Jim Lathrop has been helping student-athletes build their bodies for decades. Now, his body is breaking down.
The strength and conditioning coach for Illinois State University athletics is retiring at the end of the month to focus on his own health. Lathrop has been coping with Parkinson's disease for more than a decade.
He said that and a host of other issues, including a long history of arthritis, two hip and knee replacements, and recent back surgery, make it tough to do a physically demanding job.
“I’m an old run-through-the-wall kind of guy. I am just going to keep pounding away at it until cooler heads prevail or something,” he joked. “Finally, I just made the judgement it was time.”
Lathrop helps all ISU student-athletes with conditioning, but his biggest focus has been on football. Coach Brock Spack credits Lathrop for much of the program’s success. The football program has made five playoff appearance since Lathrop came to ISU in 2011. He worked with Spack previously at Wyoming and Purdue.
“One of the things we always tried to do was to elevate our skill levels,” Lathrop said. “We had to balance the playing field with what we did in the weight room. We had to outwork people. We had to outsmart people."
Lathrop said gaining that mental edge comes from instilling confidence, which is why he saw motivating the athletes as one of his biggest tasks.
“I want them to feel like we could call up Alabama and on any given Saturday we could find a way to go out and beat them,” he said.
Lathrop gives credit to the athletes, who he said must be willing to put in the work when no one is watching--and not just on game days.
“The one common thread, if you look at anybody’s program, it really comes down to will the work at it,” he said.
Lathrop has spent 37 years in the business. He said training is much more than just lifting weights like it was when he started as a graduate assistant at Missouri State (then known as Southwest Missouri State) in 1983.
“Now, we are taking care of everything from nutrition to flexibility, the whole gamut of things which we really started back then and that’s how we evolved,” he said.
He noted the profession also has expanded with more attention given to athletes’ physical preparation. He said he has a larger staff at ISU than he did when serving in the same role at Purdue, a Big Ten school.
Lathrop received the highest honor in his profession in 2015, when the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches association (CSCCa) named him a Master Strength and Conditioning Coach.
Lathrop, 59, said his retirement also will allow him to see his wife and two adult children more. Both live out of state.
He does rock steady boxing, a common physical therapy for Parkinson's, and hopes to become an instructor.
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