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UPMC sports facility is world-class

Friday, September 22, 2000

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A lot of athletes seek repairs for their twisted ankles, torn ligaments and strained shoulders from Pittsburgh's world-famous orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Freddie Fu.

But few ballplayers have traveled as far to see him as Koichi Ogata and Kenjiroh Nomura, who play for a Japanese baseball team called the Hiroshima Carp.

They arrived at the new UPMC Center for Sports Medicine on the South Side just a few days after it opened its doors Sept. 5.

Nomura, a 34-year-old third baseman, ruptured the hamstring muscle in the back of his right leg while running to first base in a game in April. Ogata, a 31-year-old center fielder, injured an ankle and knee crashing into a wall making a catch in June.

They're both impressed with Fu's new spacious, two-story facility, which replaced his smaller, 11-year-old sports medicine facility at the corner of Baum Boulevard and North Craig Street in Oakland.

"This facility has many kinds of treatment integrated in one place. That is impressive, so I can concentrate on a variety of treatments," Nomura said through an interpreter last week.

"I have never found this kind of [medical] environment in Japan," added Ogata.

The Japanese ballplayers came a lot farther than Doug Thompson of White Oak, but Thompson used a more unusual form of transportation -- his boat.

Thompson, who tore a ligament in his knee while water-skiing in May, traveled up the Monongahela River from a boat launch in McKeesport to the UPMC facility, located along the Mon near the renovated Hot Metal Bridge linking the South Side with Hazelwood. There's no boat dock at the UPMC center yet, so Thompson has to climb up on a construction barge to reach the elevated shore.

"I could have driven there but I thought it would be kind of neat to go by boat," Thompson said.

He had surgery on his knee in July and now goes to the sports medicine center weekly for therapy.

"It's going real good," said the 40-year-old Thompson. "I've gotten rid of my crutches and brace. Dr. Fu's a great guy."

The Center for Sports Medicine is one of three new buildings that make up UPMC's $30 million Sports Performance Complex, located on the site of a former Jones & Laughlin steel mill. The 40-acre complex is sandwiched between the river and active CSX railroad tracks.

The other two structures include the Indoor Training Center, which, under one huge roof, houses a racquetball court, a running track and a full-size football field; and the Sports Training Center, which houses administrative, and athletic training and therapeutic facilities for two teams -- the Steelers and the Pitt Panthers.

The complex was designed by L.D. Astorino & Associates architects and built by Mascaro Construction Co. At the eastern end are four 80-yard-long outdoor grass football fields, laid out side by side.

UPMC officials boast that the facility, which took 15 months to complete, is "the first in the country to bring together a collegiate team, a professional team and an academically based sports medicine program in one location."

UPMC will offer free public tours of the new Sports Performance Complex from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 14.

Visitors who enter the lobby of Fu's building, which is brightly lit with daylight from large window-walls and a two-story atrium, can't help but notice the "wall of fame," filled with pictures and autographs of famous athletes, actors and other celebrities who have come here for treatment.

Some even left parts of their uniforms, such as the jerseys of Penguins star (and now owner) Mario Lemieux and Steelers running back Jerome Bettis.

Other notables treated at the sports medicine center include Olympic champion wrestler Kurt Angle, former Pitt basketball star Charles Smith, ex-football stars Dan Marino and Sean Gilbert, ex-Steeler Rod Woodson, hurdler Roger Kingdom, Pittsburgh Ballet dancers Tamar Rachelle and Patricia Wilde, actress Kathleen Turner and champion cyclist Greg LeMond.

But it's not just the rich and the famous who come to Fu to ease their pain. In the former location on Baum Boulevard, the center treated 60,000 patients a year, including athletes from 41 area high schools and seven colleges.

"We project handling more patients in the new building because it is larger," said Berneta Gebhardt, the center's administrator for operations.

The first floor of the new building has 15 examination rooms for doctors to see patients. There are facilities for physical therapy, a gymnasium, treadmills, weights, a small swimming pool, whirlpool tubs and a room for magnetic resonance imaging or MRIs -- a noninvasive diagnostic technique that uses electromagnetic fields and radio waves to produce cross-sectional images that can detect, among other things, the extent of tears in muscles, tendons and cartilage.

There are also X-ray rooms to examine broken bones, facilities for doctors who specialize in concussions and other head injuries, and a sports psychologist who works with athletes whose problem is mental rather than physical. There are also facilities for a nutritionist, who works out exercise regimens for patients to trim body fat.

The upper floor of the sports medicine center has offices for the physicians and administrators, classrooms with audiovisual equipment, a medical library, rooms for physicians' seminars and workshops and a conference room overlooking the river.

Just east of Fu's building is the Indoor Training Center, which contains a 100-yard indoor football field with "field turf," artificial turf that is softer than that at Three Rivers Stadium, encircled by a quarter-mile track.

East of the indoor field is a building that holds the new training facilities for both the Steelers and Pitt Panthers, which are separated by a wall down the middle of the building.

Both sides contain weight rooms, physical therapy facilities, audio-visual rooms for looking at videotapes of games, and coaches' and administration offices. All practices on the nearby grass fields are videotaped so players and coaches can examine how they run plays. A large media room, for reporters and TV crews covering the teams, is on the second floor, linking the two sides of the building.

The Pitt side has a football hall of fame with pictures of famous players like Marino, Tony Dorsett, Bill Fralic and others. The Steelers side will contain a library honoring Art Rooney Sr., who founded the team in 1933.

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