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Frequently Avoided Questions of Strength & Conditioning

It's time to understand what training for an athlete is all about. Parents and athletes are seeking out training services in great numbers and are confronted with more options year after year.A real problem for people is that they see stuff like P90X, Crossfit, bodybuilding style training, or any kind of general fitness training and they get confus...

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3 Exercises for Athletic & Mobile Hips

In this video, we discuss exercises aimed at training proper hip dissociation - an often overlooked and undertrained function of the hips. Poor hip dissociation is commonly a reason for pain and poor performance. Some key points discussed in this video: What hip dissociation means. Hip dissociation is the ability to independently move the hips with...

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Training to Maximize Athletic Potential

When it comes to athletes, critical developmental stages begin at an early age. As children mature, they progress through these important developmental stages during their growth and maturation process. If long-term athletic development is of any importance to the coach, parent, or athlete, specific aspects of athletic development must be addressed...

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Cold Season: Are You Winning the Battle for your Immune System?

 "It's cold season." How many times have we heard that saying? Yes, we are approaching the time of year when most of us are more susceptible to coming down with a cold or the flu. But, I'll let you in on a little secret – there is no "cold season". Rather than figuring out a strategy to keep our immune system working at it's peak potential, it...

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Tempo Runs for Speed Development

Charlie Francis defined tempo running as running performed at 65-75% of maximal speed. Tempo runs have long been used in the training of sprint athletes to enhance speed training. Outside of sprint athletes, sprinting ability and speed is arguably the most important skill field-based athletes can possess. Yet many have never been introduced to temp...

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The Beginners Guide to Injury Recovery

Although we've worked with a broad spectrum of athletes - high school, collegiate, professional, former World's Strongest Man, and elite triathletes - we work with just as many weekend warriors and those who simply love to be active. Whether it's improving your running distance, increasing strength in the gym, or swinging a golf club without pain, ...

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Clinically Pressed Ep. 59 - Hockey Training

Dr. Sean Gallagher is a former high level hockey player that has turned into a hockey training and treatment guru. His experience of playing at the highest levels along with a full academic career in chiropractic school have brought him a unique perspective on how to approach training hockey players. This episode we get further into hockey training...

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Common Mistakes in Developing Young Athletes

When it comes to the understanding of various training methods utilized in the development of athletes across the globe, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to take notice that the majority of the research has been obtained from the study of elite level athletes. That's not by mistake. Elite level athletes are ideal research subjects because of...

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Drop the Confusion, Athletes Need Consistency for Efficiency

What you need to know: Neural efficiency is the key to becoming a better athlete, this is known as athletic mastery.Mastery requires time, intelligent programming, hard work, and dedication to consistency. Consistency Matters  The primary goal of any athletic and strength development program should be neural efficiency. Fact of the matter is t...

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2 Exercises for Groin and Knee Pain

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Above is a short video addressing common reasons why ground and/or knee pain develops and two exercises to get to the root of the problem. Addressing muscular dysfunction through therapeutic exercise continues to prove to be the most effective and evidence-based intervention for common musculoskeletal conditions such as tendinitis, bursitis, sprain/strains, joint pain and muscle tightness.

These exercises involve minimal equipment and are easy to perform at home, in a hotel room, or at the gym. All you need is:

  • Chair/bench or some form on a firm elevated surface
  • Your own bodyweight

Exercises covered in this video:

  1. The Adductor (Groin) Side Plank
  2. The Rear-foot Elevated Split Squat (Bulgarian Split Squat)

Also covered in the video are common reasons why groin and/or knee pain may develop and why these exercises can be very effective once a patient is out of pain.

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The Solution for Chronic Back Pain

Chronic back and joint pain is a health problem which affects a relatively small number of people within the US, but has profound impacts on society and our healthcare system. This article looks to explain why the current medical model is failing the chronic back pain patient. The goal is to provide an understanding of why a greater focus on psychosocial factors and patient empowerment through education and progressive reactivation through physical activity, rather than imaging and exam findings, may result in improved management and outcomes for the chronic pain patient.

