by FRAN PERRITANO
Tom LaFountain hails from a very athletic family, so it would be natural that his career is somehow connected to sports. LaFountain is a chiropractic orthopedist who practices in Utica, but he also has been a member of the PGA sports medicine team since 1997. He has worked with some famous golfers including Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh, Davis Love, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
Question: You’ve been involved as a chiropractor on the PGA Tour since 1997. How did that come about?
Answer: I had worked for seven years for the U.S. Speedskating Team and had done the Winter Olympic Games in Albertville, France, in 1992 and Lillihammar, Norway, in 1994. I became friends with a physical therapist who worked on the U.S. Luge team. He left to work with the PGA Tour after the 1992 Olympics. In 1997, he called me and said that they needed someone to work on the PGA Tour that had a specialty in spinal problems, and that he thought that I would be a good fit. I did a trial tournament at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, signed on and have been there since.
Q: What do you work on with the players?
A: When a player presents with an injury, I am responsible for assessing his condition as it relates to normal functioning and how it will affect his performance. I then set up a comprehensive treatment regime (soft tissue procedures, spinal manipulation), implement it and guide him through exercise rehabilitation to stabilize the condition.
Q: You’ve had a lot of positive reactions from the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. What runs through your head when these pros compliment the work you do?
A: Their compliments are my barometer for letting me know the effectiveness and efficiency of the treatments I am performing on them. They all have had exposure to very capable healthcare specialists throughout the world and it lets me know that I am on track with adapting to their different demands and utilizing appropriate techniques.
Q: At what point in your life did you decide to work with athletes?
A: Having grown up with sports a significant part of my life, I enjoyed the challenges and what they demanded of an athlete. The dedication and sacrifice required of an individual to excel in their respective sport was right in line with my upbringing. Even though I did not have an opportunity to carry my sports career further, I wanted to be plugged into helping someone get the most of their physical talents. The same feeling carries through with the patients in my office.
Q: You come from a very athletic family? Was there a lot of friendly competition growing up?
A: At the time I did not think of it as competitive, it was just a way of life. Whether it was arm wrestling with my dad or trying to throw a better knuckle-curve than my uncle, fun challenges were always there.
Q: How did your upbringing in the Mohawk Valley prepare you for your career?
A: I could not have chosen a better place to grow up than in the Mohawk Valley. The educational opportunities and the families that became friends through sports provided a fertile ground for self growth. When I set up my practice, there was never a doubt it would be in the Mohawk Valley. Having traveled to many great places, it is the best kept secret.
Q: Is your chosen profession something you’ve always wanted to do?
A: Throughout college, I wanted to be a corporate attorney. I majored in economics until my junior year when I got injured playing football. After being told I would need surgery and that my future in sports was questionable, my father brought me to his chiropractor for another opinion. I was treated a couple of times per week for three weeks and resumed playing the remainder of the season with no problems. The result and the type of treatment used intrigued me. I went on to take more science courses to enter chiropractic school.
Q: Is there one athlete that stands out among the rest who really worked hard with you and had great results after working with you?
A: Jim Furyk. In 2005, when I began working with Jim – it was three days of 36 holes per day at the Presidents Cup in Washington, D.C. Jim had some back and neck issues that required me to treat him regularly on the course during competition for three days under orders of our captain, Jack Nicklaus. Jim was experiencing a myriad of injuries that compromised his play and threatened his career. Just as bad, it was starting to get to him mentally. Through many ongoing assessments, soft tissue and manipulative treatments, and guidance with exercise therapy in season and off at his home in Florida, Jim committed to getting better. It was great to work with him because he would do exactly as you wanted and more. His patience, thoroughness and need to know what was going on every step of the way made for a great working relationship. It led to him winning twice this year at 40 years of age and being ranked fifth in the world.
Q: Complete this sentence: “If my life had taken a different path, I probably would have …”
A: Gone onto marine biology. Jacques Cousteau was popular when I was growing up and sparked my interest in marine biology. His explorations of the ocean with an emphasis on preservation was something that I was very interested in. Had I lived nearer an ocean I probably would have moved more in that direction.