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    Ringside Doc: Nebraska Air National Guard state surgeon’s path leads him to professional boxing’s highest pinnacle

    Nebraska's state surgeon is always in your corner

    Photo By Lt. Col. Kevin Hynes | Dr. (Col.) Mark Shirley (left) poses for a photo with Terrence "Bud" Crawford, the...... read more read more



    Story by Lt. Col. Kevin Hynes 

    Joint Force Headquarters - Nebraska National Guard

    Dawn arrives late on a drizzly, mid-January morning in Blair, Nebraska. Weather forecasters have predicted that a winter storm is on the prowl, promising to bring snow and even blizzard-like conditions to much of Nebraska later in the week. As such, slate-gray skies hover closely overhead, broken by occasional wind gusts or chilly mists.

    On this Monday morning, business at the Emergency Department in Blair’s Memorial Community Hospital and Health System seems to imitate the weather outside: Quiet; Unhurried; Unremarkable. Yet, within the unhurried atmosphere there lurks anticipation, an unspoken acceptance by the staff that the lull could be broken with little notice; that pandemonium is always just moments away.

    From his office located just off the emergency department’s nursing desk, Dr. Mark Shirley – one of four full-time doctors who work at this relatively small Midwestern hospital providing medical coverage for Nebraska’s Washington County – uses the break to catch up on such administrative work as updating patient records or checking in on important hospital operations.

    Dressed in surgical scrubs, Shirley looks like any other medical doctor pulling a 24-hour emergency department shift. A small couch sits near his desk, covered by a red-and-black blanket that appears purple in the darkened office where the only illumination comes from a nearby TV. Near the couch sits a stuffed backpack and a pair of dumbbell weights.

    Even Shirley’s outwardly gregarious and extroverted personality gives little clue to the steel and determination that lie beneath his surface. As he shares jokes and work banter with his fellow Emergency Department staff members, there’s nothing that lend clues to who “Doc” Shirley is.

    Yet, upon closer examination, subtle clues emerge: closely-cropped hair; ramrod-straight posture; trim and athletic build. Yet, even these observations and clues provide little description of the amazing path that Shirley followed for more than 40 years since his early days in nearby Omaha.

    Shirley is currently a colonel in the Nebraska Air National Guard, serving as the organization’s state air surgeon where he oversees the medical support required to keep the Nebraska Air Guard’s approximately 1,000 Airmen ready to support any and every federal or state mission they’re assigned. He’s also a practicing osteopathic physician, with a long list of assignments and accomplishments, both within the private and public realms.

    Away from these medical pursuits, Shirley’s a gifted martial artist and master Martial Arts instructor who has competed, and consistently won, at the local, regional and national levels for more than four decades.

    While these three pursuits might be enough to keep most people busy, what makes Shirley extremely unique is his “other” professional career.
    For the past two decades, Shirley has used his “free” time to serve as a ringside physician – often referred to as a “Fight Doc” – for hundreds of mixed martial arts and professional boxing competitions. It’s an effort that has seen him provide medical support at the sport’s lowermost most amateur levels all the way to international boxing championships fought in front of worldwide audiences.

    It's an ongoing effort that continues to amaze those who know and work with Shirley.

    “There are others where just one of these jobs would be a fulltime position,” said Maneula Banner, president and chief executive officer for Blair’s Memorial Community Hospital and Health System. “I think he thrives on (these professional pursuits) and wouldn’t know what to do with himself if he wouldn’t have that.”

    “I really think that, for him, this isn’t a drain,” she added, “it’s an energizer.”

    In a way, there are many titles that can be used to describe Shirley: medical doctor; military officer; martial arts athlete and instructor; fight doctor.

    However, if challenged to find one single word to summarize him, “Energizer” is a pretty good fit.

    But where does the energy to pursue so many quests come from? And how does Shirley maintain balance between these separate, but interrelated efforts?

    That is where Shirley’s amazing story begins.

    Athlete from the beginning

    Mark Shirley is a proud, native Nebraskan. Born and raised in Omaha, Shirley has spent much of his life committed to athletics and striving to understand what it takes to compete at the highest levels.

