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Injury led Dan Fox into sports medicine

Dan Fox went to college to play football, but an injury led him into a 20-year career in sports medicine that he never expected.

"I love what I do," he said during a conversation while visiting his family over the July 4th weekend, "I sort of fell into it by accident."

Fox, 41, who graduated from Hudson High School in 1983, went to UW-La Crosse to continue a football career as a lineman, but suffered an ankle injury during his freshman year.

"I still remember the play," he said. "I jumped on a loose ball, and my leg went one way and my ankle went the other."

Fox tried returning for spring ball but was diagnosed with a problematic heart condition. It was then that he took a hard look at the highly regarded athletic trainer program at UW-LC. He was a business major and not very excited about it.

"You had to give up your eligibility to join the program," he said. And that ended his athletic career as a player, but not by any means as an important participant in sports.

Fox earned a K-12 education degree and a sports medicine degree at UW-LC. He said he did his student teaching in the Stillwater (Minn.) District then drove across the metro to Breck School, where he served as athletic trainer.

In the middle of all this, his boss asked him to fill in as a trainer for the Minnesota Twins in their minor league spring training program in Florida, an offer he couldn't refuse.

So at the tender age of 21, Fox flew off to Melbourne, Fla., and an unknown future. "I was scared to death," he said. "I had never been on a plane before and I hadn't been out of the Midwest. It was snowing in Minneapolis when I left."

Little did he know it was the beginning of a fascinating decade-long career with the Twins that took him to the minor league clubs in Kenosha and later Fort Wayne, Ind., and an interim stint with the Minnesota North Stars' minor league team at Kalamazoo, Mich.

During that time their big league teams played in the World Series and battled for the Stanley Cup title.

Fox received a 1991 World Series ring from the Twins for his contribution to the team effort. He said that there is a lot of talk about the Twins' small payroll, but they take care of their people. "They realize that everybody is involved in a series win," Fox said.

Fox worked with an orthopedic clinic in the off season throughout his career in order to support his family. He was doing that in Fort Wayne when the Twins moved out of town.

Six years ago, he took the job as head athletic trainer at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, a mile and a half from his house. The university was NCAA Division II at the time. Immediately the school made a bid for Division I status and Fox was off to the races again.

"The department has increased from two to six people," he said, and the Fort Wayne teams are starting to earn some Division I respect.

Fox took the unusual road from athletic injury to a career in sports medicine and doesn't regret it. "I don't know what else I would do," he said. "You can either fight it (injury) or go with it and let it take you where it takes you."

He has also taken it a step further, serving as a volunteer fireman and medic in his community.

Fox and his wife, Paula, whom he met at UW-La Crosse, have three children, Christopher, 16, Sarah, 13, and Cameron, 9.

He also has an identical twin brother, Don, who followed through with a business major and is a sales rep in the Twin Cities.