Cirque du Soleil Athletic Trainer Explains Unconventional Path in Athletic Training

By Morgan Lock

Armed with 21 years of experience as an Athletic Trainer, strength coach, business owner, entrepreneur, and clinician, Eric Gahan did not follow the typical path of most Athletic Trainers. Instead, his clients and patients have ranged from business people to contortionists.

At first, Gahan had a typical route inspired by the shortcomings of his high school athletic department. He realized the importance of Athletic Training when he tore the ACL during his sophomore year on the junior varsity football squad. When no one was there to effectively treat or advise him on his injury, Gahan quickly learned the necessity of having an Athletic Trainer there at each moment: before, during and after a sporting event.

“Throughout my whole high school career, there was no Athletic Trainer on our sideline,” Gahan said. “There was no one there on the sidelines to manage these injuries and to make sure that there’s a safe environment for the people that are playing sports. That’s what turned me on to [this career path].”

When his high school finally hired a part-time Athletic Trainer, Chris, his junior year, Gahan turned to him as a mentor and was inspired to help others through the art of Athletic Training.  “A lot of people would come to me and tell me about their injuries,” Gahan said “Then I would talk about it with Chris, and then they would officially get seen by him. That’s when I knew I wanted to become the Athletic Trainer.”

In the coming years, he studied Athletic Training at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York and obtained his master’s degree at the University of Kentucky.

Beginning his career at St. Bonaventure University as the Athletic Trainer for the men’s soccer team, the men’s and women’s swim team, and the baseball team, Gahan next moved to the University of Mississippi where he started working with the baseball team and soon became the senior Athletic Trainer for the football team.  

Gahan then took a surprising turn in his career, leaving Ole Miss and beginning work at Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center. “I took a lot of flak for doing that, believe it or not,” says Gahan. “I got a lot of phone calls from mentors, saying ‘what are you doing? Why are you walking away?’ I was the youngest senior Athletic Trainer in the Southeastern Conference at 23. I had this very high prestigious title and position.”

When Canisius alumnus Mark Laursen was hired to help rebuild Boston University Athletic Training Services, Gahan was his first new hire. Armed with the orthopedic knowledge and Dr. James Andrew’s mentorship, Gahan went back to the collegiate Athletic Training practice setting. Here, he developed an interest in human movement and corrective exercises while teaching Athletic Training students.

While at Boston University, he did national presentations on the use of kettlebells in rehabilitation programs. Later, he and his wife opened Iron Body Studios, a brick-and-mortar kettlebell gym in the Boston area. There, Gahan combined all of his education an experience to bridge the gap between rehabilitation and strength training. EmpowerU Online Coaching, a new business that provided online training soon followed.

Once he grew tired of the cold weather in Massachusetts, Gahan moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, and took a position as the head Athletic Trainer for Cirque du Soleil’s resident, cabaret-style show, Zumanity. As an Athletic Trainer for Zumanity, Gahan provided care to performing athletes. Zumanity permanently closed in 2020 as a result of the pandemic.

While chairperson of the Injury Risk Reduction group at Cirque du Soleil, Gahan developed the Performance Medicine Profile (PMed Profile). The PMed Profile provided a systematic approach to identification of performers who were at risk of injury and allowed customization of the care provided based on a performer’s specific needs.

“I’d look at someone who was a contortionist, someone who can control their body in such extreme ranges of motion,” Gahan said. “Then you would have a hand-to-hand artist, who is very restricted in what they can do because they only perform in these certain planes of motion. So it was extremely important to be able to understand the fundamentals and what each person needed.”

After four years at Cirque du Soleil, Gahan was craving a more administrative and less clinical role, so he turned his attention back to EmpowerU. He had seen others take a great interest in how he was able to grow such a unique business, so he transformed EmpowerU Online Coaching to an enterprise that helps healthcare providers and fitness professionals build thriving online businesses.

“I’ve become a specialist in a certain way,” Gahan said. “I’m able to be dialed into people and the businesses they want to build. Then developing a relationship and understanding what their limiting beliefs are, and discussing why they feel like they have these limiting beliefs, what are their fears? And how can we overcome these fears? What are your emotions related to those fears?”

Today, Gahan is still a business coach and entrepreneur through EmpowerU and works as a fly-in therapist for Cirque du Soleil. He encourages others to explore a degree in Athletic Training and hopes he can provide some emphasis on the different areas people can use the degree in aside from working in the traditional settings of high school, collegiate, and professional sports.

“I think the special thing about what I’ve done is I’ve put my Athletic Training degree to work in a vast range of settings.” What can you do as an Athletic Trainer?