.- With insurance, we never want to use it, but we’re glad to know it’s there. The same can be said by boxers about ringside physicians.
Rather than considering himself a necessary evil, Dr. Joe Estwanik feels privileged to have gotten the opportunities that being present for over ten thousand bouts has brought him.
A North Carolina-based orthopedic surgeon rated highly by U.S. News & World Report, Dr. Estwanik is the author of “Sports Medicine for the Combat Arts” and president of the Association of Ringside Physicians. The doctor for UFC 3, he is still active as a ringside physician, a role he started in 33 years ago.
Although he grew up more than 500 miles from his current location, his career has taken him not only throughout the U.S., but to a number of other countries.
“I grew up in Cleveland and had a Catholic education from grade school to St. Edward in Lakewood, Ohio, and then the University of Dayton, which was also a Catholic school,” he explains. “I had theology classes from grade one to senior in college. Despite myself participating in sports, I felt that I could always seek peace and quiet in the church and would actually use the chapel at many churches even on the road, in Mexico, in the Philippines, because the church is universal. On an island in the Philippines, I went three years ago. In Mexico I attended a historic Mass at church. I had the same warmth at churches in foreign countries.”
He adds that, “The church has extended its arms and welcomed me and given me the same message, even in foreign languages. Even in college, competing in weightlifting, I don’t think I missed a Sunday going to the chapel on the campus. It was my chance to straighten up my mind. Many students stray, but I needed that hour or so of re-setting or of, grounding, and that’s where I see the church and theology helping athletes because it grounds them especially because of the notoriety or fame that they gain. Obviously I see athletes grounded in another sense, by injury, and they need faith, they need support to work their way through the injury. It helps make sure they’re not tempted through their success.”
Speaking of boxing success, told of former #1 heavyweight contender in the world “Baby Joe” Mesi having done an interview for CatholicSportsAssociation.com in which he said that despite boxing being a sport where you’re punching your opponent throughout the match, those same people are your friends, Dr. Estwanik is right there with Mesi.
“I agree with him. In the spirit of most competitors you’re simply a participant on the field of play, no different from football, rugby, or soccer where you’re trying to neutralize an opponent. You’re not trying to harm. There’s the same comradeship and sportsmanship after they lose or win after they get past the usual upset or anger after having lost a competition.”
A member of the USOC Sports Medicine Society for the 2008 Quadrennium, Dr. Estwanik looks back on his experiences on other continents and gives some compelling testimony.
“I’ve been involved in world championships. I went to the Goodwill Games in St. Petersburg, Russia, and other international events. I spent months living in the Olympic training centers and in hotels. Many former roommates eventually ended up competing against each other in the ring.
“As far as brotherhood within this, I’ve been on trips with 20 different countries attending the tournament and still remember the Islamic Republic of Iran and, despite being American, I sat on the same bus with them, and the U.S. athletes would be trading music with them. So, there is fellowship because of sport. They’d come up to my room at night and ask me to check out a couple athletes because they appreciated my help. It creates fellowship, love, and bridges.”
As someone able to recognize the grace within those situations, it’s no surprise that Dr. Estwanik, who has also been a keynote speaker in addition to serving at ringside, realizes that he is being in service to the Lord when he is out in the field with audiences and athletes, using the knowledge and talents God gave him.
“My talent or my pathway that was divinely guided was to be a physician. My mission is to serve athletes and allow them to continue as they best can and most safely can with the skills God has allowed me to develop. I didn’t develop to the extent that they as athletes did. God has given me the mission to allow them to participate more safely.
“On the trips I was allowed to bring one person with me and I would bring a child or my wife and she has extended the same mission overseas. Lonely athletes would come and sit and talk, just to give warmth and a relationship on the road. I think we’re serving a mission.”
Asked if he has a favorite Bible passage, Dr. Estwanik chooses instead to reflect on something that is productive for student-athletes.
“I have a favorite author. Matthew Kelly (wrote) “Rediscovering Catholicism.” I’ve written passage after passage and hint after hint inside (that book) and I find his writing so inspiring and practical. ‘Discipline is the key to freedom’ (is one message Dr. Estwanik liked).
“I know so many coaches that require young fighters to bring their report card. As an authority figure they require them to do that because they want excellence in all facets of that youth’s life.”
Some of those youths may go on to be boxers. Or one of them just might grow up to be a ringside doctor.