The Problem with the Traditional Medical Model
Back pain was believed to be a self limiting condition for the majority of individuals, meaning that the nature of back pain is that it would "run its course" and eventually pain would go away on its own.  Current research has demonstrated that this understanding of back pain is flawed, yet many clinicians still hold this belief. In fact, 85% of people with a single episode of low back pain will likely experience future recurrences and 2-8% of those individuals will develop chronic  back pain. How is chronic pain defined? Chronic pain is considered to be pain lasting longer than 12 weeks. Even though the percentage of chronic back pain patients remains relatively low, the impact on healthcare cost is significant. Chronic pain accounts for 75% of all healthcare costs related to low back pain, is second only to the common cold in missed days from work, and is the number one reason for workmen compensation claims.

Considering the burden chronic back pain places on healthcare resources, effective patient management appears to be an issue in need of addressing appropriately.

When dealing with the chronic back pain patient, the primary goal within the traditional medical model is to identify the structure responsible for generating pain by means of diagnostic imaging. This could mean the use of x-ray, ultrasound, MRI, CT or a combination of these procedures to determine what specific structure is the responsible for your pain. In his text, Rehabilitation of the Spine: A Practitioner's Manual, Liebenson states this is done for two main reasons:

  1. The belief that structural pathologies seen with imaging are strongly correlated with pain symptoms.
  2. Fear of missing serious disease, such as cancer, infection, or fracture.
When put into practice, these beliefs ultimately result in an over-reliance on costly imaging procedures. This is often times futile, considering research has demonstrated that findings from diagnostic imaging, such as degeneration, has more to do with age than being the reason for pain symptoms.  Also consider that up to 64% of asymptomatic individuals have signs of abnormal lumbar disc anatomy (i.e. disc bulge) on imaging, one should wonder if relying on imaging findings to identify a patient's problem is practical or productive. Sure structures such as discs and spinal joints can be sources of pain, but failing to correlate imaging findings with clinical presentation and examination findings may result in poor diagnosis and mismanagement of the patient. As for the case of using imaging to identify serious disease as the source of back pain, serious disease accounts for less than 1% of back pain cases. The use of imaging appears to be over-utilized in this realm as well, since typically information in the patient history and physical exam can raise a clinician's suspicion of serious disease.

The take home is that if the diagnosis and/or management of chronic back pain is based on imaging findings as the reason for your pain, this can result in poor outcomes and may prove to frustrate and confuse the patient and provider, enabling the process of chronicity and disability.

Developing a Better Approach
When it comes to the management and treatment of the chronic back pain patient, psychological and behavioral factors correlate better with symptoms than imaging or exam findings.  Examples of such factors include fear avoidance behavior, catastrophizing, and lack of perceived control.

What do all these fancy terms mean and how do they relate to chronic pain?

Essentially, they are beliefs held by the patient that activity will be painful or make their condition worse. It is the anticipation of pain which results in avoidance of activity and promotes behaviors which enable deconditioning due to lack of activity, thus perpetuating the pain cycle. Ultimately, these beliefs can cause the patient to identify with their diagnosis (i.e. disc bulge or arthritis) as their problem, hindering progress since they will have a limited expectation of improvement.

For chronic back pain patients, if a fear of pain exists, it must be recognized and treated. If the fear is not recognized and dealt with accordingly, it will lead to avoidance of activity and disuse. Thus, a new model must be applied to chronic back pain which focuses on patient-centered reactivation through treatment and education. The goal becomes not only to address injury and symptoms, but also address biomechanical dysfunction and emotional or behavioral components contributing to the pain cycle. Behavioral components correlate strongly with chronicity and providing proper education to patients allows them to understand the nature of their back pain and how self-management strategies can be used to regain control through progressive physical activity. Physical activity is important for re-training of spinal stabilization muscles, decreasing fear avoidance behaviors and improving the rate of return to normal daily or sport-related activities.

The key in transitioning chronic back pain patients back to normal activity is to help them remove the fear that additional pain or re-injury will be caused by increased physical activity. This proves to be a huge obstacle since too many back pain patients are instructed by clinicians to rest and avoid activity if they feel pain. However, this advice is misplaced. Back pain patients should be provided advice that hurt does not equal harm and educated on how deconditioning from lack of physical activity is related to back pain. Utilizing progressive exposure to physical activity through therapeutic exercise can help a patient realize their symptoms did not worsen or increase as a result of movement or activity. Specific exercises and advice should be implemented to develop adequate motor control and reinforce ideal mechanics during activity. Such exercises would re-train spinal stabilization patterns and teach spine-sparing strategies to be incorporated into routine daily movements.

