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The Power of Play: Pressure on the Field Prepared Me for Challenging Surgeries

Baseball and mitt on pitching mound

The shift from learning the game to win-at-all costs in youth sports has resulted in kids dropping out at an alarming rate. In support of Project Play, an Aspen Institute initiative supported by leading organizations helping to get and keep kids playing sports, we asked a few of our physicians to share their experiences as youth athletes and how they have impacted their abilities as physicians.

In our third installment, learn more from HSS sports medicine surgeon, Dr. Stephen Fealy, who pitched collegiately at Columbia University:

Dr. Stephen Fealy, collegiate pitcher

When did you start playing sports?

I started playing sports as early as I can remember. I am 3 years older than my brother, and some of my earliest memories are having a catch in the backyard.

What interested you the most about playing sports?

I love the competitive nature of sports. More specifically, I love trying to push myself against myself. I compete during the week at a pretty high level as an orthopedic surgeon, so sports for me are a personal competition. Whether it be perfecting a forehand in tennis or carving a perfect turn on the fall line while skiing, I love it.

Why did you continue playing?

I truly love being outdoors and seeing the world. I perhaps have not been reading as many books but have been trying to play a sport at least 2-3 times per week. For me, yoga is included in this experience.

What impact did playing sports have on your life?

I can comfortably and honestly say that my involvement in baseball as a Columbia recruit changed the trajectory of my life – in a great way. Baseball opened doors for me and some of my classes at Columbia Medical School were even filled with former college athletes..

Where did pressure come from and how were you able to overcome it?

Initially, like all kids, pressure came from my parents. They saw I was a smart kid and they pushed me to be better and better. When it was clear that I was excelling at baseball, they pushed me and then my internal drive took over. My pressure and my drive now is totally internal. I easily anger at myself when I make mental mistakes. (Although there is no hope with my golf game!)

What lessons learned when playing did you apply as a sports medicine surgeon?

I learned the very important lesson of how to lose. Winning is easy to handle, but grace in defeat is beautiful and shows the true character of a person. The other trait, which Dr. Russell Warren (my mentor) taught me is, “Never ever give up!” This trait in sports has helped me take care of patients as well.

For young athletes, what is the importance of activity in your opinion?

I see this a lot in my practice where young people are not being active as they can be. We are locked into computer monitors all day long. During these stretches of time we are using our brain, but not our body, which is an amazing machine.

What advice would you give to encourage kids to continue to play sports/stay active?

Do something – it’s that simple. It could be badminton (which is an awesome sport by the way). I do think it is important to know how to swim. To know how to swim truly opens the world and experiences we can enjoy without fear.

Dr. Stephen Fealy, sports medicine surgeon

Dr. Stephen Fealy is a specialist in the field of shoulder, knee, elbow, and ankle surgery at HSS. He is the Orthopedic Surgery/Sports Medicine Consultant for the Major League Baseball Players Association. In this role, Dr. Fealy helps with both medical and orthopedic related issues and is continually involved with research projects involving Major League Baseball and athletic injuries. 

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.