Central grad Heishman enjoying time as grad assistant at U.Va.

Aaron Heishman was chasing a dream and instead found a new career path.

The 2010 Central graduate suffered a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament before his junior year at Virginia Tech, while he was trying to walk-on to the men’s basketball team. Through the recovery process Heishman realized working with players on strength and conditioning and injury prevention is what he wanted to do with his career.

Now Heishman is at the University of Virginia as a graduate assistant in strength/conditioning for the men’s basketball program.

“It’s been a great experience,” Heishman said in a phone interview Thursday night. “I’m so thankful for this opportunity. … I have two really good mentors in Mike Curtis and Robb Hornett. I’m learning so much from them.”

Heishman said he’s very aware that if he hadn’t torn his ACL, which he ended up tearing a second time, he might not have realized his passion to help others with strength and conditioning.

“It was as if my dreams of playing collegiately ended, but I didn’t realize it would set me up for the rest of my life of what I was going to do. … (After the injury) when it was time to get stronger and develop those skills, and the strength coach at Virginia Tech, when I was there, he just helped me out so much. I spent a good amount of time with him, and that’s what really set me on to ‘oh wow, this is what I want to do.’ To spend my time with people getting them stronger, developing their skills this way rather than the actual skill development of basketball.”

Heishman said after graduating with his bachelor’s degree in animal science from Virginia Tech in 2014, he decided he wanted to get a master’s degree in exercise physiology.

He was accepted at U.Va. and then decided to see if he could get on as a graduate assistant with the men’s basketball team, and it worked out perfectly.

He started last summer and said he’s enjoyed every minute of it. He said the main thing they try to do is to prevent injuries.

“That’s our main goal, to prevent injuries and develop good movement patterns to make athletes better at their sport,” Heishman said. “That’s what I really like too is we’re applying a science behind sports, getting athletes better through knowledge of science.”

He said they also monitor players’ heart rates during practice so they can tell if they’re getting worn out, and to make sure that they are at the best at the end of the season.

He said he spends about 30-40 hours a week in the gym around the players, and he also goes to all of the men’s and women’s basketball games.

The Cavaliers are ranked No. 6 in the AP Top 25 poll to start the season, which begins next week. They had a great season last year with a 30-4 record under head coach Tony Bennett.

Heishman said it’s been great working with the players, and it’s a surreal feeling just being around the caliber of athletes that U.Va. has. He said it’s also great to see them improve their fitness.

“Seeing guys that I’ve got to work with first-hand really make those jumps in performance, and have bought into the training process and actually get to see them develop and grow,” Heishman said, “I think that’s one of the things that I love most about the experience.”

Heishman said that working with Curtis and Hornett has also been an incredible experience for him. He said he’s learned a lot and is very thankful for his opportunity at U.Va.

“I can’t say enough about my mentor coach Curtis and Robb Hornett,” Heishman said. “Coach Curtis has really directed me into the world of sport science and the utilizations of the tools and technology to monitor the athletes and evaluate the performance and show that the training process is working. But also make sure that they’re not getting overstressed and fatigued.”

Heishman said that coming from Virginia Tech to Virginia, and being from a family of Virginia Tech fans, he has heard some jokes from his family.

“I’ve probably got the most jokes from family back home, because they’re all Hokies and still steady Hokies,” Heishman said. “But everyone in my family, I think they turned on the TV every game last year for the Hoos and cheer for U.Va., especially my mom.”

Heishman said he will graduate in May, but he is looking forward to another great season working with the Cavaliers. He said once he graduates he wants to stay in athlete performance and be a strength and conditioning coach, preferably in basketball.

He was a standout at Central when he played, and Heishman said his love for the sport hasn’t changed.

“It’s obviously nice to be around the game,” Heishman said. “I still love basketball. I just love it from a different perspective now.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com