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When first meeting professional lacrosse player and strength coach Greg Gurenlian, one can’t help but think of the words “bow,” “flex,” and “commercial” (the man is nicknamed “The Beast” for good reason). Equal parts Lou Ferrigno and Brad Pitt, Gurenlian hulks into most spaces like a tank, the kind of presence that would be intimidating if it weren’t also tempered by his disarming smile and warm demeanor. Founder and head strength coach of Brawlic Strength, Gurenlian is a fierce advocate of knowledge-based training; skilled coaches who know what they’re talking about, helping their clients (or as Gurenlian calls them, “teammates”) achieve phenomenal results. We recently sat down with the athlete to discuss the painful knee injury he suffered last June and the arduous post-op therapy he underwent at our 56th street facility to get back into top form.
Tell us about your injury.
It was June 3rd when I got injured. I was playing in a game against Denver and I was running down the field with a stick. I went and did a swim move and as I landed I tried to pivot and my knee literally exploded. I immediately knew what it was. I hit the ground and it was the worst pain I ever had in my life. Basically you get a rush of fear because your season and possibly your career are over. I’m a strength coach so I had no idea if I was going to be able to train, what I was going to do for work.
How soon after your injury did you come to SPEAR?
After we got the MRI I was referred by our team trainer to work with Dave and the Spear Center, so when I came in here that’s when it all started. This was 2 days after my injury.
Did you need surgery?
I did. I underwent an ACL reconstruction with a patellar graft, I had partially torn lateral meniscus, cracked articular cartilage, and had to go in and perform a microfracture.
What was your experience at SPEAR like?
It was very awkward coming in at the beginning because it’s before your surgery, and all you’re really worried about is how am I going to recover after the surgery? I couldn’t move my knee. The knee literally felt like a stack of blocks. The ACL was blown so it felt like I had no stability. I was afraid to straighten it because if it locked the pain was just excruciating. I came in and immediately I got to meet Dave. He made me feel incredibly comfortable from the second I got in here. My first interaction with Dave and Vitaly made me realize that everyone here knew what they were talking about so I felt very, very comfortable. And being in this field, being a strength coach, you can tell immediately if someone is full of it or not and they obviously weren’t. So I felt great about starting the PT.
Did you work with SPEAR prior to your surgery?
I did. Immediately working with those guys I felt very, very prepared for the surgery. I was very happy about Dr. Charles Goodwin, the person that I had been referred to; he made me feel comfortable with his knowledge and his abilities. Leading up to the surgery was nerve wracking obviously but instead of being afraid of it I was looking forward to it and I couldn’t wait to start my post-surgery rehab.
Can you tell us about the best and worst moments of your rehab?
It’s kind of in two parts. One was when I was finally able to reach full range of motion. It was unbelievable because the worst part of my rehab was when we started to bend my knee. It was so mentally challenging. Within a couple of days after surgery you only get about a couple of degrees of flexion and you realize that your knee is not bending at all. It kills you. You think, “There is no way I’ll ever be able to bend my knee completely again.” Looking at [the leg] on the table and seeing all the stitches, it looks like a science project. It’s mentally frustrating.
But coming in here a couple days a week, you feel a little bit better the next day, even if just this much better. At the very least it always felt good to walk in these doors because I knew that I was going to leave a little bit better. So the toughest part was definitely the flexing of the leg and also starting to put weight on it, the strength work. When I first started walking again, I was off it for six weeks, it felt so foreign. That was also very mentally challenging. Big moment when I got full ROM and when I jogged for the first time without pain, there’s really no way to actually describe it.
We mentioned the youtube video (posted below) documenting the new exercises. When asked how being able to perform those exercises felt, Gurenlian paused and fell silent.
It felt unbelievable. It was weird because proprioception is the biggest issue, you feel like your leg is still just coming along for the ride, but being able to do it and then when you finish and you realize that there’s no pain it’s, I can’t really describe it, it’s unbelievable because you’re worried all the time. You know, with a microfracture you’re worried that the cartilage is going to hurt all the time, for the rest of your life. Forget about lacrosse but just being able to play with your kids one day and just being able to do normal human being stuff. Now that I can do all these exercises I feel less like someone coming back from an injury and more like someone just preparing for a season.
Post-surgery, Gurenlian achieved full range of motion in 12 weeks, weeks ahead of schedule. How are you doing with your training/game schedule?
Typical athlete is game ready in about a year, I’m at month 5 and we’re thinking maybe about a month and a half until I’m game ready.
Have you been able to take anything away from the rehabilitation period?
It’s one thing if you kind of come in here and you kind of go through the motions, but working with Vitaly and Kasey as well as Dave I’ve learned things that I can take with me after this. Forget about coming back from the injury but as a person in the physical and strength conditioning world I can use things that not only I can use for myself but I can use for my clients. So that’s invaluable.
What kind of impact has your time at SPEAR had on your relationship with your therapists?
You guys are going to have to literally kick me out of here because I love coming here. Knowing that you’re going to get a little better each day is unbelievable. If I do some kind of crazy work out or if I did something a little bit more than I should have, a little ahead of schedule, and I feel sore and I’m a little tight that next day, as soon as I come in here I automatically feel calmed down because I know that when I leave here I’m going to feel better.
The way this has impacted me, positive doesn’t really explain it, it’s much more than that. It’s a situation where I would refer any human being I’ve ever met to a place like this because in my field strength coaches are very hit or miss, personal trainers most of them are terrible. PT isn’t that much different and it’s very rare that you get to find a place like this where every single person knows what they’re doing and actually takes the time to help you rather than you feeling like you’re just taking a number and you’re sitting and waiting so that’s been very positive.