Managing Central Sensitization
One complicating factor in the treatment of chronic back pain patients is addressing central sensitization and neuropathic pain. These neurosensory changes occur from prolonged nociceptive (pain) bombardment, resulting in increased sensitivity of dorsal horn neurons to both noxious and nonnoxious stimuli, and thus the central nervous system’s ability to learn pain. This generates a situation in which an ongoing perception of pain occurs in the absence of any anatomical lesion, long after injury has occurred. To alleviate the role of central sensitization and neuropathic pain, spinal adjustment/manipulation may be effective. A suggested mechanism of manipulation’s role in reducing spinal pain is through the stimulation of sensory fibers, which interferes with pain function in the central nervous system and potentially leads to a reprogramming of the dysfunctional pain pathway.

Managing the chronic back pain patient with an approach which addresses emotional and behavioral components through proper education and progressive reactivation into daily and/or sport activities can prove to be an effective means to improving outcomes. The same can be said of chronic pain in any joint, such as shoulders, knees, and hips. At Gallagher Performance, we take these steps to help provide each patient with an understanding of their condition, the course of treatment, and self-management strategies to help empower them to regain control. It is our hope that this approach will demonstrate the role of spinal manipulation and active care in returning chronic pain patients to normal activity levels and improving their quality of life. We also acknowledge that in some cases, co-management with other healthcare specialists can prove to be beneficial and provided truly patient-centered care.

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Andersson, Gunnar BJ. Epidemiological features of chronic back pain. Lancet. 354:581-585, 1999.
Merskey H, Bogduk N, eds. Classification of chronic pain. Descriptions of chronic pain syndromes and definitions of pain terms, 2nd ed. Seattle: IASP Press, 1994.
Frymoyer JW, Cats-Baril WL. An overview of the incidences and costs of low back pain. Orthop Clin North Am. 1991;22:263-71.
Guo HR, Tanaka S, Halperin WE, Cameron LL. Back pain prevalence in US industry and estimates of lost workdays. AM J Public Health. 1999;89:1029-1035.
Wainner R, Whitman J, Cleland J, Flynn T. Regional interdependence: A musculoskeletal examination model whose time has come. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2007;37(11):658-660.
Liebenson C. Putting the biopsychosocial model into practice. In: Liebenson C. Rehabilitation of the Spine: A Practitioner’s Manual, 2nd. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins 2007;4:72–90.
Siemionow K, Steinmetz M, Bell G, Ilaslan H, Mclain R. Identifying serious causes of back pain: Cancer, infection, fracture. Cleveland Clinic J Med. 2008; 75(8):557-566.
Jensen M, Brant-Zawadzki M, Obuchowski N, Modic M, Malkasian D, Ross J. Magnetic resonance imaging of the lumbar spine in people without back pain. N Engl J Med. 1994;331:69-73.
Bogduk N, Aprill C. The sources of back pain. In: Liebenson C. Rehabilitation of the Spine: A Practitioner’s Manual, Baltimore: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins 2007;6:112-121.
Carragee EJ, Alamin TF, Miller JL, Carragee JM. Discographic, MRI and psychosocial determinants of low back pain disability and remission: a prospective study in subjects with benign persistent back pain. Spine. 2005;5(1):24.
Severeijns R, Vlaeyen J, van den Hout M, Weber W. Pain catastrophizing predicts pain intensity, disability, and psychological distress independent of the level of physical impairment. Clin J Pain. 2001;17(2):165-172.
Koleck M, Mazaux J, Rascle N, Bruchon-Schweitzer M. Psycho-social factors and coping strategies as predictors of chronic evolution and quality of life in patients with low back pain: A prospective study. EuroJPain. 2006;10(1):1-22.
Mercado A, Carroll L, Cassidy D, Côté, P. Passive coping is a risk factor for disabling neck or low back pain. Pain. 2005;117(1):51-57.
Leeuw M, Goossens M, Linton S, Crombez G, Boersma K, Vlaeyen J. The fear-avoidance model of musculoskeletal pain: current state of scientific evidence. J Behavioral Med. 2007;30(1):77-94.
Jacob G. Biopsychosocial perspective on low back pain: patient provider communications. J Minim Invasive Spinal Tech. 2003;3(Spring):27-35.
Liebenson C. Active care: Its place in the management of spinal disorders. In: Liebenson C. Rehabilitation of the Spine: A Practitioner’s Manual, 2nd ed. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins 2007;1:3-29.
Crombez G, Vlaeyen J, Heuts P, Lysens R. Pain-related fear is more disabling than pain itself: evidence on the role of pain-related fear in chronic back pain disability. Pain 1999; 80:329–339.
Middleton P, Pollard H. Are chronic low back pain outcomes improved with co-management of concurrent depression? Chiropractic and Osteopathy. 2005;13(8):1-7.
Vlaeyen J, Crombez G. Fear of movement/(re) injury, avoidance and pain disability in chronic low back pain patients. Manual Therapy. 1999;4:187–195.
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Liebenson C. The role of muscles, joints, and the nervous system in painful conditions of the spine. In: Liebenson C. Rehabilitation of the Spine: A Practitioner’s Manual, 2nd ed. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins 2007;2:30-50.
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Clinically Pressed Ep. 59 - Hockey Training

