Stronger, Faster, Healthier!

In Summer Strength Camps, MCMC trainers and sports medicine professionals give young athletes guidance they can use to perform better and stay healthier.
This summer many local athletes preparing for school sports benefited from an intensive program intended to make them a little stronger, a little faster and less prone to injury during competition.Mid-Columbia Medical Center offered free Summer Strength Camps to high school students this summer in The Dalles, Hood River and Dufur.

“We got closer as a team so hopefully it pays off during the season,” says 17-year-old Joaquin Medina, an offensive lineman for The Dalles High School.

While two camps were specifically designed for high school football players, three other camps were geared for any sport and attracted more girls than boys.

At all of the camps, coaches put the emphasis on strength training, preventing common injuries, camaraderie and fun. Of course, since competitive athletes were involved, there also had to be a little head-to-head competition, so a new event was founded.

MCMC physical therapist and coordinator of the camps, Nicholas Dills, called the “Gorge Gauntlet” a mix between the World’s Strongest Man and the National Football League Scouting Combine competitions. Athletes flipped tires, pulled weighted sleds, ran the 40-yard dash, shuttle run and more.

They were up to the challenge after six weeks of workouts in temperatures that often climbed to 100 degrees or more.

“They were hard core,” Dills said. “I was pleasantly surprised at how hard the kids worked. I was also impressed by how much the non-football kids dedicated themselves to it. That doesn’t always happen when you don’t have coaches telling you to come out in the off-season.”

Fifteen-year-old Jayde Marx, a freshman at Horizon Christian in Hood River, came out to improve her defensive skills in anticipation of basketball season. She says the strength-building classes were challenging, but fun, and definitely improved her conditioning.

“Besides the strength training, it helps you with your social skills and it is fun to be with your friends and do things you wouldn’t normally do,” she says.

For Ian Cleveland, who recently moved back to the area after spending three years in San Diego, the camps offered a chance to get to know his fellow players on the Dufur High team. The 15-year-old is home-schooled so he won’t see his teammates in class, but rather on the field after school.

He said the camps did what they were advertised to do.

“They will get you in shape,” he says. “If you’re already in shape, they will give you a head start so you can start the season a little better.”

The staff assembled by Dills to coach the athletes impressed Jack Henderson, superintendent of the Dufur School District and football coach at Dufur High School.

Dills was assisted by certified athletic trainers Lauren Miller, Esther Ferguson, John Baresse and Joseph Lanzetti, certified personal trainer Matt Eby and board-certified sports medicine physician Dr. Mark Cullen, of MCMC Sports Medicine and Orthopaedics.

“It’s just a great resource that Mid-Columbia Medical Center has made available to us,” Henderson says. “We’re a 1A high school. There are very few 1A high schools in the state that have athletic trainers available to them during the season and off-season. It’s a huge service and we appreciate it.”

While recognizing the substantial investment by MCMC, Dills says it’s the right thing to do ethically and morally for the community so athletes can avoid injury.

“I never want to see a kid come in with an injury that’s preventable,” Dills says.

“We want to do pre-hab, not rehab.”

He says research has shown that exercises that strengthen the hips and core can help athletes avoid tears of the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament).

Overall, Dills says the camps exceeded his expectations and set up the athletic trainers well for the future.

During the school year, they intend to offer more pre-season camps, coaching clinics and a weights and strength-training class in Dufur.

Next summer, expect to see the Summer Strength Camps and Gorge Gauntlet return.

Level the Playing Field

Mid-Columbia Medical Center is dedicated to improving the health and wellness of Gorge residents, including its student athletes.

That commitment is one of the reasons MCMC offered the Summer Strength Camps for free. In addition, Mid-Columbia Health Foundation has launched Level the Playing Field, a campaign to raise funds for the $400,000 remodel of the weight room at The Dalles High School.

Weight equipment that was still in good condition from the old weight room has been moved to Sherman and Dufur high schools, benefiting even more athletes.

Though the equipment is already in place, only about one-quarter of the funding has been obtained, so donations are still being accepted. They can be made by calling 541-296-7275 or emailing