College and University

Joe Gieck: A lifetime of service to sports, community


Article reposted from The Daily Progress

Joe Gieck came to Charlottesville in a ’56 Ford with cowboy boots, cowboy hat and a 30-30 rifle. His plan was to stay until he found something better, but he soon surmised he had a pretty good gig. That was in 1961. He never left.

During his 43 years as a pioneer in the athletic training and sports medicine field at the University of Virginia, he became revered in that world. Gieck also met and married his wife, Sally, helped raise two daughters, and has become known for his and Sally’s philanthropy to local nonprofit causes since his retirement in 2005.

Gieck has been generous with his time, money and knowledge to lend a helping hand to countless residents of Central Virginia. His involvement in the community is almost too much to mention, but includes service on the boards of the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation, chair youth service awards, Virginia Amateur Sports, the Charlottesville-based Senior Center, Combined Virginia Campaign as senior campaign coordinator for athletics, Blue Ridge Chapter of Multiple Sclerosis, chairman and vice chairman of the Multiple Sclerosis Dinner of Champions, Vestry of St. Luke’s Simeon and senior warden, Lewis and Clark Home Front Chapter and president, Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center, Charlottesville Police Foundation, a member of the Sports Medicine Committee of the Virginia High School League and advisory council of the Foundation, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville advisory council and Center for Nonprofit Excellence philanthropy day committee. He received the 2010 Honored Independent Senior Award from Branchlands Charlottesville. In 2013, he received the National Multiple Sclerosis Silver Hope Award.

“Sally and I were just talking about how blessed we are to live in Charlottesville and to be surrounded with the people that are here,” Gieck said while sitting by a warm fireplace at the couple’s farm, founded in 1740 and located just past Monticello. “To me, it would be unconscionable not to give back to the community.”

Gieck has boundless energy and a good soul, always willing to pitch in and help, particularly to those who want to help themselves. It’s the only way he knows, and part of his roots that trace back to southwest Oklahoma.

“I was 14 before I knew my name wasn’t ‘Fix Fence,’” Gieck chuckled, talking about his life on the range. “To me, it has always been about helping. That’s the way my parents were. They moved here the last few years of their lives, and my dad was in his 90s, and still going door-to-door, collecting for the heart association.”

Growing up out west, helping was a way of life. There weren’t any social services.

“You just helped the guy at the next ranch,” Gieck said. “If he was laid up and couldn’t put up hay, you helped him. Everybody helped everybody else. That was the thought process that we had. OK, we’ve got our work done, now who else needs help?”

It was that work ethic that earned him a scholarship in athletic training at Oklahoma, then his first job at the U.S. Military Academy in 1961.

He applied at Virginia shortly afterward, and then-athletic director Steve Sebo knew that the Cavaliers’ young lacrosse coach, Gene Corrigan, had a game scheduled at West Point, and he instructed Corrigan to check out Gieck.

“Joe looked like he was 14 years old,” Corrigan said about his first encounter with Gieck. “He didn’t shave. He was skinny. But once I started talking to him about training, he was way past where we were and was totally committed. We talked about three hours and he sold us.”

Corrigan, who later became UVa’s athletic director, said that nobody had a better athletic training program in the country than Virginia because of Gieck.

“Joe was and is a remarkable talent,” Corrigan said. “There’s nobody better at what he does.”

Gieck took over the program and was headquartered at Memorial Gym before moving to University Hall. Athletic training and sports medicine were in their infancies during that time, so Gieck and the late and legendary UVa team doctor, Frank McCue, were the trailblazers in the business.

“When I got here, we really didn’t have much of anything to work with, so anything I ever wanted, they said to just go get it,” Gieck said. “I was there for 43 years and never had anyone to supervise me because nobody knew what I did. I’d say, ‘I need this or that,’ and they’d tell me to go ahead.”

Gieck took full advantage in building up Virginia’s athletic training department, not only in equipment and supplies, but in goals. He established a master’s program and was its curriculum director for 11 years. He began an undergraduate and the first doctoral program in sports medicine nationally while working as UVa’s head athletic trainer from 1962-98 when he became director of sports medicine and until he retired.

Gieck and McCue founded the Art and Science of Sports Medicine Conference in 1972, which is the oldest of its kind in the nation. In 1999, UVa established the endowed Joe Gieck Professorship in Sports Medicine. His local, state and national awards are too numerous to list, but he is most proud of creating, along with the late Susan Grossman, the Athlete Prevention Program and Leadership Education program for substance abuse education, funded by an ongoing grant from the NCAA since 1991. He continues as its co-director.

Since its inception, representatives from 40 colleges per year would visit Gieck’s UVa substance abuse program to develop their own programs. With more than 1,000 schools visiting, the NCAA was so impressed that it asked Gieck to lead the national program.

“Joe is the same guy every day,” said Ethan Saliba, UVa’s associate athletic director for sports medicine and head athletic trainer, who came to Gieck’s program in 1983 to seek his doctorate and, like Gieck, never left. “Joe is probably one of the most futuristic people I’ve ever known. He had programs in mind long before the NCAA and others.”

“He rubbed elbows with the old guard of our profession but was light years ahead as to where the profession should go,” Saliba said. “He’s also so important to our community. If there’s a cause out there, often he’s behind the scenes to help facilitate it. He knows how to get things done and put the right people in position to help things along. That’s the way he was throughout his career at UVa. He’s touched so many lives over the years.”

Gieck’s favorite causes are the Senior Center and is highly active in fundraising for a new center to be built on Rio Road, along with CACF, the Charlottesville Police Foundation and the Virginia High School League Foundation.

With all that, Gieck remains quite a character. He still wears western attire (he owns a place in Montana and New Mexico), cowboy hat and boots (30 pair of various skins). “I don’t own any shoes, except running shoes,” he boasts.

“He’s still an Oklahoma guy,” Corrigan laughed. “He goes to a formal dance and he’s got some damn crazy Western thing on. To my thinking, he and Sally, they’re two giants in this community.”

Not too shabby for a guy who had hardly hit town back in 1962 before thinking about leaving. Turned out to be a pretty good gig.