LAWRENCE — The workout will begin in minutes, and Michael Pride jokes that he’s ready for some “Hudy muscles.” He smiles as he says this, and the scar that covers the inside of his left arm comes into view.
It is long and thick, jagged in parts, and one of the reasons he is standing here, inside the Anderson Family Strength Center, ready to begin a session with Andrea Hudy, KU’s strength and conditioning coordinator.
Pride, a sergeant in the Marine Corps, didn’t set out to become a coach of the famed Wounded Warriors Project. He grew up near Swope Park in Kansas City, Mo., and his athletic career consisted of two years of track at Central High School.
But here he is, wearing a Jayhawk shirt and in the midst of a week of work to learn instruction and technique, part of a collaboration between the Marines and KU’s Health and Exercise Science department. But Hudy says she’s learned just as much from Pride.
Nearly five years ago, doctors told Pride that he’d probably lose his arm. But here is, reconstructed, sweating through a set of pull-ups. Pride says he never set out to be an American hero, or a Purple Heart recipient, or even a military track coach. But if there’s anybody that’s learned to ignore barriers, real or imagined, it might just be Hudy.
And this is where Pride begins his story.
The task was simple: Clear a road. Something Pride had been trained to do. It was September 2008, just more than a year after he’d joined the Marines, and Pride had arrived in Afghanistan on a mission to train local military police.
Pride was behind the wheel of a Humvee, with a Navy corpsman in the vehicle. When the ambush came, and two vehicles in their unit were hit by roadside bombs, Pride was given orders to transport the corpsman, a medical specialist, to the downed vehicles. But just a few moments later, Pride’s Humvee rolled over another improvised explosive device — “a double-stacked anti-tank mine,” Pride says — and the force from the blast rolled the vehicle onto the driver’s side.
“The Humvee crushed my left arm,” Pride says.
Just a year or two earlier, Pride had been working as a manager for a DHL Tracking branch in Kansas City. He’d graduated from Central in 1999, and his first daughter came a few years later. But when the economy went south, Pride was left looking for work.
“No one was hiring,” Pride says. “And I had a couple of friends and family in the Marine Corps. And I reached out to them: How was the Marine Corps for them? And they kind of gave me positive feedback.”
Pride had always been a leader, the kind of kid with a “go-get-it” attitude, so the Marines seemed like a solution, even if at 26, he was six to eight years older than many of the men who joined when he did. But just one year later, he was left with an injury that risked his left arm. And all he could think about, Pride says, was his newborn daughter, Alysa, who had been born while he was deployed.
“I wasn’t really worried about the arm,” Pride says. “It was just the fact, I probably wouldn’t be able to hold my brand-new daughter that was born when I was out there. That was my only fear.”
The rehab process was long and grinding, but slowly, Pride’s arm began to heal. He competed in the inaugural Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo., in 2010, and soon after, he began coaching. Last week, he arrived in Lawrence. He told his story to the men’s and women’s basketball teams, and then he headed to the weight room.
He was here to learn from Hudy, and she had her own story to tell.
Inside Kansas’ sprawling weight-room, 42,000 square feet of squat racks and state-of-the art technology, Hudy can often find herself playing a range of different roles.
Sometimes she’s a drill sergeant, like when former KU center Jeff Withey used to protest his way through a brutal workout during his first years on campus. Sometimes she’s a mother, like when former Kansas point guard Sherron Collins texted last year and Hudy dropped everything to advise him on some offseason workouts. Mostly, though, Hudy appears to slide into the role of teacher, searching for the right way to motivate individuals, devouring new ideas and research in the field.
On Wednesday, before running through a workout with Pride, Hudy comfortably jumped from role to role, explaining a cutting-edge weight-room system that measures the ground-reaction force of every KU athlete, and theorizing on the differences of motivating male and female athletes.
“Women tend to be accountable to the group, which may be more deep-rooted with women raising a family,” Hudy says. “Those are my thoughts on it. Guys usually tend to be motivated through the individual.”
These are the types of things, Kansas coach Bill Self says, that separate Hudy from others in her field. In 10 years at Kansas, she has been a part of nine straight Big 12 titles and one NCAA title, turning mid-level recruits into sculpted NBA Draft picks.
“Andrea gets a lot of credit, and deservedly so,” Self said earlier this year. “(But) what she does with the guys isn’t just from a weight gain, or things like that. It’s from a confidence, a flexibility (standpoint). It’s from things you can’t see.”
Withey has called Hudy the Jayhawks’ secret weapon. Self has used the “Hudy System” as a selling point in recruiting. And the plaudits have earned Hudy something of a cult following among Kansas fans.
It’s a long way from 10 years ago, when Self was skeptical about hiring a woman to run his program’s strength and conditioning program. Hudy had grown up in central Pennsylvania, the youngest of five children. She played volleyball at Maryland in the early ’90s, took a crack at corporate fitness, and finally found a home helping young athletes at UConn.
More than a decade later, she is a trailblazer, a highly successful woman in a male-dominated world. And she is also in-demand. On July 10, she took a trip to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., discussing coaching and leadership with a group of Marines.
“The same things we deal with (regarding) younger athletes are the same things they deal with, with younger Marines,” Hudy said.
On Wednesday morning, Pride stood near a weight machine while Hudy prepared for another day of work. The open room was mostly empty, and Hudy approached with a plan.
“You ready to work out?” Hudy asked.
“I need some of those ‘Hudy muscles,’” Pride answered.
For the past week, Hudy said, they’d talked coaching, leadership and motivation. And after a few discussions, they soon realized that the same lessons Hudy brought to her workouts were the same ones that Pride imparted on his Marines. The stories weren’t so different.
“The leadership skills are parallel; they’re just significantly different,” Hudy said. “Either lead, follow or get out of the way.”