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Published: Tuesday, 1/18/2011

Mealer seeks new rehab facility after Michigan changes

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Brock Mealer may be unassisted as he takes his next step toward walking again.

Mealer's famous relationship with the University of Michigan's football strength and conditioning staff, one built on conquering the unlikely goal of Mealer recovering full function in his lower body, has probably come to an end.

The majority of Mike Barwis' strength staff will not be retained by new Wolverines coach Brady Hoke, which means Mealer may no longer have access to the people and equipment that have helped him make dramatic advancements in recovering from a car accident on Christmas eve in 2007.

Under Barwis and assistant strength coach Parker Whiteman, Mealer, 26, progressed from having a one percent chance of ever walking again to now being able to walk 60 yards with the assistance of one cane. Mealer, the brother of UM offensive lineman Elliott Mealer and a Wauseon native, led the Wolverines onto the field in their season opening game in September.

Michigan's weight facility had the appropriate space, people, and highly technical equipment for Mealer to train. Now the crew is searching for a new gym.

"Just trying to find something that will work for our use," Mealer said. "I'm not sure what their future is either."

Barwis and Whiteman continued to work with Mealer even after coach Rich Rodriguez was dismissed two weeks ago, but that ended when Hoke was hired last week.

Mealer is hoping the new staff permits him to use the facility, possibly to work out with Elliott. It won't be the same arrangement though. Barwis and Whiteman have spent the past 20 months engaged in an effort to help Mealer. They know his strengths and weaknesses, and which motivational triggers to push. Should Barwis and Whiteman move away, it is possible, although unlikely, that Mealer will follow them.

"At this point, I would probably just be able to keep up my workouts on my own with a friend," Mealer said.

Training at Ohio State, where Mealer is a graduate student, is not currently an option. Mealer is taking some time off from school because he wishes to spend more time speaking at different events, sharing his motivational story. He may take online classes.

"I'm really happy with how far I've come but far from being satisfied," Mealer said. "I was really disappointed the change was made. I still love Michigan football, so I'm hoping for the best for the coaches that were here and for the coaches coming in."

Hoke has appointed Aaron Wellman as strength coach. Wellman trained Hoke's players at San Diego State the last two years and previously worked at Michigan State and Indiana. Monday, Wellman hired Bowling Green's Aaron Hillmann as his assistant. Hillmann spent 10 years at BG and most recently oversaw the entire strength department.

Mealer said assistant UM strength coach Jim Plocki, who has worked at Michigan for 21 years, has been retained.

As for Barwis, Mealer believes the highly enthusiastic and passionate man will resurface at another university and possibly reunite with Rodriguez somewhere next year. Barwis, who served under Rodriguez at West Virginia, made $190,000 per year at Michigan while also operating his strength training company, Barwis Methods.

"I believe he'll want to be somewhere where he can work with a football team and have that family atmosphere," Mealer said. "I have no idea where his next move is going to be but he'll have lots of options, I think."

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com or 419-724-6160.



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