    “I’ve always been a competitive athlete,” Shirley said. “I’ve always been involved in sports. I’ve always been involved in training.”

    Initially, that interest took Shirley into baseball and basketball in middle and high school. However, the true “a-hah” moment came in the late-1970s when a 17-year-old Shirley followed his older brother into a martial arts studio in Omaha.

    “It was just an instant attraction,” Shirley recalled. “Just the discipline, the technical aspect of it, the physical aspect of it and how all those things combine as a martial art.”

    If there’s such a thing as love at first sight, this was it for Shirley. Martial arts, he quickly realized, just fit precisely into a life he was already crafting for himself as a student and as an athlete.

    “I was always a fairly disciplined kid,” Shirley said. “Fairly disciplined in my sports and definitely mentally disciplined in my school studies at a very, very early age.”

    However, it was martial arts that brought things together.

    “When I started in the martial arts, I started becoming more interested in the science of training and nutrition,” he said. “That’s kind of what got me interested in the study of nutrition and health, and that’s what led me to enlist into the U.S. Naval Reserves.”

    Martial Arts Athlete

    Within the first year of training in mixed martial arts – primarily taekwondo – Shirley began to compete. First, it was in local tournaments in the Omaha area. Those soon led to more competitive regional and national tournaments.

    “It just kind of took off,” Shirley said. “I became very competitive and very successful.”

    By 1987 – less than 10 years after he had started – Shirley was ranked No. 4 nationally in the Men’s 3rd Degree Black Belt Division by the American Taekwondo Association. But rankings weren’t the true motivator, Shirley said. Rather, the entire process of training – mental, physical, spiritual – leading up to tournament competitions was the ultimate driving force.

    “I just loved the entire process,” he said. “I loved the training and how you could apply martial arts to everyday life. I loved the discipline and applying that to all aspects of my life.”

    One of the people who knew Shirley during those early days was Daniel Longoria, a fellow martial arts athlete from Lincoln, Nebraska. Longoria first became involved in martial arts in 1972, specializing in both taekwondo and karate. Before long, Longoria and Shirley began crossing paths at competitions.

    Longoria said that even early on, Shirley stood out from the crowd. “Methodical… dedicated… always had a game plan.”

    “Whenever I went up against him, I knew, ‘Okay, this is going to be a strategic fight,’” he said. “He wasn’t just a brawler. He didn’t just go out there with no plan. He always had a plan… and my goal was to figure out what that plan was and mess it up.”

    In a way, that ability to think strategically is still what sets Shirley apart, Longoria said. “You know what? He is still the same guy today as he was back then.”

    Joining the Navy, Birth of a Medical Career

    Following high school, Shirley said he wanted to stay close to home for college. The University of Nebraska-Omaha was an attractive option because it was both close and had a noted Exercise Science program.

    However, the costs of college caused Shirley some pause.

    So, like his martial arts training had taught him, he developed a plan.

    “I wanted to get my college paid for and I didn’t want to ask my parents for the money,” Shirley said.

    The solution soon became obvious. Shirley’s family had served in the U.S. Navy and a close high school friend had recently enlisted into naval service. “So, I went and talked to a recruiter and, boom, I was in.”

    After graduating with honors in 1985 from the U.S. Navy Military Basic Training in San Diego, California, and finishing No. 2 in his Naval School of Health class of 40, Shirley became a hospital corpsman in the U.S. Navy Reserve’s Fleet Hospital located at the U.S. Marine and Navy Reserve Center in Omaha.

    “(My interest in medicine started) really when I enlisted in the Navy and (began) working as a hospital corpsman out at Naval Hospital San Diego and got exposed to working with Naval physicals and medical students,” Shirley said. “That really piqued my interest.”

    “One of the commanding officers in my unit was a very close mentor of mine,” he added. “He’s really the one who was pushing me toward medicine. He’s the one who brought it to my attention that, you know you might need to be applying to medical school. I was like, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ And then I realized that it was probably going to be a good fit.”

