Doctor gives bodybuilding a lift

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Victor Prisk decided he wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon after he was treated by one for an injury he sustained in gymnastics when he was a sophomore in high school.

"It was the information he provided, the way he explained what happened and how I could rehab it," Dr. Prisk recalled. "I developed quite a relationship with him because of the multiple injuries I had."

After watching the gymnasts perform during the 1988 Olympic Games, Dr. Prisk was inspired to try out for the gymnastics team at Glenbard East High School in Lombard, Ill., a western suburb of Chicago.

"I was a small kid," said Dr. Prisk, who is 5 feet, 6 inches tall. "I was really impressed with their strength and precision."

The young gymnast performed all the usual routines but was especially fond of the rings. The rings seemed to require the most strength, he said, and the rings were the gymnastic routine "you could be good at even if you weren't that talented, if you worked really hard."

Victor Prisk was good enough to be named to the all-state team from his sophomore year on. He was offered a scholarship to the University of Illinois, but because he also wanted to be a pilot, he chose the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

His timing was poor. The young man entered the Air Force Academy in the summer of 1992. The Soviet Union had just collapsed, and the first Gulf War had been won. Military spending was slashed. The number of Air Force pilot training slots was cut in half.

"I doubted I could ever get a pilot slot," Dr. Prisk said. He focused on becoming a surgeon.

The gymnastics coach at the Air Force Academy was friendly with the gymnastics coach at Iowa State University. He knew there were scholarships available there.

"I slid right into that scholarship," Dr. Prisk recalled. "It was perfect."

But it was perfect for only two years. In his sophomore year, Iowa State terminated its gymnastics program.

"I was the last person to compete in gymnastics for Iowa State."

He chose to stay in school there, where he earned bachelor's degrees in zoology and biochemistry. But he missed athletic competition, so he drove the 5 1/2 hours from Ames to Chicago to take part in competitions sponsored by USA Gymnastics, the governing body of the sport in America.

The long drives paid off when the gymnastics coach at Michigan State University saw him perform and offered him a scholarship. He competed on the rings for MSU for the year in which he earned a master's degree in physiology.

Then came medical school at the University of Illinois-Chicago. The med student continued to work out on the rings, but his days of competing in gymnastics were over. He needed another outlet for his physical energy, and he needed to make some money.

He found both in the swing dancing craze that swept Chicago in the late 1990s.

"There was a swing band playing somewhere almost every night in Chicago," Dr. Prisk recalled.

He and five friends formed a group, the "Hepcat Swingers," to take advantage of the craze. They'd perform at functions, then offer instruction.

"We'd do an exhibition for 45 minutes or so, then teach people how to do the steps for a couple of hours," he said. "Most weekends, I earned $500 or so. For me in those days, that was big money. It helped put me through medical school."

After graduation from medical school, newly minted Dr. Prisk chose to do his residency at the University of Pittsburgh. He chose Pitt in part because the residency program is six years long instead of the customary five. The additional year is spent doing research. Dr. Prisk spent his research year studying muscle physiology. He wanted to learn more about how muscles regenerate after injury.

But he still wanted to stay active because he had left the Hepcat Swingers behind in Chicago, and, he said, "[Arthritis in] my shoulder was telling me I had to give up the rings." He had to find another way to satisfy his zest for athletic competition.

Dr. Prisk found it in bodybuilding, the sport Arnold Schwarzenegger made famous. In competitions, bodybuilders pose for a panel of judges, who assign points based on their appearance. Most important are muscle size and low body fat.

Muscles are built up by weightlifting. So now, typically, Dr. Prisk works out for two hours, six days a week.

"I don't lift very heavy," he said. "I do 8-12 reps. I alternate body parts. I never do the same thing twice. It's important to change it up and shock your body."

But "competing in bodybuilding is all about diet," Dr. Prisk said. His breakfast usually consists of "two whole eggs, eight egg whites and some oatmeal." In a typical day, he'll consume a pound of chicken and a pound of fish.

As with gymnastics, success in his new sport came fairly early. Dr. Prisk entered his first bodybuilding competition in 2005. In 2007, he was the junior national champion in the welterweight division. In 2010, he was the national champion in the welterweight division.

But the biggest payoff Dr. Prisk has gotten from his new athletic endeavor took longer.

Victor Prisk met Kristina Curci, a psychiatrist, at a bodybuilding competition in July of 2004 in Station Square. Nothing happened until five years later when Dr. Prisk was a judge at a body building contest in which Dr. Curci was competing.

"She winked at me from the stage," Dr. Prisk recalled. Things took off from there, They were married in August of last year.

His extensive and varied experiences in athletic competition and dance -- and the injuries he's sustained -- have made him a better physician, Dr. Prisk thinks.

"I consider myself a specialist in sports medicine of the foot and ankle," he said.

After completing his residency at Pitt, Dr. Prisk was selected for a fellowship at Cornell's Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, with a subspecialty in foot and ankle surgery.

During his fellowship, he treated dancers at the American Ballet Theater and the New York City Ballet.

The fellowship over, Dr. Prisk returned to Pittsburgh. He was at UPMC until this summer when Highmark recruited him to help build an "integrated delivery system" between the health insurer and the West Penn Allegheny Health System.

He practices at the Outpatient Care Center at 160 Gallery Drive in McMurray. Among those he treats are dancers with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.


Jack Kelly: or 412-263-1476.


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