AUGUSTA — Athletic trainer Ed Downs has worked with an abundance of elite professional athletes in the last  25 years.

NBA stars Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Alonzo Mourning, Allen Iverson, Tim Hardaway Sr., Tim Hardaway Jr., Dwight Howard and Penny Hardaway are on the list. So, too, are MLB icons Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz and Mo Vaughn.

His most recent list of clients include local high school athletes, including members of the Cony High School basketball team, after he relocated to Augusta from Florida.

So, how did this renowned trainer find his way to Maine?

Ed Downs, left, stands with Chris Bosh during the victory parade after the Miami Heat won the 2013 NBA title. Contributed photo

Simple. Family, of course.

“Well, they say happy wife, happy life, right?” Downs said with a laugh.

Downs’ wife, Jessica Vashon, is an Augusta native, and the couple decided to purchase a home here last fall. Downs converted a 2,500 square-foot detached garage into a training facility, where he teaches classes for area athletes ages 14-18.

“It’s more than just teaching the physical aspects (of sports),” Downs said. “But also the mental aspects. To believe you can be great, rather than good. I heard someone around here say recently ‘It’s OK to be good’ or ‘It’s OK to be just good enough.’ I’m just like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I don’t care who you are or what you do, or whatever it is you are doing, you want to become great at it. Even if your abilities may not get to (an elite) level, let’s work to becoming great.

“The more and more that I go to know kids (in Maine), I’m like ‘OK, that’s the mentality of a lot of them,'” Downs said. “Maybe because scouts don’t come up here as much, or they just haven’t seen kids go (Division I or Division II in college), they don’t think they can do it. They just want to play high school basketball and go do whatever. I’ve been kind of doing more than just the physical characteristics, I’ve been just getting these kids motivated and excited about sports and teamwork and being great at what you do.”

Cony boys basketball coach TJ Maines said the area is fortunate to have Downs here.

“I told coaches last summer this guy might be moving here,” Maines said. “And they’re like ‘Just shut up, what the hell is a guy (with that resume) doing moving to Augusta? We’re just fortunate that his fiancee is from Cony.

“He blew me away (at the Cony basketball camp). He came in for an hour and had my high school guys that were working and the middle school and elementary school kids all working. They all had tubes on their legs, doing different band stretches, doing practical basketball movements to get stronger and conditioned. It was awesome.”

Cony senior Simon McCormick, who averaged 22.1 points a game in leading the Rams to the Class A North title game last season, said Downs made him stronger.

“I feel like he made me a lot stronger,” said McCormick, who will attend Bates College in the fall. “He knows what he’s talking about, with his experience. He doesn’t just train for certain sports, he trains your whole body. It helps how you react to things (during a game). It’s a unique type of training that he does that we haven’t seen around here before.”

Downs is not the prototypical personal trainer. He graduated from the College of New Jersey with a degree in mathematical science and spent years studying body science and operational performance training, specifically strength, endurance, balance and agility workouts.

The workouts are often tailored to the athlete’s sport. For example, McCormick, a point guard, needs to make quick decisions with the basketball, so his training focused on cognitive recognition.

“He sets the lights up three feet away from each other,” McCormick said. “A light pops up, you go to it, you swipe your hand (in front of it) and it goes away. A couple seconds later, another light pops up. Usually, you’re dribbling while you’re doing it. It helps make dribbling a second-hand nature and getting me better with my handle.”

“There’s different technology out there that wasn’t out there 40 years ago,” Downs added. “That will help enhance a guy’s focus, spatial awareness, pattern recognition. Reading a defense faster. I actually have those devices in my gym. They can come in and have access to new technology that actually helps you think faster on the field or on the court and recognize things faster.”

WORKING WITH THE PROS

A fifth-degree black belt, Downs ran a martial arts studio in Miami in the mid-1990s when members of the Miami Dolphins of the National Football League sought his expertise. Downs said he worked with players Louis Oliver, Tony Martin, Mark Higgs and Terry Kirby.

From there, he began working with the Miami Heat, whom Downs said brought him in to work with Mourning and Jamal Mashburn.

“(Mourning) worked his butt off to become great,” Downs said. “We used to put in work, me and ‘Zo. I’ve worked with some of the greatest guys, guys who have become hall of famers. The one thing they all had in common, they all wanted to become great. It’s a mindset.”

Mashburn was so impressed with Downs’ work that he bought out Downs’ contract with the Heat when he was traded to the Charlotte Hornets in 2000.

Ed Downs, left, works with Cony’s Simon McCormick during the Cony basketball camp last summer in Augusta. Contributed photo

“He would fly me in every other week,” Downs said. “Wherever he was at on the road, I would go for a whole week and be with him. He saw the importance in how his game changed. The next thing you know, Mashburn becomes an all-star (in 2003). Playing for 10 years, never becoming an all-star until I started working with him.”

Downs later returned to the Heat, where he worked with Wade, James and Bosh.

“Wade had some trouble doing some exercises,” Downs said. “So I think he brought LeBron (in) to laugh at him, to see if he can do it. I’ve got video of Wade laughing at LeBron doing certain exercises, falling all over the place.”

The Heat managed to win back-to-back NBA titles in 2012 and 2013. Downs was awarded a championship ring after the 2013 title victory. The ring — which has 120 diamonds — holds special meaning.

“Wade and Bosh were the ones who pushed for it,” Downs said. “You’re allowed to ask if certain individuals also get a championship ring, that you feel played a big role, even if they were not a coach. But Wade said ‘If it wasn’t for Ed Downs, we wouldn’t have made it.’ It has to be approved by (team president) Pat Riley, the owner, Micky Arison, and the coach (Erik Spoelstra). All three said yes.”


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