Cris Dobrosielski recognized the irony of the situation when he suffered a significant lower back injury on the first day of the United States Lifesaving Championships last weekend.
Dobrosielski, a Governor’s Academy alumnus, had spent much of the previous four years writing and promoting a book he’d authored, “Going the Distance,” which provides an outline for aging athletes on managing injuries.
“The injury provided an intimate experience with managing pain — more intimate than I cared to have,” Dobrosielski said. “But it sharpened my ability as a coach to help people to make the right decisions in their training. I had to be reflective of the choices I’d made in preparation for Nationals, and that involved some humility on my part.”
After determining he’d failed to allow himself the proper recovery time during his book tour over the previous months, Dobrosielski withdrew from several of his marquee events, of which he had won two previous national championships.
He returned to action on the last day of competition, earning his third career national title — this time in the 40- to 44-year-old age group — in the Run Swim Run event.
“Sunday morning, I woke up at 85 percent,” Dobrosielski said. “I knew it would be prudent to sit out and wait for next year. I went through a self-assessment, considering the worst-case scenario and the likelihood of that. It was a fantastic field. I knew I could get through the race. I went in, went after it holding nothing back, had the race of my life, and won my first national championship in that event.”
Dobrosielski, a Methuen native, spent his summers on Salisbury Beach from the age of 9 before becoming the beach’s first junior lifeguard. At 17, he earned the title of professional lifeguard. Meanwhile, at Governor’s Academy, Dobrosielski carved out a promising basketball career despite his 5-foot-4 height. He later played basketball for a year at Hartwich College in New York.
After a stint at Northern Essex Community College, Dobrosielski relocated to the West Coast, where he enrolled at San Diego State University, and joined the school’s cross-country team. He later coached cross-country at the high-school level before becoming a La Jolla, Calif., lifeguard.
Soon after, Dobrosielski began competing in national and international lifeguarding competitions. He was a multiple-event winner in the 2002 and 2004 World Lifesaving Association Championships and the 2009 United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) National Lifeguard Champion in the International Ironman competition (40-44 age division).
In 2009, Dobrosielski suffered a life-changing injury during qualifying for the USLA Open finals. He threw out his back, an injury that provided the motivation for his career as an author, speaker, coach and trainer. He started a company, Monumental Results, Inc., and published his own book, which has a forward written by former Celtics great Bill Walton.
“Going into this summer, I had four years of great health,” Dobrosielski said. “I’m in the best shape of my life at 44. I arrived at the World Championships in July, set my equipment down and felt a twinge in my back I hadn’t felt in four years. I had minimal participation that day, and I definitely exacerbated the condition.”
Dobrosielski followed his own self-prescribed remedies, concluding that the back injury was the result of emotional and mental fatigue from his book tour. Still, he rehabilitated the injury for three weeks before Nationals, hoping to avoid a flare-up.
“I hold myself to a higher standard as a coach and author of a book on injury prevention,” Dobrosielski said. “I had to ask myself, ‘Is my back going to hold up without the testing and progress I would have preferred to have seen over the previous three weeks?’”
On the first day of Nationals, Dobrosielski learned his back would not hold up while competing in a paddling leg of a relay.
“After one race, I couldn’t believe this was happening,” Dobrosielski said. “Over the next 24 to 48 hours, the self-care and inspiration of the other athletes on the team gave me hope of doubling back by the end of the weekend.”
Dobrosielski’s experience has put the wheels in motion for a potential second book. First, he plans to visit his alma mater, Governor’s Academy, this fall for a Going the Distance clinic. He also plans to start a scholarship fund for potential Governor’s Academy students who are in need of financial assistance.