May 2004 Interview with Athletic Engineering's Todd Pratt

Todd Pratt is a Seattle-area strength and conditioning specialist who has focused his considerable experience and creativity toward developing a functional training regime specifically for Russ Wicks' racing and World Speed Record challenges.

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Introduction to Stephan Schier's interview with Todd Pratt

Russ Wicks is preparing for a pursuit that has killed 80 percent of its challengers.  He has assembled a world-class design and technical team.  He has 700-plus, combined motocross and automobile races under his belt.  He is a master of the extreme, yet aspiring to exceed 400 mph in a watercraft is a journey into the ultra-extreme.  How does Wicks train for these unknown challenges and who is the man guiding this process?

Place yourself in a space smaller than your shower or bathtub, don your warmest clothes and a helmet, lean back and balance your chair on two legs, add enough noise to obliterate the loudest noises you have ever heard in your life (a howling shop vacuum next to each ear may work), grasp something (your steering wheel) in both hands so tight that you can only hold on that tight for a few seconds, make certain someone has fastened you securely to the chair (try duct tape) and then have them try to tug the wheel from your hands, while others bump your back, bottom and sides (try sacks of potatoes).  OK?  Then imagine speeding down the freeway, peering through a set of binoculars.  Remember, you are responsible for keeping the chair balanced on two legs.

Take the initiative to simulate the above and maybe you can approximate what Wicks has experienced capturing the World Water Speed Record for a propeller-driven boat, averaging 205.454 mph.  Yet, unless you slip getting out of your bathroom simulator or your friends "go postal" with the potatoes, you won't be risking your life and you still won't have a clue about what it's like at 400 mph.

Russ Wicks is one of the few people in the world to have driven 220 mph on land and on water.  He's breached this speed in Indy cars and dragsters.  During his World Record run, June 2000, on Seattle's Lake Washington, his hydroplane the Miss Freei peaked at over 220 mph during his run through the mile long speed traps.  Even he has little measure for what it's like at twice that speed – no seat time, no telemetry, no video – and no pioneers, veterans or survivors with stories to tell.

The World Water Speed Record is lethal.  Regardless the odds, this is only the next item on Wicks' long agenda.  He has earned his paycheck, entertaining spectators and risking injury his whole adult life.  His still boyish exuberance, obvious athleticism and relentless dedication to the business of breaking World Records, camouflage the inevitable toll motor sports have taken on his forty year-young body.  Inevitably payment comes due.

Spinal surgery would normally be enough motivation to reconsider a lifelong career in motor sports.  For Wicks it presented a supreme inconvenience and a more items on his already large agenda: 1) Spine Specialist diagnoses remedy, 2) Surgeon applies remedy, 3) Physical Therapist acquaints Wicks with operation of his retailored anatomy and 4) Trainer gets him back into shape for his next challenge.  Many skip step four and retire.

Enter Todd Pratt.  As a collegiate athlete at Texas A&M he competed in the sprints, triple jump, long jump and high jump.  As a student in Texas A&M's vaunted exercise physiology program he became an innovator as a student athlete and strength and conditioning specialist for other student athletes, many of them bound for careers in professional sports.  So successful was he in preparing players for the NFL combine, that professional football players started showing up to train with Todd and his contemporaries at Texas A&M.  He further honed his training skills as a professional high jumper and assistant to Mike Holmgren's Seahawks for six years, as the youngest (by 15 years) strength and conditioning coach in the NFL.

Pratt is the strength and conditioning specialist who has been with Wicks since he checked off items 1, 2 and 3 on his surgery detour.  He is charged with uncovering Wicks' weaknesses, helping Wicks erase them and prepare for the unknown.

For most, strength and conditioning is the goal, for Pratt it is just the beginning.  According to Pratt, Wicks has officially reached the beginning.  Most of his post surgery weaknesses have been overcome.  Now his posture, reflexes, balance, speed and suppleness must all come under scrutiny and challenge.  Pratt's intent is to make Wicks' training "so biomechanically chaotic that driving a 400 mph boat seems easy."

Proprioception is our body's unconscious ability to sense position, movement and force.  Close your eyes and touch your nose and you are relying on proprioception.  For an advanced proprioceptive challenge, try balancing on one leg with your eyes closed.  Great athletes are proprioceptive superstars.  They are masters of time and space, moving their bodies, gracefully, efficiently, perfectly and powerfully.

Welcome Russ Wicks to Proprioception U, where elite level strength and conditioning begins.  Because there are few precedents in the motor sports industry for task specific training other than driving, piloting, riding and racing, Pratt has forged his own path, focusing on the unique demands of being in the cockpit of a speeding vehicle.

Continue to part 1 of the interview