Today marks the first installment of "Where are they now" presented by the VCU Athletics Department. Every two weeks, VCU Athletics will present a release in which we catch up with a former VCU student-athlete.
Today's feature is with former VCU standout runner Alan Pietruszkiewicz. Pietruszkiewicz was model student-athlete at VCU, as he completed both his undergraduate and graduate coursework with the Medical Center of Virginia's physical therapy program while serving as a standout member of the VCU Cross Country and Track & Field programs.
Here is the interview between Alan and VCU Athletic Communications Assistant Jon Nolan on Alan's time as a student-athlete and life after donning the Black & Gold jersey.
JN: What was it about the VCU campus that originally stood out to you and made you want to come here?
AP: Probably the biggest thing that lured me here was the physical therapy program at MCV (Medical Center of Virginia). I really liked Coach Hedley, who was the coach at the time, as he had a great philosophy. We also had a big recruiting class that came in together, but the big move for me was to come down south and get in the position to attend graduate school at MCV.
JN: When did you decide that you wanted to be a physical therapist?
AP: Pretty young. I was actually 12 when I decided I wanted to be a physical therapist. I had a really close relationship with my grandfather, who was my idol growing up. He was a pretty proud old school Italian guy. He was also a diabetic and had to have his leg amputated. I remember hanging out with him at the hospital, and all the time he spent with his physical therapist walking with him and doing other various activities with his prosthesis. Mostly that process was really about was getting his dignity back, he wasn't going to leave this world without being able to walk. It was a really neat mix between medicine and getting to spend time with people, whether by motivating folks or getting someone to achieve their goals. I am pretty fortunate for a decision I made when I was 12 that I am sitting here in a job that I love coming work for every morning.
JN: When you originally started off looking at schools, what kinds of schools were you looking at?
AP: It's kind of funny, I didn't want to run Division I. I didn't want to go to a city school. I didn't want to go to a big school. I was pretty set on going to Ithaca College in upstate New York, which is up near the Finger Lakes. It was just kind of one of those things, where I got snowed in for three days on a recruiting trip Ithaca. Then I came down to VCU on a recruiting trip and just fell in love with the city. I liked the coaching staff. My high school advisor told me that if I did well in my coursework, that I would get accepted into the physical therapy program at MCV. Because at VCU you had to apply after three years to get into the graduate school, where as at Ithaca, I would have been accepted as an incoming freshman from high school. His advice to me was, if you do well, they will let you in. If you don't do well, they will kick you out. So it doesn't matter where you go as long as your priorities are straight. So it was kind of funny in that I went against a lot of my preconceived notions on where I wanted to go to school in coming to VCU.
JN: Can you reflect on your personal experience on what it means to be a student-athlete?
AP: With VCU and MCV's relationship I was able to get into the graduate school after three years. So it was a three and three program, in which I bypassed my senior year of undergrad and started the graduate program. It was pretty rigorous, but on the flip side it was pretty black and white. I really had to manage my time make sure I knew my priorities. I used to room with Coach (Julian) Spooner when we were on the road, so that when everyone went out to dinner on Friday nights, I would occasionally to choose stay in. I would usually just order a pizza and read over my anatomy books. In the big picture, they were small sacrifices to have my cake and eat it too. I got a great education and I was able to compete as a runner. I competed better while I was in graduate school, then I did when I had more time on my hands. I did better academically when I was stretched more thinly, then when I had a bit more time on my hands. So it all worked out pretty well.
JN: Is there one meet or competition that still stands out to you?
AP: There is a couple. When I came to VCU when didn't have a full-fledged track program. We knew we were going to get it, but we were a cross country program and we would run at a number of invitationals. We weren't part of a conference for track however. So as a sophomore, we went to Tulane, as we were part of the Metro Conference then. We were absolutely, positively dead last in that meet. It was pretty gratifying two years later to go back as a red-shirt junior and win the conference championship. So that was great experience from a team standpoint. From an individual side, I made the all-conference team in cross country my junior year down at the conference championships at Southern Miss. For me, I had always looked up at those top ten guys in the conference. I looked at them as a freshman, and felt it was unbelievable what they were able to do. So to get up on that podium my junior year, it was a grand accomplishment as I felt like I fit in with those elite guys.