Dr. Sean Gallagher is a former high level hockey player that has turned into a hockey training and treatment guru.  His experience of playing at the highest levels along with a full academic career in chiropractic school have brought him a unique perspective on how to approach training hockey players.

This episode we get further into hockey training and what all goes into it. The planning for the year of training is difficult when it the playing season never ends.  We also dive into the specific demands that the sport places on the body and the unique ways that you have to approach exercises without forgetting to focus on injury prevention and resilience.  If you play hockey at any level you want to listen to this episode.

This episode we get further into hockey training and what all goes into it. The planning for the year of training is difficult when it the playing season never ends.  We also dive into the specific demands that the sport places on the body and the unique ways that you have to approach exercises without forgetting to focus on injury prevention and resilience.  If you play hockey at any level you want to listen to this episode.

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Sleep - The Foundation of Health And Performance

Roughly 1/3 of our life should be spent sleeping yet there is an epidemic of sleep loss and deprivation. If we fully appreciated the benefits of sleep when it comes to health, mental performance, and physical ability, it would reshape the way we view the importance of sleep.

1 out of 2 Americans get less than 8 hours of sleep per night and 1 out of 3 Americans get less than 6 hours of sleep per night. Sleeping less than 7 hours a night results in objective declines in health markers as well as mental and physical performance.

Let's talk health and sleep. The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. It's a sad truth but it's a reality that less sleep is correlated with a shorter life span. Getting 6 hours of sleep per night or less is associated with increase in risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's, and cancer as the immune system is suppressed on a genetic level.

Let's talk sleep and performance. Sleep is the greatest legal performance enhancing drug available to us. Sleep deprivation of 6 hours or less will decrease physical performance in strength, power, peak running speed, cardiovascular function, and time to exhaustion by around 30%. It is also harder to loss body fat when sleep deprived - so if you are trying to loss weight, you need 7-9 hours of sleep per night as diet and exercise alone won't be enough. Sleep is the foundation for diet and exercise progress.

Getting 7-9 hours a sleep per night is critical in motor skill acquisition and learning. Meaning if you practice and get adequate sleep, you will perform 20-30% better in those same skills the following day. Sleep smooths out motor learning and is critical in skills becoming automatic.

Sleep isn't all about quantity as you want to focus on getting quality sleep as well. To maximize the quality of your sleep it's ideal to sleep in a cooler environment. Try putting down your phone, turning off the TV, and dimming the lights an hour before bed. Avoid alcohol or other sedatives as they block the ability of the body to get into the deep stages of sleep critical to rejuvenating the body. It's advised to avoid stimulants such as caffeine and even exercise in the hours before you plan to go to bed. Start a sleep routine and stick with it.

Sleep - Get some!

Source: Dr. Matthew Walker

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Exercise Hacks Ep. 2 - Scapular Upward Rotation


In this video, we build off our previous video on the dumbbell row and discuss scapular upward rotation. Scapular upward rotation is a critical component in overhead activities performed regularly in daily life, the gym or sport.

If your scapula cannot rotate properly as you reached overhead, it will play a role in shoulder pain and problems such as tendinitis, bursitis, or impingement syndromes. This exercise variation would be a great inclusion in the strengthening of the rotator cuff musculature and scapular stabilizers.

