of both. But none of this stuff happens overnight. It’s not about moving fast, it’s about making progress, layer by layer.
How did the partnership between AP and the Mayo Clinic come about?
David Dodick: The conversation started about 18 months ago when I started speaking with AP about concussions and what we were doing at Mayo in terms of care and research. At the time, [Athletes’ Performance] had just incorporated a brain lab run by Axon Sports—a unique program where they bring athletes up to speed using a simulation program. It’s a way to enhance their cognitive speed within the context of their position. That type of work is relative to concussion patients, because sometimes they suffer with cognitive performance. So AP can help patients recover on the physical side, while [Mayo Clinic] can help on the mental and overall health side.
And certainly some of those patients will be high school and collegiate athletes. How would you rate concussion awareness among younger athletes today?
DD: I would rate awareness at 100%. It’d be really difficult to find a young athlete who does not know that concussions are a big issue. You can’t turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper without seeing stories about this injury. But I would say the overwhelming majority of those athletes have no idea how to recognize they have a concussion, and most do not understand the severity of returning to play before they’ve fully recovered. The only thing worse than a concussion is suffering another concussion within a short period of time.
The medical community and media have done a good job of getting the word out about the symptoms and signs of concussions. But we haven’t drilled down and elucidated why these things are so important.
Well, for those reading this article, can you explain why?
DD: When you’re 18 years old, you think you’re going to live forever. And you know that a lot of people who suffer these types of injuries bounce back and are just fine. So athletes probably don’t take it seriously. We need to better educate athletes that even a single concussion can negatively impact them for the rest of their lives. A person may never reach his or her full cognitive potential because of a concussion.
MV: If you’re participating in a sport, there is the risk of head trauma. That’s been happening since the beginning of time. That’s okay. We’re human. What we need to do is create the optimum environment for healing. At AP, that’s what we aim to do. That’s why we helped negotiate the NFL’s new CBA [collective bargaining agreement, or the rules governing how players and teams can interact], to reduce the amount of contact during pre-season and off-season practices. They eliminated hitting in back-to-back practices. If you look at the number of hits that happen in practice, across a career, the new rules can save an athlete 25,000 to 75,000 hits over the course of his career.
At AP, we have protocols around cognition. We also know that fueling may be beneficial—certain fish oils and nutrients can help the brain recovery. We’ve seen that movement can assist recovery in mild traumatic brain injuries. And we focus on sleep, one of the body’s natural ways to restore the brain.
These are all things we’ve been working on at AP. Going through the diagnostics with the people at Mayo will allow us to validate these methods. We want to substantiate, and then share what we’re learning.
Besides concussions, what do you plan to take on with this new partnership?
MV: We want to look into ways we can move the health of the population in a positive direction, helping people at all levels—whether it’s an athlete, an elite military operator, or someone working at a corporation—to upgrade their health and vitality.
It seems like the American Medical Association’s recent change to classify obesity as a disease might present some new opportunities for research for two of you.
MV: The fight against obesity is one of the leading layers of our Core Performance brand. That brand is really about proactive health, offering solutions to diseases that are lifestyle induced. This offers us an opportunity to further validate what we’re doing.
Right now, if a doctor identifies someone as suffering with disease-state obesity, where can that doctor go to get valid and reliable outcomes for that patient and others? How do they address the mindset, lifestyle, nutrition and movement issues that all affect the body? That’s where you start to see the power of what we’re doing at Core Performance. In medicine, the red line is whether something can get consistent positive outcomes. Really, that’s what we’re trying to demonstrate.
So what happens next?
DD: We’re going to take a two-pronged approach. AP will occupy space at our Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. [Mayo also has facilities in Phoenix and Jacksonville]. They will be able to offer Mayo patients the services they can offer. In Arizona, they won’t occupy the same campus, but we’re just around the corner, so hopefully we’ll achieve the same goals. There is a clinical care mission as well as an educational mission.
Learn more about preventing and caring for concussions at STACK.com/Concussion.