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Spotlight: UI student works with teenage athletes

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | JANUARY 24, 2011 7:10 AM

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In 2009, University of Iowa junior Jake Eikenberry was No. 33 — a running back for the St. Ambrose football team. But this year, he’s changed his focus.

Now, the 21-year-old can be found in the Got Strength gym spotting a 15-year-old football player who bench-presses 110 pounds.

“And up … and up … and up …” Eikenberry says, never taking his eyes off the athlete as he bench presses on Jan. 21.

As a Got Strength intern, he helps train dedicated teenage athletes from various high schools around Iowa City.

The walls of Got Strength’s front office are papered with newspaper clippings from the Iowa City West Trojans and West Branch Bears. The headlines celebrate improvements, upsets, and championship games: “Sweet repeat,” “Top of their game,” “Bears perfect.”

The goal of Got Strength, owned and managed by UI graduate Phil Johnson, is to “develop quality and high-caliber athletes,” Johnson said.

Eikenberry attended Bettendorf High, a school known for developing successful athletes, especially in football. He then played football for St. Ambrose but decided to quit after an old ankle injury continued to flare up.

Valuing his health above the game, he transferred to the UI to pursue a health-promotion major, noting the importance of injury prevention in training.

“I think any athlete who has had to stop competing, as I did, because of injury understands why it’s so important a little bit more than everyone else.”

Intense passion and an impressive history in sports make Eikenberry stand out from the other college interns at Got Strength. Johnson said he trusts him with the same amount of responsibility as the head coaches he employs.

“With the internships, we give what you’re willing to take on and what you’re capable of taking on,” Johnson said. “Jake has more responsibility because he worked for it.”

Eikenberry’s experience and his work ethic aren’t the only things that set him ahead of his peers in the gym; there is also his ability to build relationships with the athletes he coaches.

Johnson said Eikenberry demonstrates a “perfect credibility” that allows him to gain the trust and respect of athletes almost immediately.

“Jake is a really good coach,” said Garett Lynch, a sophomore football and track athlete at West Branch High. “He’ll show you how to do something instead of just telling. When he can do it himself really well, it makes you want to respect and listen to him more.”

While he’s racking weights and spotting and demonstrating lifting techniques, the passion he has for the work is obvious in his eyes.

“There’s more to sports and training than just getting big and strong,” Eikenberry said. “They’re also about developing yourself as a person and challenging yourself and figuring out what you can do. I want to be a part of that. I want to help people with that.”


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