Be Well: Championing Holistic Athletes

From Mpls.St.Paul Magazine’s Be Well

Hirad NajafBagy, DC, knew he wanted a career that combined his love of physical health and sports. When he learned that Northwestern Health Sciences University offered a program that combined the two, he moved to Minnesota from the Washington, D.C., area to attend.

His education and training in integrative sports medicine at NWHSU later primed him for the eventual launch of United Wellness & Sports Rehab in northern Virginia. He started building a roster of professional sports team clients, kicking off with the D.C. United soccer team. These days, he treats a veritable Who’s Who of athletes hailing from the Washington Nationals, the Washington Football Team, and the Washington Capitals. NajafBagy also has worked as the chiropractor for World Cup soccer and All-Star baseball and soccer games.

“I continue to pinch myself when I stand on the side of the football field or when I’m presented with a World Series trophy and ring,” says NajafBagy, who runs three clinic locations staffed with several Northwestern-trained sports medicine chiropractors. “I’m so happy to think that I’m making a difference not only for the athletes but for the teams. It truly is amazing.”

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
NWHSU offers integrative sports medicine programs that prepare graduates to work with athletes from beginner to pro. Its training prepares students for numerous career paths in varied settings, such as opening sports-focused practices, serving as team chiropractors, and working with youth leagues on injury prevention.

The university’s Human Performance Center is the hub of students’ integrative sports training. Athlete patients pick from massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic therapies—or all of the above—seeking to heal an injury or improve their performance. It’s an effective setup where students learn, and patients benefit from, a team approach to care, says Andy Klein, DC, director of the Human Performance Center.

Minnesota Vixen women’s football team, the Minnesota Freeze Australian Rules Football club, college and high school athletes, and elite competitors in disc golf or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

“When they graduate, they have a much better understanding of working with athletes because of their more advanced training,” Klein says. “Through the elective work, they get hands-on experience and a higher comfort level.”

(Acupuncture) Points for the Minnesota Vikings
Hilary Patzer, a doctor of Chinese medicine and licensed acupuncturist, hadn’t planned on focusing her practice, JADA Studios, on treatment for athletes. But a few years after graduating from NWHSU, this competitive endurance athlete had a realization: She’s uniquely suited to help athletes of all levels stay healthy—mind and body—and maximize their performance.

Goal in mind, Patzer pursued additional training in sports acupuncture. Then she shifted her clinical focus to sports medicine and orthopedic acupuncture, says Patzer, who has competed internationally in cross-country skiing, Ironman triathlons, and marathons.

Before long, JADA Studios became the acupuncturist for the Minnesota Vikings. Patzer and her team also provide care to other professional, elite, college, and high school athletes, as well as orthopedic and pain patients. When Patzer was a student, NWHSU didn’t have an integrative sports medicine track, but its programs gave her a solid foundation on which to build her specialty, she says.

“My favorite thing is helping people feel better and improve their quality of life,” Patzer says. “Acupuncture is a medicine that focuses on the whole person and heals and balances the whole person. It is not a medicine that bandages an issue in hopes that the ailment will go away. It treats the ailment so that the person is truly transformed and their function is returned.”

For NajafBagy, the NWHSU training he received in areas like functional anatomy and the extremities prepared him to help the whole athlete with injuries, prevention, and strength building. He believes that the university readied him to show professional athletes and teams what sports-focused chiropractors can do for their wellness and performance.

“There is a wide spectrum of curriculum and knowledgeable instructors to guide you through it so that you can put a lot of tools in your toolbox,” NajafBagy says. “Then you can mold yourself in the direction you want to go—not just for sports but for any type of practice.”