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Born to Perform - Book Reviews

Gerard Hartmann – Born to Perform

Review by John O’Sullivan

Born To Perform, by Gerard Hartmann is an autobiographical story-so-far of Ireland’s most renowned Physical Therapist. It traces how his life has intersected with the early years of triathlon at home and abroad and then, when forced to leave a sport he dominated at National level, how he very quickly established himself as Physical Therapist to the elite stars of the international athletic and sporting worlds.

The book is written as a personal account, benefitting from what’s been fairly described as a lively and jaunty style. The telling is not constrained by standard structures or formalities and benefits from this, perhaps also reflecting the author’s personality, for Hartmann is truly unique in what he has achieved and in how he presents it.

The book opens with him in hospital, hip broken, identity shattered and contemplating the sickeningly premature end to his sporting career. A wandering armadillo has scuttled his dreams of an eighth All-Ireland triathlon victory and doctors have told him to leave a sport in which he has excelled. True to form, Hartmann doesn’t dwell on the profound disappointment that a career-ending injury can bring, but moves quickly to the decision to focus on a new path and become the ‘best that he can be’. A theme throughout is the energy, positivity and commitment he brings to his life and his endeavours. In changing profession we see how effective he is in the application of this philosophy, finding enthusiasm and purpose somewhere from the ashes of a brilliant sporting career. For whatever accolade he achieved as a competitor, all is surpassed in his second coming as a Physical Therapist.

The Hartmann patient-list reads as a who’s-who in sport. His timely interventions by all accounts guide even the most seriously injured athletes from the treatment table through the tape as winners and champions. Local, national and international stars benefit from his care and the book is thick with testimonials; each breathless recommendation exceeding the previous.

Scarcely a year into his course he found himself as adviser to a young – and injured - Sonia O’Sullivan. Barely graduated, Hartmann is then assigned as therapist to the Atlanta Olympics in 1992 and Carl Lewis - the sensation of the Games is among the first on his treatment couch. From then on, Hartmann’s magic hands touch an astounding array of Olympic athletes; 61 to date and counting.

If you were hoping to read treatment tips or therapeutic techniques to embellish everyday practise, the book would be a disappointment. Or, if you thought that he somehow took the lessons he learned from the care provided his own injuries and applied them as a template to help him achieve excellence in practise – you’d be wrong again. What the book does, is to give a clear picture of the energy, drive and passion that Hartmann brought first to his sport and subsequently to the treatment couch. It is entertaining and inspirational in equal measure and leaves the reader sensing a wealth of untold stories. Gerard believes in stressing the positive and that the psychological wound must heal just as well as the muscular for the rehabilitation to be effective or complete. It is testament to the man that he returned to his sport, completed the infamous Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon and achieved gold in his age-group when he reached the summit in the Marmotte, never allowing the post accident prognosis to put a ceiling to his ambition or a limit to his achievement.

The armadillo who inadvertently brought a premature end to a young man’s dreams seems to have at least been the indirect salvation of hundreds more in steering a new world-class therapist into a career where he truly has made a difference.


Reviewed by advocatodiabolo 

Born to Perform is the autobiography of a driven man with incredible self-belief and an utter one-off. Ger Hartmann was at the forefront of the development of triathlon as a viable sport in Ireland in the 1980s, and has done likewise with the profession of physical therapy. 

A seven-time Irish national triathlon champion and a three-time finisher of the gruelling Hawaiian Ironman, Hartmann’s athletics career ended during a training ride when an armadillo scuttled across Highway 441 outside Gainesville, Florida, knocking him off his bike onto the hard shoulder, and splitting his hip in two. Only for the helicopter ride speeding up his delivery to the hospital he would have lost his leg.

His recovery and journey back to a meaningful life was helped by him qualifying as a physical therapist four months prior to the accident. He threw himself into his new profession with the zeal and passion that was evident in his previous life as a tri-athlete, and quickly assumed the mantle of being sports therapist to the stars.

Calvin Smith, Carl Lewis, Leroy Burrell, Mark McCoy, Linford Christie, Moses Kiptenui, William Sigei, Kelly Holmes, Sonia O’Sullivan, Keith Wood, Ronan O’Gara, Henry Shefflin and Sean Og O’ hAilpin are just a few of the many high profile names that Hartmann has treated. He’s probably best known for getting Paula Radcliffe into the fantastic shape that saw her set the women’s world marathon record of 2 hours, 15 minutes and 25 seconds.

He took the same approach to writing this autobiography that he did to every other challenge he has faced and sustained writer’s cramp and inflammation of the ribs for his troubles. It’s written in his unique style with minimal editorial interference and doesn’t suffer for it.

Life never seems to be dull around him and he’s possibly one of very few men who could get away with roaring “For Christ sake, where are you going?” at a Garda. The Garda in question led him down the wrong street in the Tralee triathlon and cost him the race. Other interesting tales include him and his training partner being shot at by a redneck in a pick-up truck, after Hartmann had given him the middle digit in appreciation at having been nearly knocked over, as well as the sabotage of his bike at the National Championships. It’s also hard not to delight in him settling a few scores with fat-gutted officialdom and self-important sponsors.

It was probably too much to hope for a story about him being chased across the plains by a fleet of squad cars but the suspicion is that there is a bit of the devil about Ger Hartmann and we could have done with seeing a bit more of that.

He gives the most plausible explanation so far as to Sonia O’ Sullivan’s dreadful experience at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, and broaches the sad subject of male suicide which is currently ravaging communities across Ireland.

The book doesn’t explicitly state what Hartmann has over other physical therapists but his work ethic and passion are astonishing and he seems to give his clients something on the spiritual and mental side that others don’t.

Everyone seems to come away feeling good for having either met or been treated by Ger Hartmann, and even my busted plantar fascia feels better for my having read this book.