    After graduating from UNO in May 1989, Shirley was accepted into the Osteopathic Medical Program at the University of Health Sciences in Kansas City. According to Shirley, osteopathic medicine differs from traditional medical practice in that it primarily focuses on a person’s total wellness, including mental and spiritual well-being, as well as physical fitness and nutritional health.

    “It was a good fit for me because of the holistic nature of osteopathy and the incorporation of mind and body… just this kind of holistic approach to medicine,” he said. “It was different than traditional medicine in that we thought outside of the box. We think about the body, mind and soul. We think of nutrition and things of that nature.”

    “I had already been studying exercise science, biomechanics and nutrition, so… osteopathic medical school was a perfect fit,” Shirley said.

    After being accepted into medical school, Shirley transferred to the Naval Air Reserve Center in Olathe, Kansas, where he continued to work as a hospital corpsman. A few years later, Shirley received a direct commission to the rank of lieutenant (O-3) as a U.S. Navy medical officer and then, after his 1994 graduation from medical school, he returned to his original unit in Omaha as a general medical officer.

    Building Multiple Careers

    Soon after moving back to Omaha Shirley attracted the attention of some of the city’s premier athletic organizations. Shirley eventually joined the UNO Athletic Department staff as an assistant team physician for the football and wrestling teams before becoming the associate team physician for both men’s and women’s sports in 1997, with a focus on such “high velocity sports” as football, wrestling, soccer and hockey.

    Shirley also worked in a variety of health and exercise science related positions for different corporate and athletic organizations in the Omaha metropolitan area including the Lancers semi-pro hockey team and as a volunteer faculty member at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

    After serving as a staff physician with the Physicians Clinic and Methodist Health System, Shirley decided to open a private medical practice in Omaha in 2001, which he ran for the next 17 years.

    As the years passed, Shirley continued to balance his growing family needs with those of his medical career, athletic pursuits and continued Naval service. Finally, having reached the rank of lieutenant commander, Shirley decided to retire from the Navy in October 2005.

    “I had served my 20 years and I thought I was done,” he said.

    Done, that is, until roughly five years later when one of his patients, an Omaha firefighter who also happened to be a U.S. Air Force Reserve officer, mentioned that his unit in Minneapolis needed flight doctors.

    “The next day I get a call from a recruiter,” Shirley said, laughing.

    Shirley was soon sworn back into the military, this time as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve with the Minneapolis-based 934th Airlift Wing. He would remain with the unit for the next five years, deploying overseas twice to the Pacific region and again to the Middle East for Operation Inherent Resolve, before he transferred to the Nebraska Air National Guard’s 155th Air Refueling Wing in Lincoln, Nebraska, for a similar position.

    He said the proximity of the Nebraska Air Guard unit was the main reason for the change.

    “I loved serving in the 934th and working with Airmen there,” he said, “but after a few years driving five hours one way, often in the winter; just got to be a little too much. It was just a bear.”

    The move also gave him better flexibility to support another, relatively new pursuit: ringside physician.

    Fight Doc

    Board certified in family medicine and sub-special board certified in sports medicine, Shirley said becoming a ringside physician was not something he had ever considered during the earlier parts of his medical, military and martial arts careers. That changed in roughly 2002 when he received a phone call from a longtime friend and fellow physician.

    “A good buddy of mine is an orthopedic surgeon, who I’ve known for 35 years. He gave me a call on a Saturday afternoon saying that there was an event in Lincoln, Nebraska, that needs a ringside doc,” Shirley said. “It was mixed martial arts and he wasn’t going to be available.”

    “Would I be available?”

    A simple question that would open a surprising new chapter into an already extremely successful and memorable career.

    After agreeing to fill in, Shirley said his friend dropped off a few suture kits that might be needed that evening. “I threw them into my bag and I was off to Lincoln and worked my first event,” Shirley said.

    Shirley admitted he felt extremely apprehensive as he made the hourlong trip to Lincoln that afternoon. “Just not knowing what to do, not knowing how far to let thing go, not knowing what needs help and what doesn’t,” he said. “Just knowing that I needed to learn how to navigate that venue.”

    Shirley said he was hooked by the time the evening event was over.

