Making an Impact on Sports in Alabama and Beyond

Ann B. DeBellis

Making an Impact on Sports in Alabama and Beyond
 When your vocation and avocation are one and the same, it makes going to work every day a pleasure and recreation time more meaningful. Lawrence Lemak, MD, has turned his love for sports into a lifetime commitment to helping athletes recover from injuries and, in the process, has established a nationally renowned orthopedic sports medicine practice. His passion for the health and safety of athletes of all ages and for the enjoyment of sports in general has led him to establish several organizations that have left a mark on the sports community in the state of Alabama.

"I played sports growing up and am still interested in sports. It is always something fun to do," says Lemak, chief executive of Lemak Sports Medicine and Orthopedics in Birmingham. "The other aspect is working games and treating the athletes and helping them regain their health after an injury. I like putting things back together and it is fun spending time with the athletes."

Lemak has practiced sports medicine from the beginning of his medical career. Even in the Army, he took care of athletes who were injured in base athletic competitions. "Treating athletes is memorable because I get to see the injury as it happens, especially from the sidelines in football, and I can assess the injury on the field," he says. "Then I see the player in my office to do diagnostics, correct the problem and help get him or her back on the field."

In addition to sports medicine, Lemak also specializes in arthroscopy and reconstruction of the knee, shoulder, hip and elbow. He has published numerous articles in medical journals and is a faculty member of the Minimally Invasive Surgery and Computer-Assisted Orthopaedic Surgery Symposium. Lemak, who also serves as Orthopedic Medical Director for Community Health Systems, is a member of the Board of Trustees of Alabama State University and serves as a medical advisor to more than 10 orthopedic medical companies.

Over the past 20 years, Lemak has treated more than 2,000 professional football players in his role as medical director of the NFL's Europe League, the United Football League, and Major League Soccer. In April, he signed a deal with the City of Birmingham for Lemak Sports Medicine and Orthopedics to provide medical services for athletes and events at the Crossplex indoor track and field and natatorium facility in Birmingham's Five Points West.

In addition to his work with professional sports athletes, Lemak also serves as team physician for many colleges and high schools. "My relationship with the high school programs is one of the things I have enjoyed the most over the years," he says.

Lemak has been Medical Director for the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) for most of his career. He also is a member of the Medical Advisory Board of Pop Warner Football and USA Football. He is passionate about safety at all levels of sports, and 11 years ago Lemak recognized a need to teach coaches in youth sports to recognize potentially serious injuries. "In some instances coaches may be the only responsible adults on the field, and they need to know what to do - and just as importantly what NOT to do - for the injured player until medical help arrives," he says.

In 2001, Lemak founded the National Center for Sports Safety (NCSS), which has led to a decrease in the number and severity of injuries to players in youth leagues as well as high schools. The program has saved lives and is catching on throughout the Southeast. In the states of Alabama, Georgia and Florida, participation in the NCSS is mandatory for high school coaches. Lemak says they currently are working on the same requirement for Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana. The program also is mandatory in the City of Hoover for youth and recreation coaches. "It's nice when you can have a full medical team on hand like in professional sports and major college programs," he says, "but if you are in Small Town, Alabama, you want the coach to be educated in safety."

Lemak's dedication to these young athletes resulted in his being the first physician inducted into the AHSAA Hall of Fame. He also is one of only five physicians currently serving on the National Federation of High Schools Medical Advisory Board.

Lemak also enjoys teaching other orthopedic physicians about sports medicine and conducting research to advance the field. He founded the American Sports Medicine Institute, a research and educational institute, which has produced volumes of research for sports medicine and has educated more than 250 orthopedic surgeons and family practitioners in sports medicine.

A love for sports in his local community led to Lemak's founding of the Alabama Sports Foundation in 1996 following a successful hosting of the Olympic Soccer Games in Birmingham that same year. The foundation's mission is to bring the highest level of sports competition to Birmingham. "The foundation promotes sports activities for our city, and by bringing such events as the SEC Baseball Tournament and the Magic City Classic we can offer a better quality of life for our residents from a recreational perspective," he says.

In recognition of his many sports and sports medicine endeavors in the community, Lemak was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame with the Distinguished Sportsman Award in 1997. He also is the recipient of numerous awards for service to the community, including Outstanding Alabamian Award and Businessman of the Year.

A few years ago, Lemak moved his hospital-based practice from Brookwood Medical Center to Trinity Hospital. His practice has grown from one to 10 locations since the move. "This change has been fun for me. Trinity has accommodated our practice and is helping us expand. They also provide the resources we need to take care of athletes," Lemak says.

Trinity owns the rights to the digital hospital on U.S. Highway 280, a hospital that Lemak helped to design. "Designing that facility is one of the most exciting things I have done," he says."I've come full circle and look forward to practicing in that hospital. It will be one of the best facilities in Birmingham, the State of Alabama, and the Southeast."