JN: You earned a number of awards at VCU, both for your athletic prowess and academic success, do you still have them? Awards
AP: I keep them on my wall here in my office. I am fortunate that in my practice I see a lot of high school and college kids. It's just a good reminder to me, and to them, that you can be pretty well rounded. Athletics is a great avenue to open up a lot of doors, but you have to do the little things too. I was pretty fortunate to be considered for those awards, and I was pretty proud that they meant more than just one than facet of my life, but more of a combination of keeping things in balance and being a well rounded student-athlete.
JN: I found an old article about you and former teammate Bruce Berger competing in the Richmond Times Dispatch five-mile race, do you and Bruce still stay in contact?
AP: That is probably the best thing about coming down to VCU. Bruce was the best man at my wedding and still a great friend. Duncan Sheils is another great friend and a guy that ran with us. We are actually training for a marathon this fall and get together two or three times a week to run together. That was a fun day, as that came at a time when Bruce and I were roommates after we had used up our eligibility. We ran that 5-miler and it was pre-Kenyan days and we came in first and second so it was a fun day.
JN: You mentioned that you, Bruce and Duncan are training for a marathon, which marathon are you training for?
AP: We are going to run the Outer Banks Marathon. I turn 40 in April of next year and I would like to try and run one more competitive marathon. After I turn 40 in April, I am going to go up to Boston and go for one last hoorah and try to run around a six minute pace for a marathon. This fall is more of a tune up to get us online for next year.
JN: You started your business, Physical Therapy Solutions a few years ago, tell us a little about your company and what made you decide to stay in the Richmond area?
AP: I started my business actually five years ago, and it has been great. We see a wide variety of people, high school athletes, a lot of runners and wide variety of orthopedics. Staying in Richmond made sense, my wife is from here and going to MCV and doing a lot of rotations created relationships with a lot of the physicians in town. It just seemed like a great fit here to stay in Richmond, and I love the city of Richmond. I think it has been the right size town for me and a great place to raise my family.
JN: What do you believe has been the major success for your company?
AP: Physical Therapy is pretty unique. In that there is some great technology and equipment, but really my focus has been in investing in the best people. I am really proud of how we have grown in the last five years and really the secret to that success has been finding good people that are smart and extremely motivated. I love to hire former student-athletes, a bunch of my employees played sports in college. I think there are some really great lessons to be learned in collegiate athletics, which has delayed gratification. Those tend to be my best employees. Our success has been a byproduct of hiring great people and allowing them to do what they are great at doing each and every day.
JN: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
AP: I would say taking a high school athlete, who for instance will tear they ACL. It's the end world for them. I have been there. There is nothing worse than having a student-athlete miss a season of play. Sitting down with the parents and the athlete when they coming in on crutches, everything just seems upside down for them. You can look them in the eye and say trust your surgeon, trust the rehab process and listen to us because we will walk you through this because in 4-6 months, me and a bunch of our staff members are going to come out and watch you play your first game. Watching them come back from that adversity at that age is probably the most gratifying thing I get to do. It never gets old and I am pretty fortunate that's what I get to do for a living.
JN: Did you get caught up in the March Madness that the VCU Men's Basketball Team provided for the city of Richmond last year?
AP: I was pretty fortunate that I pretty much didn't see my office for most of the month of March. I didn't get to go to Dayton for the game against Southern California, but I went Chicago, San Antonio and Houston. It was really neat, we had a pregame reception with some of the alumni before the Georgetown game in Chicago and there were probably 30 people at it. Then it culminated with the pregame festivities at the Butler game where there was probably 5,000 people in that convention center. It was a great experience to see the momentum that created for the VCU community and to see people with ties to the university come back and get involved. Being a part of the Ram Athletic Board, I see all the opportunities that are ahead of us that the improbable Final Four run is going to afford us moving forward.