With 37 years as a doctor to athletes, Patrick Zim Pearce – known as P.Z. – has retired from the Spokane sports medicine pillar he helped build.
Clearing his Champions Sports Medicine office, Pearce reflected on stints as team physician for the Spokane Indians, Spokane Chiefs, Eastern Washington University and Seattle Seahawks – both at EWU training camps and Seattle.
“I did work with most of the sports in Spokane expect for Gonzaga, oddly enough, because I’m just across the street,” Pearce said. His private practice drew individual athletes.
“It’s kind of hard to retire, but there is a time you have to decide enough is enough,” Pearce said. “You want to enjoy life when you’re still healthy enough to do it.”
During 1996 in Atlanta, he served as a USA Olympic team physician. He’s a former Bloomsday medical director and assistant medical director for the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon World Championship.
While he’s giving away many of his sports mementos, he vowed to keep one item: a Spokane Chiefs’ No. 29 jersey. It’s signed by players in gratitude for his work to save teammate Darren Lefebvre, who collapsed from a cardiac event in 2002.
“Darren had a cardiac arrest during a game. I did CPR on him. We shocked him with a defibrillator, and he survived. This is one of his jerseys, No. 29, so I’m not getting rid of this.”
Pearce, 67, and his wife, Vicki, plan to enjoy hobbies and split time between Spokane and a townhouse in Henderson, Nevada. A runner since medical school, he’ll keep that going.
Meanwhile, Pearce isn’t halting all medical pursuits.
He’s continuing as national medical director for the Rock & Roll Marathon Series and exploring part-time telemedicine work. A long-range goal, Pearce has applied for a spot with the Raiders, scheduled to start in Las Vegas this year.
He’ll also continue as Union Gospel Mission’s medical director, mainly doing remote administrative work. He and his wife have a son Dakota, studying law at Gonzaga University, and daughter Chelsea, 33, with their two grandchildren in Spokane.
Pearce could have had another retirement job with the Vegas Golden Knights. He got that stint, temporarily. It fell through because of a National Hockey League rule to finish an accredited fellowship in sports medicine.
Such programs didn’t exist when Pearce started in the field.
“I’ve worked for 37 years in sports medicine. I took care of a hockey team for 20 years. So I didn’t get that job. I’m applying for a job with the Raiders, and that’s not a requirement for the NFL.”
He knows that from his former Seahawks gig, which he began after starting in family and sports medicine at a Cheney clinic.
He then became an EWU sports physician.
“That’s when a friend of mine, a trainer for the Seahawks, told me he was thinking of doing an Eastern Washington summer training camp. I organized our training camps here, and after the first season, they said, ‘Fo you want to help out at the games in Seattle?’ ”
He did that for about 10 years, including a short span after the team suspended its 1997-2007 training camps at EWU. “I went to the Super Bowl we lost (2006). Most NFL teams have two or three orthopedists and various specialists and at least a couple primary care sports medicine doctors.”
For Ironman volunteering, he will help occasionally more as a consultant. Pearce himself completed nine Ironmans, mostly in Penticton, British Columbia, and Hawaii, once in Japan, but never in Coeur d’Alene.
By 2011, he was offered the paid Rock & Roll Marathon job. “I go to all our domestic races and occasionally to one of our foreign races.”
Pearce, a University of Washington School of Medicine graduate, moved to Spokane in 1980 for his residency and internship. Exercise physiology was one of his undergraduate degrees.
With a lack of fellowship programs at the time, he studied at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, which also wasn’t accredited then.
“We took care of the Royal Ballet in London and a bunch of soccer teams,” he said.
“I’ve always enjoyed athletics, and then when I was an athlete myself, it kind of grew out of that. Some people like pediatrics. I just like taking care of athletes.
“I think I may have been the first in Spokane to do sports medicine.”
After work in Cheney, Pearce practiced many years at the Rockwood Spokane Valley clinic where he slowly shifted from family physician to mostly sports medicine.
About 14 years ago, he launched his own practice in North Idaho. In 2007, he opened Champions Sports Medicine on North Hamilton.
His typical patients were hockey players, ice skaters, runners and triathletes. He also treated head injuries and knee ailments. He’s often heard, what does a sports medicine doctor do?
“We do all the nonoperative stuff, which is most of what happens in athletics,” said Pearce, referring to knee pain as an example. “It could be a training issue, equipment or an issue of imbalance that has led to injury.”
“Some 70% to 80% of injuries to athletes are repetitive-motion injuries. Maybe they need an evaluation of running mechanics, orthotics for shoes or possibly strengthen areas where they are weak. Then there is the whole concussion issue.”
For concussion policies, Pearce did early baseline testing for athletes and worked with groups to develop high school protocols for return-to-play after such injuries.
“That was one of the things I did with the Seahawks and with Stan Herring, a guru. He’s probably the most famous on the West Coast as a concussion physician at UW and developed a lot of the protocols. He and I collaborated. It’s now at every high school.”
Early on, Pearce spent about 10 years as a Spokane Indians physician, then focused solely on the Chiefs for a total of 20 years until this past Dec. 31. He got another jersey, No. 20, for that milestone.
At games, Pearce sat at the ready in case of injuries, but he also took care of the players’ routine medical needs from shots to sniffles. “You’re their family doc, basically.” Providence Sports Medicine will now care for the Chiefs, he said.
Among all his sports memories, Pearce names local hockey as a favorite, especially the Chiefs’ 2008 Memorial Cup win.
“I’ve been to the Olympics, and that Memorial Cup was the coolest thing. It’s because hockey is just a different sport; it’s a whole culture. Hockey players do things together like a family.”
He said some patients were dismayed about his retirement.
“It’s not that I’m so wonderful. I think most patients would tell you I listen to them. If you just listen to the patient, they will tell you what’s wrong with them in their own words.”
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