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Anatomy Awareness Spans Academics and Sports in David Benedict’s Teaching and Coaching World

Before college, even before his professional career, David Benedict had an intuitive understanding of movement in the human body. His knack caught the eye of scouts and former coaches at the University of Wyoming, where he was recruited to play football. Benedict played as a Center/Guard for the Cowboys, protecting his quarterback in a position that often goes unnoticed but requires a full-body combination of awareness and might.

He has continued to share his knack throughout his seventeen years of teaching in Aurora Public Schools, albeit in a less physically demanding position. For the past nine years, Benedict has coached wrestling at Vista Peak High School. The assistant principal at the school, immediately noted Benedict’s interest in the human body and suggested a training in anatomy and physiology. Benedict said, “I love this, this looks amazing, let me run with it.” So for the past eight years, Benedict has co-taught Biomedical Pathways, a Project Lead the Way program, at the high school.

Benedict finds that the intersection between coaching, teaching, athletics, and anatomy is well-traveled, even bustling. Students are often surprised to hear him talk about the same concepts on the mat and in the classroom. Benedict has been known to give anatomy lessons in the gym. For example, long muscles are weak muscles. Or, you will get more tired more quickly holding an object out in front of you rather than close to you.

“Knowing the human body helps a lot” with training, recovery, and how to be an overall better athlete, says Benedict.

Benedict has noticed a recent trend, “about five-six years old,” of high school and college athletic programs incorporating knowledge of human body systems, via professional physical therapists and nutritionists. It is a trend Benedict wishes existed when he was younger. Recently, Benedict underwent back surgery, a procedure he attributes to repeated heavy lifting—deadlifts and squats. When he was a student-athlete, “no one was really around” to teach proper technique in form. That has changed today, thanks in no small part to hybrid teachers/coaches like Benedict that mesh anatomical knowledge with athletic performance.

Competition venues for Benedict are not strictly limited to the field, the gym, or the classroom. Every year, Benedict’s students compete at the Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA) State Leadership Conference, held each February at the Sheraton Hotel in Denver.

The Conference holds a variety of health and sciences-related competitions between 1,000 students across the state of Colorado. (Last year, Vista Peak High School sent 18 teams of up to three members.) The stars of the show—aside from the students, of course—are the TORZIKEN® models. At three stations, students build different aspects of human anatomy on the models. As an example, Benedict notes “one model will have a problem with their digestive system, because of diabetes. Students will need to know where the pancreas is located related to the stomach and the intestines.” They will also need to know what hormones are produced there, and what is responsible for the uptake in sugar and nutrients.

At another station, students will build a muscle group, for example, the flexors/extensors of the foot and ankle. Judges pay close attention to the insertion, origin points, and detailed striations of the muscle group. In the past, students have had only 15-20 minutes to work on their model, but this upcoming year (spoiler alert!) judges will allow students to have one to two hours with their muscle. “Instead of having a rushed job, we want to accentuate the beauty of the human body—how it’s created to be so intricate and awesome,” says Benedict. Beauty and awesomeness, evidently, cannot be rushed.

Aside from the State Leadership Conference, Benedict uses the models in the classroom. He says, “there are so many tools that people come up with for education that it’s easy to get overwhelmed… but this is probably one of the better resources I’ve had in my seventeen years of teaching.”

The education gap, for Benedict, boils down to a relationship gap. The better relationships educators have with their students, students will have better learning outcomes. That’s why Benedict loves the models so much: with the models, “you’re working on something tangible, right in front of you. And you communicate as you work.” Being exposed to this kind of learning opens up the conversation and fosters successful learning relationships.

Check out the entirety of David Benedict’s enlightening conversation here!






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