    “From then until now, I’ve done probably 4,000 pro-am MMA fights, over 100 Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fights,” Shirley added. “I’ve also done several Golden Glove boxing events and have been the chief ring-side physician for 11 World Championship Boxing events.”

    As a ringside physician, Shirley is responsible for the health and welfare of the participating athletes, both before, during and after the fight. The Association of Ringside Physicians is responsible for establishing the industry standards for the field.

    Shirley said a typical event begins the day before the fight when the athletes undergo their pre-fight physicals and weigh-in. The next day, hours before the action begins, Shirley meets with the athletic commission officials overseeing the fight, the referees and the emergency medical technicians and paramedics.

    He then stands ringside monitoring the action and evaluating the damage each fighter takes, ensuring the athletes are physically able to defend themselves and are medically okay to proceed. Working with the referee, Shirley has the final say on whether the fight can proceed.

    Finally, after the fight is complete, Shirley works with the fighters to make sure that they receive medical attention. More importantly, he checks in with athletes the days following a fight to ensure they haven’t sustained significant, unseen injuries during the competition.

    It’s a huge responsibility that can have far-reaching impact on the fighters and their families. Shirley said his personal experience as a martial arts athlete helped him develop and maintain a high level of trust and credibility among other athletes, many of whom are extremely driven to reach the higher levels of their sport.

    “(Credibility) is extremely important,” he said. “When fighters find out my background, it tends to give me a level of credibility because they know that I’ve been where they are right now, and that I have their best interests at heart.”

    “This experience also helps me when I work in various venues to be able to identify possible problems… and be in the mix,” he said.

    Protecting Fighters From Themselves

    Shirley’s athletic, military and medical experience are extremely important, even if they’re somewhat hard to fully quantify, said Longoria, who is now a grand master and owner of Longoria’s Tactical Martial Arts school in Lincoln, Nebraska.

    “As a ring doctor, he’s invaluable to the community of fighters,” Longoria said. “He’s a fighter. He’s always been a fighter. He’s always been in athletics. He’s always been into nutrition.”

    “He is so well versed in the fight mentality that he just brings something, I think, more than the other doctors have because he knows what’s happening in the ring. He knows what kind of hits they’re taking. He’s more cognizant, I think, of ‘This is what I’m looking for. Is this guy hurt?’” Longoria said.

    “Right away he’s able to see something that maybe somebody who’s never had that experience can’t see. It’s one thing to know what contact is… it’s another to actually experience contact,” he added. “Sometimes, the average person doesn’t see all that’s going on…. he does.”

    Part of that vision, Longoria said, stems from Shirley’s personal experiences as a martial artist and his innate understanding of the various motivations that fuel a fighter, both inside and outside of the ring.

    “He understands the mentality of a fighter,” Longoria said. “Once you’re in fight mode, you’re like, ‘I’m not stopping until I cannot go any longer.’ Unfortunately, that does, at times, get the guy in trouble… ‘I’m okay, I’m okay…’ No, you’re not okay.”

    “Doc can see that,” Longoria said. “His main goal is not the fight now, but the longevity of what this fighter might have, whether it be a career or just in his life and his livelihood.”

    John Bell is a good example Shirley’s commitment to caring for fighters. A native of Omaha, Bell competed in wrestling in high school while dabbling in jujitsu on the side. Bell recently began competing in taekwondo where he currently holds a blackbelt. He’s also a veteran of the mixed martial arts competitive circuit.

    One afternoon in late November while working out at “Mick Doyle’s Kickboxing and Fitness Center” in Omaha, Bell stopped his workout to spend a few minutes talking with Shirley, exchanging jokes while also providing the doctor with an update on his current training regimen, fight schedule and medical condition.

    Later, Bell said that he enjoys talking with Shirley whenever he sees him.

    “He’s a great guy,” said Bell, who met Shirley at an earlier MMA fight during the pre-competition physical. “I see him around quite a bit.”

