He’s the ‘go-to guy’ for athletes who fear injury might end their careers: physio-guru-magician Gerard ‘Ger’ Hartmann.
For a man whose worldwide reputation is the product of endless hours of arduous manual labour, Gerard Hartmann’s hands are surprisingly soft. The firm grip is expected from a man at the very top of his field, but the hand that makes it could easily belong to a teenager just striking out into the workplace rather than a 51-year-old about to reflect on a physically demanding career.
Countless world-class athletes in myriad sports from more than 20 nations have been kneaded back into life by Hartmann, whose reputation as a miracle worker spans the globe.
The secret to youthful hands, it transpires, is a healthy alcohol-free diet, a positive outlook and the endless gallons of tiger balm soaked into his tenacious digits over two decades of teasing finely tuned musculoskeletal systems back into balance. Boundless energy may also be a factor. Just a few minutes in the company of the Limerick native is exhausting, as he powers through topic after topic with three different people, all the while pummelling away at the body of this morning’s star client. Incredibly, Hartmann claims that a recent stomach condition has reduced his famous power-station energy levels – which begs the question, what was he like before?
“My vitality is probably a level seven as opposed to level 10,” he booms in his broad Munster accent. “The Duracell is definitely down a few beats. I am very careful with the clients I take as I just don’t have the ability at the moment to go and give, give, give all day.”
Name: Gerard Hartmann
Rock stars and other non-sportspeople also have Hartmann as their ‘go-to back guy’, but any inclination to see the gregarious former champion triathlete as merely a guru to the celebrities would be a folly.
The walls of his impeccably presented private clinic are covered with framed photos, jerseys, singlets and truly touching letters of gratitude from once-vulnerable athletes made strong again by the force of his will, often in the face of medical advice to the contrary. He has an extraordinary collection of medals and trophies from grateful athletes, many of which are stored in the Hartmann Collection, a museum at the University of Limerick. Among his proudest possessions is one he keeps at home: the 1988 marathon silver medal given to him by Douglas Wakiihuri.
Hartmann’s renown is, as a result, at least as strong in the remotest parts of the Kenyan Rift Valley as it is in his native Limerick, which helps explain the presence of Vivian Cheruiyot on a massage plinth in the treatment rooms alongside his spacious rural Limerick home.
A niggling ankle injury needs remedial attention and the reigning world 5,000 and 10,000m champion has dashed straight from victory in a Diamond League meet in Rome to Limerick for a series of sessions with Hartmann.
Nothing can be left to chance. Cheruiyot, 28, has worked with Hartmann for years and the many times track and cross-country world champion wouldn’t settle for anything less than the best.That Hartmann is the best is undisputed among his clients, but just what it is that makes him so special seems difficult to articulate. Is it a particular technique in his treatment, perhaps? Or the psychological benefits of a seemingly unshakeable confidence in his own ability? Or is it simply just that he is the fashionable ‘go-to guy’ for famous people?
It’s most probably a combinationof all three, but the latter ingredient seems unlikely to have any value in isolation given his enduring success over 22 years. He’s no snake oil salesman.
Exactly what constitutes the alchemy that has made him so successful is yet to be fully defined. For her part Cheruiyot contents herself with a smile and an oft-repeated phrase: “He has blessed hands,” as she works her way through the chicken salad prepared by Hartmann after their session.
“Vivian Cheruiyot says I have ‘blessed hands’ and that’s her view. If they feel that, and she’s willing to come here. I just sometimes have to ask myself, ‘Jeez, what have I got?’ What is it? So it’s an enigma. And when someone is an enigma, you can’t really understand [what they’re about]. “Look, the perception is, the person on the table, if they believe in Ger Hartmann, they’re going to get better, ’cause they already have the belief.”
If Cheruiyot seems a passive victim, Hartmann doesn’t hesitate when asked who his most demanding client has been to date. “If I have any grey hairs, it’s because of Paula Radcliffe. As a clinician, it was very hard work,” he says.
Read the full story in September's issue of The Red Bulletin.