Some key points discussed in this video:

  • Most rehab exercises for scapular upward rotation will address bilateral movement at the same time. Training support on one limb while training movement on the other will enhance the quality expressed in stabilization.
  • Performed correctly, this exercise targets scapular stability on the support side and scapular upward rotation on the movement side while training proper core stabilization.
  • To heighten the global effect on the body, focus on creating a tripod with the support foot as well as hip external rotation to get the glutes involved.
  • This variation respects reflexive patterns of stabilization in order to improve movement quality and performance.
Thanks for watching and as always, let us know your questions or comments.

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Exercise Hacks Ep. 3 - Hand support


In this video, we discuss the proper way to create ideal hand support during exercises which require you to have contact with the ground. When it comes to creating ideal scapular stabilization during hand supported exercise, how well someone loads the hand or supports from the hand will directly impact their shoulder.

By creating a stable hand, the scapular stabilizers can work more efficiently at holding your shoulder blade in the proper position during exercise. This applies to exercises such as push-ups, plank variations, hand walks or row variations that involve support from the hands.

Poor hand loading is often a reason for poor scapular stabilization, shoulder pain and poor shoulder function. Learn to properly load the hand and make improvement.

Some key points discussed in this video:

  • What proper hand loading looks and feels like. More importantly what improper hand loading looks and feels like.
  • How to create an awareness of proper hand loading and make sure you are maintaining it during your exercises.
  • How the hand and elbow positioning will influence your shoulder positioning. This is important as the position of these joints can destabilize the shoulder if they aren't position correctly.
Thanks for watching and as always, let us know your questions or comments.

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Chiropractic, Rehab & DNS Treatment

This video illustrates how we integrate chiropractic, rehabilitation and dynamic neuromuscular stabilization (DNS) into patient treatment. For the purposes of this video, these techniques were used to speed up post-workout recovery, ensure structural balance and improve how the body functions. Similar to fine-tuning a race car, the human body can benefit tremendously from fine-tuning to keep body prepared for high performance.

Key take home points:

  • Treatment is directed at patient-specific goals and outcomes. There are different levels of care that may need, ranging from symptomatic (i.e. painful conditions) to more performance-based therapy or fine-tuning.
  • Chiropractic manipulative therapy (i.e. adjusting) was not filmed but utilized for the spine and hips.
  • Soft-tissue work was done manually and instrument-assisted to mobilize muscle and connective tissue to improve recovery.
  • Dynamic neuromuscular stabilization (DNS) was used to fine-tune motor patterns and muscular activation. Proper muscular activation and stabilization function of muscles helps to ensure proper muscular coordination while minimizing stress on the joints.
  • This all adds up to optimizing performance while keeping the body as healthy as possible.
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How Do You Build An Athlete?


In this video we discuss the necessary steps it takes to optimize athletic development and "build an athlete".

Key points discussed are:

  • The importance of practicing your sport skills and practicing with intent
  • Taking the necessary steps to stay healthy in a strength & conditioning program
  • Understanding the process of long-term adaptations in athletics
  • The application of the speed-strength continuum, it's importance in programming and identifying where athletes fall within the continuum
This presentation is geared towards power-speed athletes who thrive on the development of speed and strength qualities. Power-speed athletes participate in sports such as football, hockey, baseball, basketball, track & field (throwers and sprinters), lacrosse and weightlifters just to mention some of the more common sports.

These considerations are important for enhancing sports performance, identifying the true needs of the athlete and taking the steps to keep them healthy in the process.

Take a listen and learn more!

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How DNS Solves Pain and Improves Performance


Short video on the principles of dynamic neuromuscular stabilization (DNS) and the role it plays in our office with chiropractic patients, rehabilitation and in our personal and sports performance training program design.

In this video you will learn:

  1. What DNS is and why it's importance for getting someone out of pain and improving performance
    • How we develop our ability to move after birth and important stages of development (i.e. support, rolling, crawling, uprighting, walking)
    • Why these stages of development are relevant in a number of populations who are dealing with chronic pain
  2. How our ability to move properly is lost
    • The importance of proper breathing patterns
    • The power DNS has to "reset" our body's ability to function properly
    • How DNS is used to coach and/or cue our patients or clients to enable them to have improved body awareness and why improved body awareness is associated with less pain and improved athleticism
  3. The role DNS plays in finding the source of pain
    • The site of pain and the source of pain is often times a different story
    • Why rehab or treatment shouldn't always be directed at the areas where you feel pain
    • Why other areas of your body - that seem unrelated to your pain - should be evaluated
  4. How DNS relates to Pain or Performance
    • DNS and it's ability to answer the question "why" your pain developed
    • DNS and it's ability to provide solutions to eliminate pain and improving function in the body to prevent recurrences
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When Should I See A Chiropractor?


