If the stars-and his body-had aligned differently, Brian Cassidy might have played a decade or more in the National Football League by now. His body could have been broken down by the violent football collisions, surgeries and interventions designed to keep an old pro on the field. He might have experienced the joy, and the pain, of competing at the highest level.
But Brian Cassidy's body was destined to go in a different direction. Forced to give up his own NFL dream, Cassidy turned his competitive energies toward helping thousands upon thousands more stay in the game.
As founder and innovator of the ADAPT Training system, Cassidy has spent the past decade reshaping the goals of aspiring athletes, and revitalizing the active lifestyles of adults and children from all walks of life. "Our principles are sound and they make sense to people," Cassidy says of the techniques he began developing more than 10 years ago. "Your body functions best when it's aligned and balanced. Your muscles were designed to move in a certain way. Our training system is simple to grasp, but it can make a significant difference in people's lives." Cassidy's motivation is simple, too. He built ADAPT to give athletes and people of all ages a better chance than he had to succeed in their chosen field of play.
Stanford University: 1989 - 1993
Nearly 14 years after he played his last football game, Cassidy still has dreams of what might have been. In the early 90s, his path to pro football seemed unstoppable. After an all-state career at Beaverton (Ore.) High School, Cassidy went to Stanford on a full scholarship. He was a three-year starter on Stanford's offensive line. A tough and durable 315 pounds, he never missed a game. NFL scouts rated him #1 in the country at his position.
He was all set to graduate on time, and enter the NFL draft after his junior season, but everything changed on one meaningless play near the end of the year. Stanford was blowing out Washington State 42-7. Cassidy and his starting unit were already on the sidelines in the game's final minutes. Stanford's coach Bill Walsh, who won four Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers, sent Cassidy back in the game for one trick play. The Cardinal scored on the play, and Cassidy remained in for the routine extra point kick. "We're up five touchdowns, but some guy came in trying to block the extra point" Cassidy says. "The play was over, and I was standing straight-legged with my hands up, and the player got deflected right into my knee. "I tore both my main ligaments-my ACL and MCL." Cassidy snaps his fingers abruptly. "You could hear it pop."
Career Ending Injury
He didn't know it at the time, but that popping sound would signal the end of his football career. It would also mark the beginning of a personal journey to discover how bodies should properly align to overcome injuries and function more efficiently.
Cassidy remained at Stanford, and tried to come back the following season. He followed the team's aggressive rehabilitation program, including lifting weights and running. That's when his back started hurting. It didn't make sense when doctors told him a sore back was "normal." He continued training through the pain, until one day at practice when he felt another pop-this time in his spine. He had a herniated disc. Knowing a second major surgery within a year would kill his NFL chances, he tried everything to heal his back without an operation. It only got worse. And then it got dangerous. "It got to the point where I couldn't stand long enough to take a shower," Cassidy recalls. "I was 95% paralyzed in my right leg, all because of my back, and all I could do was lay down and take heavy doses of pain killers just to get by."
A New Approach to Rehabilitation
By the time he gave in to surgery, his torn disc had fused itself to the nerve. Doctors said he avoided paralysis by a matter of days. He'd been lucky, but Cassidy wasn't satisfied. He still wanted to play football. What he needed was a new approach to rehabilitation. A training program that made sense and wouldn't compound on his body's past injuries. That's when he met Pete Egoscue, a muscular training specialist based in San Diego.
"Pete looked at me and said, 'Look at the angle of your hips, you haven't rehabbed your knee. That's putting your hips in a position to put all that pressure on your disc. That's what caused your back problem.'"He was the first person who ever explained something that made sense. It all clicked from a mechanical standpoint."
Cassidy moved to San Diego and trained full time with Egoscue. Doing exercises designed to properly strengthen and realign his body, Cassidy emerged as a leaner, stronger, faster athlete. He was running marathons. Playing rugby. And ready to take one more shot at pro football.
He proved himself healthy at a series of tryouts, impressing NFL teams with his newfound mobility. "But once they got my medical records, and saw the delicate surgeries, from a liability standpoint, they couldn't clear me to play."The decision for me to never play again was made by lawyers and doctors.
Cassidy, in the best shape of his life, was forced to retire in peak physical condition. "It's like racing a race car for two or three years, and then building a better one, but never getting to drive it."
Back to his Oregon Roots
Cassidy's frustration fueled his work to build on the training methods he'd learned in San Diego. He worked under Egoscue for two years, refining the training model. In 1996, he brought his theories on athletic development and performance training back home to Oregon.
He joined the Beaverton football coaching staff and began seeing results in the high school athletes he was working with. Injured players made remarkable recoveries, and smaller players showed more core strength than their bigger opponents.
Parents from other schools started knocking on Cassidy's door, seeking better long-term training for their young athletes. "There are kids out there ending their athletic careers in high school because of injuries and improper training, year-round overuse. I know how to prevent that," Cassidy says.
Function Dynamics is Born
In 1999, he opened his first training facility, Function Dynamics. He expanded on his training methods, and developed programs based on his neurodevelopment studies while earning his Stanford degree. It became place where clients of all ages would come when other doctors and therapists told them "no you can't do that."
Among them was a three-year old girl destined to wear braces on her internally rotated legs. "We designed games through play to activate her muscles, which helped the angle of her knees," Cassidy remembers. "Within a week or two, her knees were straight. She didn't need braces."
A 99-year old woman came to see Cassidy when her doctor said she'd have to learn to live with back pain. "She told him, 'My back didn't hurt when I was 98, why should it hurt now?'" Cassidy laughs. "So we gave her some exercises to take the pressure off her back and she was good to go."
ADAPT Training Opens - April 2006
The growing number of success stories led Cassidy to add physical therapy and training staff and move to a newly-designed ADAPT Training facility. His refined five-level training system-the subject of a book he's currently writing-forms the basis of all group classes and personal training at ADAPT.
"We educate the people who come in," Cassidy says. "We talk about structural positioning and how the muscles affect the joints. We show them what we're trying accomplish. And clients, he says, will listen, because they don't come to follow along blindly. They come in to be involved in solutions to remove their aches and pains, while achieving greater performance.
Training that Makes a Difference
"Our training makes a difference in people's lives," Cassidy says. "It means a lot when someone says to me, 'You've completely changed the quality of my life. I can play with my kids now. I am back in the game."
Cassidy remains a symbol for the power of ADAPT. His four knee surgeries and the back surgery are a distant memory. The pro football dream has been harder to forget. He has watched NFL linemen come and go, "Guys I used to beat in college," knowing his training system would have made him a more durable, more successful, pro.
"If I would've trained back then like I train my athletes now, I would've never gotten hurt," Cassidy says. "I train people back from ACL injuries now in two or three months, and they're faster than ever. I rehab people now that have had worse initial back injuries that I had.
"My whole motivation in building this training system is to make sure what happened to me never happens to someone else."
It's a good thing the ADAPT Training facility is big enough, for now, to accommodate Cassidy's mission. Athletic fields, from the pros to the local level, better make room, too. ADAPT-trained athletes are following Cassidy's lead, and getting in the game.