Harvey Shields has worked with some of the Bay Area's sports stars. But during the pandemic, he's pivoted to helping COVID-19 patients deal with their lingering symptoms. (Laura Hamilton/Lulu Jane Photography )
Sports trainer Harvey Shields has worked with Bay Area athletes like 49ers Jerry Rice and Garrison Hearst. He also helped train Barry Bonds during the slugger's remarkable — and controversial — record-setting home run years.
Based in Menlo Park, Shields doesn't help athletes bulk up. Rather, he watches how players move and adjusts their posture to help prevent injuries.
Not all of Shields' clients are professional athletes. When the pandemic hit, he says, people started contacting him for a different kind of injury: long-term COVID-19 symptoms. He began offering video sessions to clients, amending his training approach to focus on exercises and stretches he says help open up the chest and lungs.
Then, as the death toll rose, the pandemic started to hit closer to home. Shields hasn’t contracted the coronavirus, but friends in his home state of Mississippi have died from COVID.
“Someone asked me, 'What's the difference between helping a professional athlete to prepare for the Super Bowl and what you're doing?' ” said Shields. “I told them that preparing a person for the Super Bowl, if they don't win, they have next year to try to win again. But these people don't have next year to worry about ... Next year’s not promised to them.”
Some of the people he’s worked with, Shields says, have struggled with difficulty breathing, weakness and other symptoms months after their initial COVID diagnosis. Others got in touch in an effort to avoid developing long-term symptoms. Shields has even reached out to a few himself.
His techniques haven't been vetted by medical professionals, but clients like Joanie Giraudo say he's helped.
Giraudo, who has been teaching young children for over 30 years, runs Applebee Preschool out of her home in Folsom. She decided to stay open during the pandemic, and while she knew it entailed some risk, she wasn’t all that concerned because of precautions she was taking: limiting group sizes to five or six children, increasing time outdoors and adding new cleaning protocols. Plus, she said, “I don't have any underlying conditions. You know, I've got this incredible immune system.”
But in mid-December Giraudo did contract COVID, and she became much sicker than she'd anticipated, developing a fever that lasted for days, coughing, fatigue, intestinal issues, breathing difficulty and a loss of smell and taste.
“It's like there's a band around your chest,” she said. “And it's just sucking in your lungs.”
Her 17-year-old daughter, Hannah, also contracted COVID, though her symptoms were less severe.
Giraudo says that after her oxygen level dropped to 91 a few times, she got nervous and called the emergency room. They told her to come in if it hit 90, but she didn’t want to leave Hannah alone, so she toughed it out. She was so miserable, she could barely sleep.
Six days into her illness, she got a call from Shields. Prior to living in Folsom, Giraudo had run a preschool in Menlo Park and had met him when his daughter was a student there. Shields had heard she was sick and reached out.
“I was like, ‘No, you can call me tomorrow. Like, I really don't feel good,' " she said. "And he was like, ‘Nope, get up! Get on your computer.’ ”
Shields walked her through a series of movements to help open up her chest, and within about 20 minutes, Giraudo says, she felt better, with her oxygen even rising a few points. It was the first night since her illness hit that she was able to sleep. Hannah also participated in the sessions. She’s a track runner, and they hoped to prevent any long-term side effects.
Giraudo and her daughter still do scheduled video sessions with Shields.
"He's just a kind, caring human being who was taught at an early age to just give back to other people," Giraudo said.
Shields says his personal motto is: “The greatest success in the world is being in a position to help someone else.”
It’s a lesson he learned from his mother, Ethel, growing up in the small town of Louisville, Mississippi. Even though their family struggled financially, Shields says, his mother and father were always willing to help people in the community.
“My mother always told me, ‘It's not about you, it's about helping others.’ That was the most important thing. ... Even though we were poor, she said that there was always someone out there who was worse off than you.”
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