    Yet, even though he has known Shirley professionally for some time, Bell admitted he didn’t know the doctor’s full background until he mentioned it during their conversation at the gym that afternoon. “It’s cool knowing that he’s been here where I’m at. It makes me feel 100 percent even more confident in him because he knows what’s going on in the ring and during the fight…. That just makes me feel all that much more secure.”

    “I know that he’s not going to let the fight go too long, or end it too quick,” he added.

    While Bell is just one of hundreds of amateur and professional fighters working to move up the sport’s rankings, one athlete who sings Shirley’s praises is a professional boxer who has already achieved international fame and worldwide name recognition.

    Terence “Bud” Crawford is an Omaha native who is currently the reigning and undisputed World Boxing Organization’s Welterweight boxing champion. Crawford, who has held the title since 2018, is currently 40-0 and ranked by ESPN as the best active boxer, pound for pound, in the world.

    He is also friends with Shirley.

    “I first met Doc Shirley about 10 years ago through another doctor. I saw him at some MMA matches and started to get to know him more and more. We just developed a friendship from there,” Crawford said.

    Shirley was on hand as a ringside physician during Crawford’s first professional fight. That then led to Shirley “having the honor” of being the chief ringside physician for all 10 of Crawford’s WBO title defenses in Omaha. Shirley agreed that what began as a professional doctor-fighter relationship has developed into a true friendship.

    “He’s just a really special person to get the opportunity to talk to and get to know,” Shirley said.

    According to Crawford, Shirley’s dedication to the sport and the fighters is evident from the moment a person meets him. “He always makes sure that I’m okay and that nothing is bothering me after a fight,” Crawford said. “I just give him a huge amount of credit for not just doing the fight, but for actually caring about the fighter.”

    “He checks in with you and takes the time to talk to you and get to know you,” Crawford added. “That’s pretty important… just having that person to call and bounce suggestions off of them to get their professional opinion.”

    Crawford agreed with Bell that Shirley’s experience in the ring, and out of it, are extremely important attributes that have helped him gain the trust of fighters, no matter what discipline they compete in.

    “He knows what we’re going through,” Crawford said. “He’s been where we’re at…. People who have gotten their nose broken or their ribs broken. It makes it great to have someone in your corner who knows you, who understands what you’re doing and going through, and who has your best interests at heart.”

    Ultimately, Crawford said, it’s that last aspect that has the most personal importance to him.

    “His job is to make sure that the fighters are protected and that they are going to be able to live their lives outside of the ring,” he said.

    “Ultimately, his job is to protect the fighters from themselves. He watches them and determines if they’re able to continue to defend themselves and to make sure that they are not taking too much punishment.”

    “There’s a life outside of the ring,” Crawford said, adding that considering the relatively short length of a typical professional fighter’s career, the work that Shirley does is critical to ensuring fighters are able to have a functioning life when they hang up their gloves. “As a fighter, it’s good to know that you have a physician there watching you and making sure that you’re okay,” Crawford added.

    Bell agreed. “You may not like it when Doc ends a fight… but you know that he’s doing it to protect the fighters. And that makes it easier to accept.”

    That’s a high compliment, Shirley said, adding that when fighters understand his role as a fight doctor, his background as a competitor and military officer, and accept that his only job is to protect them, it makes his work during the hectic moments of a bout’s culminating moment all that much easier.

    “It’s our job to look out for the health and welfare of the fighter. That’s the number one most important job for a fight doctor,” Shirley said, adding that working with fighters isn’t all that much different than working with military warriors. “Once they get into that mindset where they get the mission and get the objectives, a lot of them will keep pushing, pushing, pushing to get to the final objective and get the mission accomplished the same way that a fighter wants to get their mission accomplished.”

    “I’m there to be able to monitor them and to be able to put the brakes on them as deemed necessary,” he said.

    Developing a Balance

    So, how does he do it? How does a busy physician balance a medical career, military service and various athletic pursuits with the normal demands of everyday family life?

    “I’m an adrenaline junkie,” Shirley said, laughing about his work in the emergency room, adding that this love of fast-paced activities extends into his other pursuits as well. It’s not easy, Shirley admits, but he really couldn’t see himself doing anything else.

