St. Ambrose All-American decathlete stays on track by working out in the pool

DAVENPORT, Iowa — St. Ambrose University sophomore, Cole Connell has thrived competing in multi-events for the Track and Field team. The NAIA athlete is an All-American and holds the school record in the decathlon.

Connell finished fourth in the heptathlon at the 2017 NAIA Indoor Track and Field Championships in Johnson City, Tennessee in March.

"What was really exciting, is on my birthday, I actually became an All-American," said Connell, "When I first came to [St. Ambrose University] that’s something I dreamed about - is just becoming an All-American."

Connell is humble when he describes the kind of athlete he was in high school. Back then, he says he wanted to try the pole vault, but it wasn't offered - that is, until he got to college.

"It started out really good, I got to meet a lot of people on the track team and found something I really loved - and that’s the multi’s," said Connell, who competes in the heptathlon and decathlon.

At any one individual event, Connell says he doesn't stand out. It's when you put them all together that he has found his niche.

"Once you put all the events together, I am kind of average at everything, so my score really blossomed there," he said.

Since the beginning of April, Connell has been training on an underwater treadmill at the new ORA Orthopedics in northwest Davenport. The unique training tool helps him manage his chronic shin splint pain.

"It feels like someone is taking a knife and they're going to stab inside your shin, just right inside the bone there and then they just kind of twist it a little bit back and forth," described Connell on Wednesday, April 26 at a doctor check-up and physical therapy appointment at the new ORA Orthopedics facility.

There are two sides of the new ORA Orthopedics building: clinic / MRI and Rock Valley Physical Therapy.

"Because we’re in the same facility now we’re able to collaborate on his treatment," said Becky Burke, Physical Therapist at Rock Valley Physical Therapy at ORA.

The side-by-side physical therapy and orthopedic clinic is a collaborative care approach Dr. Andrew Bries, MD has wanted since his fellowship; during that time he saw patients alongside a physical therapist.

"It's very hands on," said Dr. Bries, who specializes in sports medicine, regarding Connell's treatment plan, "I have to talk to him about managing it, managing his nutrition, managing his workouts, his technique. We have to work with [Rock Valley Physical Therapists] as well as his trainers at [St. Ambrose University]," he said.

Connell came to Dr. Bries a year ago, complaining about pain in his shins. It's the same thing he deals with today.

Dr. Bries sets a plan for physical therapy and treatment, the physical therapists see in through, all under the same roof.

"It allows me to see [patients] in therapy and see how they're performing," said Dr. Bries.

As part of Connell's treatment plan, he gets on the underwater treadmill twice a week at Rock Valley Physical Therapy at ORA Orthopedics.

"Because of the buoyancy of the water it decreases the stress on the joints and the bones - because of that he can run without pain," said Burke, who gets in the water alongside Connell to manage his workout and rehabilitation.

The workout keeps Connell's cardiovascular endurance up and engages muscles that wouldn't on land.

"There's resistance in every direction you go, where as when you run - you don't get that," said Connell.

It's a lot of work, for a chronic problem.

"I just know that I have to get through it and its not only for me but for the team," said Connell, "That`s just who I am, I am not going to give up."

Now, Connell's sights are set on a good performance at the 2017 NAIA Outdoor Track and Field Nationals on May 25 - May 27 in Gulf Shores, Alabama.