The strength of UAA’s Athletic Department

In 2005, Ryan Walsh of Fairbanks earned a scholarship to run track and field at UAA. Aiming to combine his passions for soccer and the short sprints, Walsh transferred to Humboldt State University after his sophomore year where he tore a labrum in his hip that put his athletic career on hold. Working in the weight room enabled him to stay active and engage with his team on a regular basis.

“That’s when I started liking lifting a lot and realized it would be fun to start doing that as a profession,” Walsh said.

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Ryan Walsh is the head strength and condition coach for UAA’s student athletes at the Alaska Airlines Center. Originally from Fairbanks, Walsh has been the head strength coach since the center opened in 2014. Photo credit: Jay Guzman

After finishing up his collegiate eligibility, Walsh stayed at Humboldt State University to lay the groundwork for his professional career in the athletic world.

“I started volunteer coaching for the track and field team and handled all their weight training,” Walsh said. “That’s when I started working for the head strength and conditioning coach, Drew Peterson, at Humboldt State and it went on from there.”

The opening of the Alaska Airlines Center in 2014 and the introduction of its strength and conditioning department introduced a new opportunity to Walsh that drew him back to Alaska. Michael Friess, head track and field coach, as well as director of the strength and conditioning department, offered his former athlete the position as strength and conditioning coach. Walsh gladly took it.

Since then, Walsh has been a force in the department, with the help of assistant coach Adam Friese, and was named head strength and conditioning coach.

“What makes coach Ryan Walsh a successful strength coach is the effort he puts into getting to know his athletes,” Grant George, senior thrower for UAA’s track and field team, said. “He is familiar with the talents, strengths, and limitations of the athletes he coaches.”

Walsh’s daily schedule is filled with coaching activities, mentoring his athletes and the logistic aspects of the job.

“I oversee the daily operations in the weight room,” Walsh said. “I write up the training programs for our athletes, take them through the programs, oversee daily maintenance of the equipment, make sure that logistics are all working and so on.”

Martins Onskulis, alpine skier at UAA, appreciates Walsh and Friese’s innovative training, experience and passion for what they are doing.

“Ryan [Walsh] and Adam [Friese] are like teachers to us; the only difference is that the classroom is a gym,” Onskulis said. “Ryan is doing a great job by planning workouts for us, it’s definitely a tough task since skiing involves not only lifting weights, but also balance, agility, jumps and other specific exercises. I have worked with Ryan and Adam for four years and I have become stronger and most importantly smarter in planning my workouts.”

Walsh and Friese enjoy seeing their athletes improve their strength and experience the benefits of their gained strength in their individual sports.

“I have several athletes who have literally tripled or quadrupled their max lifts from their freshmen year to later points in their career and their athletic performance has shown their hard work,” Friese said. “I love that I can give them an objective measurement that shows their progress as a result of their hard work.”

Walsh and Friese’s love for what they do does not go unnoticed. In times of injury, athletes often find themselves working in the weight room more than usual to find alternative ways to stay in shape. Gymnast Marie-Louise Knapp recently underwent ACL surgery and is happy about the encouragement she received from Walsh and Friese.

“I like the variety and the combination of weight training and gymnastics conditioning,” Knapp said. “Especially during my recovery from my ACL surgery, Ryan and Adam motivated me every day and thought of creative exercises to keep me busy and in gymnastics shape.”

While putting his athletes’ well-being at top priority and spending hours in the Alaska Airlines Center to accommodate the different teams’ individual schedules, Walsh uses his late nights and downtime to work on his own lifting in the gym. Walsh is a successful powerlifter in the community, winning local meets and also competing at the national level.

Currently competing in the 230-pound weight class, Walsh holds personal records of 639 pounds on squat, 419 pounds on the bench and 606 pounds on deadlift. Walsh also drew Friese into the sport, who used to compete in hockey, before retiring and taking the position as strength and conditioning coach at UAA.

“My passions for athletics and weight training quickly grew and when I finally hung up my skates I was able to focus solely on fitness,” Friess said. “But I wasn’t much interested in powerlifting until I met Ryan [Walsh]. He gave me one of his programs and after following a three-month plan I realized I had a knack for the sport and a desire to compete. The rest is history.”

Walsh continued to introduce powerlifting to members of the Anchorage community as he founded a powerlifting club at UAA, The Last Frontier Lifters, with the help of Colin McGill, current chemistry professor at UAA and an active member of the powerlifting community in Anchorage. Lately, they had to hand the club over and hope that it will continue attracting generations of University students.

“We had a few athletes that were really dedicated and stayed with it, but I was spread too thin at the time, as well as Colin McGill,” Walsh said.

Still, Walsh encourages everyone interested in powerlifting to try it out and join the community in Alaska.

“Powerlifting has a great role in Alaska. It actually has a pretty long history here,” Walsh said. “The community is very friendly and willing to help people getting into the sport.”

Walsh recommends USA Powerlifting Alaska, a Facebook group for Alaskan powerlifters, to find resources, ask questions and meet the powerlifting community. Additionally, Southside Strength and Fitness is a meeting point for many powerlifters from Anchorage to meet and train together or UAA’s The Last Frontier Lifters club.