    “(Maintaining balance) is a huge challenge at times and my wife does a great job of keeping me on the straight and narrow,” Shirley said, during a short break during his shift at the hospital emergency room in Blair.

    “There are some times where my schedule between the three venues will be so busy over a three-day weekend where people will go, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ because I will get off of a 24-hour shift here and I will go from scrubs to a flight suit and drive to Lincoln for drill, get off of drill, go to the hotel, change into my ringside stuff, go back to the hotel, get back into my flight suit the next morning, go to drill and then go home.”

    Fortunately, he said, his family has always been a key support structure.

    And part of that support is due to their engagement with martial arts.
    Shirley and his wife, Pamela, first met in a taekwondo class he was teaching. Having a wife who understands his passion for the sport made things much easier, he said. “My wife is a second-degree black belt, so the common interest made it very doable moving forward,” he said. “She is my main proponent, motivator and backer… she is always there backing me up.”

    According to Shirley, he and his wife’s goals and pursuits – she is a longtime airline attendant – helped establish important models for their children to follow.

    “They are used to seeing me in all of these different activities throughout life. So, they know that hard work and goal-setting is a priority… it’s extremely important,” he said. “But also, my wife being a flight attendant for the airlines for 34 years and constantly coming and going… we’ve done this together, and we’ve been together for 40 years.”

    The modelling seems to have worked. The couple’s eldest son, Grant, received his first-degree black belt at age 10, and continues to be very active in fitness training while also serving a petty officer second class in the U.S. Naval Reserve as a Seabee. Their daughter, Malia, is pursuing a career in osteopathic medicine and is currently in her first year of medical school at Kansas City University. And their youngest son, Mason, is currently working toward a career in law enforcement.

    That level of commitment hasn’t been lost on those outside of Shirley’s immediate family, either. Co-workers and friends have also taken note of Shirley’s activities, often with a sense of overwhelming awe.

    “He is probably one of our most dynamic physicians in the E.R.,” said Banner. “Knowing his background, you have to be dynamic to even put all of those things in their own buckets and continue to make that all work without dropping something.”

    “And he is definitely not someone who drops anything,” she added.

    Shirley’s ability to balance multiple efforts simultaneously is what makes him such a good E.R. physician where the environment can often be extremely dynamic and often quickly changing, she said. It also serves as an incredible model for others about what a driven person can really do if he or she puts their mind to it.

    “For me as an administrator to have someone with his background working here, it adds to the richness of our internal culture,” Banner said.

    “His leadership ability is huge, especially as a physician who, due to his seniority, plays a significant leadership role here.”

    “But also, his involvement in all these other activities shows people… here’s this person who is doing all this stuff and he still comes back with this renewed energy.”

    Others have noticed as well.

    “He’s an absolute legend in our community,” said Jeffrey Nodelman, a Disney animator who also serves as the chief executive officer for Global Traditional Martial Arts (GTMA) where Shirley serves as the director of Fitness and Nutrition. GTMA, which was founded in January 2021, currently has 235 different clubs located in 18 different countries.

    “Martial artists, by our very nature, are very motivated and very disciplined. And a lot of us have different pursuits outside of martial arts as well,” Nodelman said. “However, when you hear about a person who is an accomplished martial artist who is also a medical doctor who is also a colonel in the Air National Guard… well, that was someone that I wanted to meet.”

    “He is basically five different people in one single body. And to be able to work with someone like that, it’s extremely inspiring,” Nodelman said, adding, “I’ve never seen him have a down moment. I learn so much from watching him and talking to him.”

    Grand Master Todd Droege, agrees. A fellow leader within GTMA, Droege first met Shirley in the mid-1980s when they competed against each other. Several decades later, they met up again and became friends, based in part on their shared martial arts interests and the fact that Droege’s wife is a retired U.S. Air Force master sergeant.

    “He’s a master technician on the idea of maintaining balance in your life. He’s also a master tactician on how to achieve this balance,” Droege said. “Since I’ve gotten to know him again, I trust him 1,000 percent in everything he does or says.”

    Droege said another aspect about Shirley is that he is still very much the same person as he was several decades ago.