In this video we discuss some important points to consider when to see chiropractor or why to see a chiropractor, especially one that has a sports injury and rehab specialization and practices in a functional movement model.

Some points to consider:

  • How important is your health to you? Health is an investment and requires a proactive approach rather than be reactive.
  • Do you want to get out in front of rather muscle tightness and joint range of motion/mobility restrictions before they get more serious or painful?
  • Most people are unsure of who to see for back pain and joint pain, even muscle tightness. They may see their PCP, but not receive the answers or solutions they were hoping for. They are looking for a provider they can trust.
  • Those that have a positive experience with a chiropractor or have one they trust, turn to them when they start to "feel off" or they feel their body is moving as it normally does or they start to feel pain.
  • Ideally, chiropractors who have a specialization in functional rehab, sports injury, and movement are the experts you should see for the most musculoskeletal conditions that we commonly deal with.
  • When, or if, you see a chiropractor is ultimately your choice and one that can prove to be beneficial and a worth while investment.
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Veteran's Day: Saying Thank You Means Remembering

November 11, 2016.

Veteran’s Day.

Today we recognize the selfless service and sacrifice of the men and women of our Armed Forces. It’s a day that should resonate with everyone in this country. Our veterans fought for the rights, privileges, and freedoms we take for granted everyday. For some, this day hits closer to home than others as we know loved ones who have served or are currently serving.

To all of you, we thank you for the service you have given to our country.

Veteran’s Day carries individual meaning as well. As for our family, this means reflecting on the service of our brother Joseph Anthony Bailey, currently serving the US Air Force in Aviano, Italy, our uncle Harry Eugene Fletcher, who served in the US Air Force during World War II, and grandfather, Harry William Getz, Jr., who served in the US Army during the Korean War. We are so proud of them and grateful to have such selfless individuals as part of our family as they felt the call to be of service to our country.

Today, I want to acknowledge our pap’s service as he passed away on August 18 and is no longer around for us to thank him. I’ve decided to write as a thank you to him. To honor and acknowledge not just his service, but also the man that he was and the impact he had on our family and those that knew him.

Pap was a very humble man, quiet and simple. He listened first before he spoke. He was patient as the day is long, but could be as stubborn as a Germans can be. Pap never finished high school. He wouldn’t be considered intelligent by the world’s standards, but he was smart. The kind of smart only life can teach you. Pap was a problem solver, possessing a mechanical mind that enabled him to fix just about anything.

I think this came from his work history. After his time in the military, pap owned his own service station, worked for the railroad and a tow service, and then eventually drove school bus for a local district before he retired. That just gives a glimpse of some of the trades he worked in during his time.

[caption id="attachment_2166" align="aligncenter" width="285"] Pap at his service station in East Liberty

He had simple tastes and interests. Some of the favorites he enjoyed were: old western movies, Clint Eastwood, country music, cereal, breakfast for dinner, root beer ice cubes, lemonade, listening to the rain, naps, any crunchy food, Pittsburgh sports, taking pride in his work, his faith and his family.

Pap loved cars. Whatever make or model he owned, he took care of it. Didn’t matter how beat up it was; he would fix it up with pride. He taught all his grandkids how to drive. But before we could drive, we had to learn about the car. We had to learn how to check fluid and oil levels, how to charge a dead battery, check and change an air filter, change a tire, check tire pressure, etc. These were prerequisites to driving. To him, driving was the easy part. Knowing the vehicle and proper maintenance of it was the key.

Pap loved sports. Loved the Pirates and the Steelers. But his first love grew to become hockey and it started with the Penguins. He started watching them in the mid 1980s, when they were awful and drafted some kid out of Montreal name Mario Lemieux. As a family, we are convinced he is the reason why all my brothers and sisters eventually played hockey. Pap started it. He bought my brother Matt and I our first pair of skates. Something I’ll always remember.

Hockey was just a small piece of the puzzle. Pap and gram came to as many of their grandkids events as they could. They rarely missed. No matter if it was on the stage, field, court, or ice. No matter if it was birthdays, holidays, or graduations. It didn’t matter; pap and gram were always there. They were always present and that was their greatest present to us.

