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Sandy man helped make physical therapy accessible

-  Clem Eischen remembers his time on the 1948 U.S. Olympic track team


Clem Eischen has been an Olympic Athlete, a respected coach, a healer, a political activist, and now, a retiree. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to give up doing what he loves.

Now living in Sandy with his wife, Nancy, Eischen has helped paved the way for physical therapists like himself and his son, George, who now runs Gresham SportsCare Clinic, one of the clinics his dad started.by: POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Eischen started Gresham Sports Care in 1963, his son George now owns it.

Eischen, 87, was born and raised on a farm in Nebraska, during the Dust Bowl the Depression of the 1930s. Finally, in 1943, after dealing with enough crop failures, his father found work at a shipyard in Vancouver, Wash, and relocated his wife and three children to the Pacific Northwest. Eischen was a junior in high school.

Eischen said he received an auspicious welcome to the world of local sports. He originally wanted to try out for football when he started at Vancouver High School on Sept. 17, 1943, but the team was already full, and what he made up for with enthusiasm he lost with a lack of experience.

He then went to the vice principal and told him he was interested in going out for track.

“He told me ‘Well, our team’s great, so unless you’re really good, you shouldn’t bother turning out,’ ” Eischen said. “What horrible advice to give a kid.”

Eischen showed up anyway, and he earned a place on the track team, that year and the next, winning state championships in the mile.

He went on to Washington State University, but it was 1948 when he reached the pinnacle of his sporting career. He was a member of the 1948 U.S. Olympics track team, competing in the 1,500-meter run. by: POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Eischen cant help but show off his Olympic jacket that has been recently refurbished.

After his career as an athlete, he coached and taught at Hudson Bay High School from 1957 to 1961.

Having always wanted to get into sports medicine, he went to Stanford for a graduate degree in physical therapy, which he received in 1962.

Eischen started his practice, SportsCare physical therapy in 1963.

Before 1972, Medicare did not cover physical therapy, which for some therapists was bad for business.

Being chairman of the American Physical Therapy Association’s Private Practice Legislative Committee, Eischen decided to do something about it. Over time, he became good friends with former U.S. Rep Al Ullman, a Democratic representative from Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District, who eventually helped launch the 1972 Social Security Amendments, Public Law 92-03, which allowed Medicare coverage for physical therapy.

“I think he felt for us,” Eischen said. “We were a small group at that time with only about 400 members.”

Eischen’s legislative wish finally gained some ground when Ullman became chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Eischen recalled going to see Ullman just before he went into session. He was waiting for him to come out a side door for a quick chat.

“He came out and talked to a couple people, but he looked right at me and said ‘I know what you want; I’ll stand tall for you in committee.’ And he did,” Eischen said. “That’s all it took.”

Eischen has treated athletes such as members of the Portland Trail Blazers and players in the 1965 Final Four of the NCAA Men’s Division I basketball tournament.

A proud moment for Eischen was when he had the opportunity to tape Bill Russell’s ankle when he played at the Hudson Bay Gym. Russell played for the Boston Celtics from 1956 to 1969.

Now retired, Eischen continues to work in his clinics occasionally, working directly with people, his favorite part of his career.

“All in all I’ve had a pretty nice life,” Eischen said. “I had a lot of fun with it, even as a kid.”

Eischen, like most grandpas, thinks that children today lack the ability to go out and make their own entertainment. His advice to parents is to turn off the television and tell them to go outside and do something.

And who knows? Maybe it will lead to the Olympics.