Dimitri Tsoumpas can laugh at the irony.
All those years spent inflicting pain on others as a bruising member of the Calgary Stampeders offensive line. Now the focus has changed. Gone in the opposite direction actually.
Calling himself the Strength Shaman, the first-round CFL draft pick and perennial all-star guard has applied the skills he learned healing himself to relieving the pain of others.
“All the guys on my team … it was good to help them,” Tsoumpas said with a laugh.
Since retiring due to concussions after the 2013 season, Tsoumpas has spent the past three years working as an assistant strength coach with the Stamps, helping turn around an injury situation that was at a record high in the previous two campaigns.
That relationship has now ended though as Tsoumpas has branched out on his own to work with us regular folk — those who suffer from pain despite never suiting up for the battle of a CFL game.
Tsoumpas and the Stamps couldn’t work out an arrangement, so the former lineman has left behind football entirely, even leaving his job as an assistant coach with the University of Calgary Dinos.
There are no numbers to really back up what Tsoumpas did in his time as an active player. Sure, you could point to rushing stats or sacks allowed, but the 31-year-old is happier with the numbers he put up in his post-playing days.
In 2012 and 2013, the Stamps were plagued by injuries, but still managed to make the Grey Cup and then host the West final in consecutive years. Each year ended in defeat though, and Tsoumpas figured he could help.
After the 2013 West final loss, when the Stamps were run over by the Saskatchewan Roughriders rushing attack due to a rash of injuries on the defensive line — most notably ACL tears — Tsoumpas pitched a way to reduce them through strength and conditioning.
By the 2015 season, ACL injuries were gone and the Stamps hoisted the Grey Cup in 2014.
“Comparing 2015 to 2013, we reduced the number of injuries by 71 per cent and number of games lost to injury by 75 per cent,” Tsoumpas said.
“We overcame the barrier in the playoffs. We were fielding the starting lineup. That was the difference.”
Tsoumpas is almost unrecognizable from his rookie season of 2008 where he earned a starting spot out of training camp and helped the Stamps win the Grey Cup that year. He’s proof that diet and fitness can help transform a body, but it didn’t come easy obviously.
After suffering a concussion the wiped out his 2013 season, it took a lot of healing to make himself feel better, but he found physical pain relief helped his mental state in retirement.
While working out of Ascension Fitness in Calgary, Tsoumpas is trying to help others heal themselves through his technique, which is based on a combination of motion and joint exercise and strength training.
“I have a couple of clients who suffer from depression. We cleaned up their diet, got them an exercise program, got them focused and feeling productive and it was huge,” Tsoumpas said.
“I’ve read a lot of books on psychology and they talk about planning and being productive and taking charge of your body. When you are active, you feel great. It’s just getting over that initial hurdle. If you have that time booked with a trainer, you will come and do it. Trainers are huge for accountability.
“We are all suffering from injuries. We all have aches and pains. I’m taking it one step forward. I have a model here that speaks for itself and I want to extend it to the public.”
If the Stamps start suffering from the injury bug in the 2017 the way they did in 2012-13, the loss of Tsoumpas might have something to do with it. He left the program with many players, and still works with a handful of them, but if he’s not there to push them, someone else will have to do that job.
When he was an active player, he learned that taking care of himself was a 24/7 job, and he started to follow the model set by former centre Jamie Crysdale, who played 210 straight games from the early 1990s to mid-2000s.
In the latter half of his career though, Tsoumpas raised a lot of eyebrows when he would be in the weight room after home games, working out long after his teammates were celebrating their achievements elsewhere.
It was all by design.
“If you take care of your body after games, it helps a lot,” Tsoumpas said. “People always used to give me heck for working out after games. I would feel so much better the next day.
“At the rundown, I would feel recovered. It’s about blood flow. When I was at rundown I would feel better and then during the week I would be better able to do the work. By week 12 or 13 I would be doing great and I could see other guys struggling to get by.”
Tsoumpas has the model for feeling good as the body ages. It won’t come cheap to the general public of course.
But he’s banking that there are enough people out there that can’t put a price on their body, seeing as how it’s the only one they get.
Of course, there will be an endless number of retired football players he knows looking to deal with pain in the future. Tsoumpas feels he holds the path to a pain-free life.
“A lot of people have aches and pains and just take some Advil,” Tsoumpas said. “That doesn’t work. You have to help your body overcome these things. Through physical activity you can cure a lot of ailments.”