Being present was easy for them because they both were givers by nature. Pap was always giving. Giving of his time and his resources. He did that for everyone. He never considered himself better than anyone. Pap had a unique ability to talk to a complete stranger as if he’d known them for years. You always felt welcomed around him and I think that had a lot to do with his childhood.

According to my mom, pap had a rough childhood growing up in Bay Head, New Jersey. The oldest of three boys, his mom died when he was 8 years old and it was a pain, as our mom would tell us, that never left him. His father was a good, but firm man who worked hard and instilled discipline and respect. All that said, pap grew up feeling he was never good enough. Never felt he had much to offer or was worthy of anything. He never felt deserving. People in his life didn’t think he would amount to anything, doubting he would accomplish much.

After his passing, it seemed to become clear to my family that pap’s self-image was probably a big reason why he was always so willing to help others. He truly didn’t think he was better than anyone. He felt people deserved his time and resources. He was always willing to serve, never expected anything in return, and preferred to stay in the background to avoid attention.

While people measure success or wealth by material standards,  Pap became more than rich in the thing that mattered most to him: his family. And he treated everyone he cared about as if they were family.

As for pap’s family, his father's work eventually brought him to the Homestead area of Pittsburgh. Not long after, he met his future wife Barbara. My gram says he chased her and chased her until she finally gave him a chance. That’s the only chance he would need. They eventually married February 14, 1953. Just three days later, he was shipped off to war and would be in Korea for 18 months.

I recall hearing that story for the first time when I was in high school, yet it took me several years to even get a ounce of a clue what they must have gone through as a newly married couple. I really had to step back in time and put myself in their shoes to fully appreciate what they went through to talk to each other.

Think about it. Think about the challenges of communicating. No international phone calls. No cell phones. No texting. No Internet. No Skype. No FaceTime. We are spoiled beyond belief with the ability to communicate with people around the world. They had none of it.

All they had was hand-written letters. That’s it!

What an awesome test. If the only way you had to communicate with someone was hand-written letters, for 18 months, would you do it? Would you send one everyday? Or would you throw in the towel and move on?

My pap wrote her a letter every single day he was in Korea. And gram wrote back, sealing every letter with a red lipstick kiss. He even included photographs of his time and gram ended up putting them all together in a scrapbook.

[caption id="attachment_2169" align="aligncenter" width="960"] The scrapbook of Pap's days in the Army

It’s no surprise their marriage lasted 63+ years. Their love and example has really showed our family something special through the years.

Learning about those letters was evidence enough to me that my pap was determined beyond belief to survive Korea and get back home. Realize he lived in a time that he didn’t have a choice. His generation had to go to war.

Through the years, he never spoke much about Korea and his experience. If asked, he would never go into details. However, during the final years of his life, he finally opened up about Korea.

War is brutal. My pap saw it first hand. When I say he saw it first hand, I mean he was in the hot zone. He was in combat, on the front lines. He saw his buddies die. He witnessed how shrapnel rips through human flesh. His stories of war so vivid, being able to describe all the sights, sounds, and smells. Like many veterans, these things stayed with him for life.

[caption id="attachment_2170" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Piece of shrapnel from Korea

Yet if you knew my pap you would never have known he was a veteran who had seen such horrors. That he lived in fear and doubt, everyday, for 18 months. He never let on to the deep wounds he carried after the war. At least to the grandkids. We never fully understood what he went through until the end of his life.

Pap never liked attention and would never bring attention to himself. When they would honor the veterans at church, he would never stand. That was just him. It wasn’t that he was making a statement. He simply viewed his service as his duty and that duty deserved no recognition. He viewed others as giving far more than he did, especially those that died. The fact that I’m writing this probably has him up in Heaven shaking his head.

While there are some that may argue what I’m writing would be more appropriate for Memorial Day, the truth is I’m writing this because, like every veteran, pap has a story that deserves to be told. Many of our veterans won’t tell their own story. They are too humble to bring attention to themselves. It’s not in their character. Our pap never brought attention to himself, but on this Veteran’s Day we are thanking him by bringing attention to his service, his life, and his legacy.

To Joe, Uncle Gene, Pap, and the veterans of the US Armed Forces, thank you for your service. It’s because of you that we truly live in the greatest country on Earth.

God Bless America.