    “He’s got a lot more irons in the fire now, but he hasn’t changed much from when I first met him… he’s just so much better at doing it now,” he said. “He also has what we call the ‘colonel voice,’ which helps our organization tremendously.”

    “He just does such a good job of balancing his work as a martial artist, as a judge, as a doctor, as a colonel or as a ringside physician.”

    Giving Back

    Although Shirley loves the work he’s doing, he knows that time in at least one of his three main pursuits is probably drawing to a close. With more than 30 years of military service, retirement is probably in the near future.

    Yet, even though his time might… and he stresses the word ‘might’ … be getting short, he still wants to leave an impact on his fellow Nebraska Air National Guardsmen. So, for the last few months he’s been working with the Nebraska Air National Guard Public Affairs Office to create what he calls “Fit to Fight” nutritional classes. It’s a continuation of an effort he began in the U.S. Air Force Reserves.

    Shirley said the classes came from a need he saw after talking with numerous Airmen about the challenges of maintaining good physical fitness. Those conversations were often similar to ones he had as a physician, and as a fight doctor, or in his medical and research studies, which has led to multiple articles and books over the course of his career.

    “I just saw a missing link in so many avenues that I’m involved in… physical fitness and medical prevention,” he said. “(People) seem to be disciplined on a lot of other stuff other than their nutrition. So, when I saw an opening in that and started doing presentations, people were interested in learning about what I had to say.”

    The goal, he said, is to provide Nebraska Airmen, Soldiers and their families with information on the impact that good nutrition can have on overall physical fitness. The classes he developed for his fellow military members are similar to instructions he gives to athletes he works with at GTMA. He draws from decades of experience in emergency, occupational, and sports medicine as well as from working for the Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Hawaii or such local athletic programs as the University of Nebraska-Omaha, the Omaha Lancers and the Omaha Nighthawks football team.

    Here is a link to the presentation series Shirley developed for the Nebraska Air National Guard:

    Shirley said the response has been better than he’d ever expected.

    “Phenomenal response,” he said, “not only on social media, but in texts, phone calls and emails, and just being stopped in the hallways.”

    “People really are interested in finding ways to improve their fitness and their overall health,” he said. “Hopefully some of what I have to offer can help them do just that.”

    That’s also part of the reason why Shirley said he continues to find ways to give back to the martial arts community as well.

    “(I) always kept in touch with my martial arts friends and colleagues from my early training days,” Shirley said, who also owned several martial arts gyms over the years, including one in Florida. “Everything came full circle several years ago when I reconnected with Grand Master G.K. Lee and his wife Apprentice Grand Master Kathy Lee. We quickly relived memories from nearly 40 years ago in Panama City, Florida (and) discussed the current state of martial arts.”

    Shortly after testing for his Sixth-Degree Black Belt under Lee, Shirley joined the GTMA effort with the goal of passing on a lifetime’s lessons to young athletes just beginning their own unique journeys.

    “We are looking to complete the biopsychosocial wheel of body, mind and soul,” Shirley said. “Our goal is to maximize human performance through peak nutrition, conditioning and top-level martial arts training.”

    Looking Forward to the Next Chapters

    Even if his military career comes to a close, Shirley said he has no plans to slow down. There’s still much to do. Patients still need to be cared for. Fighters still need medical support. New experiences still wait to be uncovered.

    “You know, I’ve talked with quite a few folks about (military retirement) and they always say that you will know when it’s time… and I think I am starting to get there,” Shirley said.

    “But even if I do retire from the military, I don’t see myself slowing down,” he said. “It will just open up some additional time for me to better manage these other pursuits and perhaps give me some additional time to pursue them even further.”

    “I just feel like there’s still so much out there for me to do, to experience… and hopefully people who I can give back to,” Shirley added. “I think that’s what’s going to motivate me in the future.”

    A champion’s heart, through and through.



    Date Taken: 09.18.2023
    Date Posted: 09.18.2023 14:17
    Story ID: 453678
    Location: LINCOLN, NE, US
    Hometown: BLAIR, NE, US
    Hometown: OMAHA, NE, US

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