By Steve Kaufman | Photos by Danny Alexander
Shelly and Jay Sorg are experts at nutrition, exercise, strength-building and the mental parts of sports. It’s how they conduct their business and how they connect their lives.
Shelly Sorg does not seem to be a woman who minces words.
When she says that the high-carb diets advocated in the 1990s have produced “a nation of diabetics” – with all the conviction that she brings to most topics having to do with fitness and nutrition – you automatically try to remember every bowl of oatmeal or banana smoothie you ate in 1995.
When she says that only one of 50 people who come to her gym has “good body fat,” you automatically reach down and pinch your stomach.
When she says that warm-ups we used to think were good actually were harmful, you find yourself thinking back to every 15 minutes of stretching you did before you went out on your run.
Sorg is more than a woman of strong opinions. She walks the talk. A high school volleyball player in Elgin, Ill., she went off to Morehead State on an athletic scholarship to study something most people didn’t know too much about in 1991: exercise science.
“Not many schools had exercise science programs back then,” she said, “but Morehead did.”
So, she played ball (she was MVP of the Ohio Valley Conference) and studied exercise science, but she also minored in business. “I knew I wanted to go into business. My parents both owned their own businesses. So, I went for a master’s degree in health promotion and wellness at University of Louisville.” She also got certified as a strength and conditioning specialist.
Her focus was, characteristically, a laser beam cutting through all the superfluous: “I knew I wanted to do something where I made a difference in people’s lives.”
Also, at Morehead, she met Jay Sorg, a baseball player from Trinity High School in Louisville. As they tell the story, they had sprained ankles together and met in the training room. When Jay was drafted by the Reds in the 15th round in 1994, Shelly was along for the ride.
It was a bumpy ride, beginning with the 232-day baseball strike that wiped out parts of two major league seasons, from August 1994 until the following April. It did, though, allow Jay to finish his degree.
“I was slated to go to the Instructional League, but it was cancelled because of the strike. If that hadn’t happened, who knows when I would have been able to get my degree, if ever? There were no online classes back then.”
Jay spent the next 12 years in the Reds organization, bouncing around from Princeton, W. Va., of the Appalachian League; to Billings, Mont., of the Pioneer League; to Charleston, W. Va., of the South Atlantic League; to Burlington, Iowa, of the Midwest League; to Chattanooga, Tenn., of the Southern Association. He hit .283 and drove in 72 runs for the Burlington Bees in 1997, but mostly it was a typical minor league career seeming to go nowhere.
But it did lead somewhere, because life does that.
“I was drafted as a third basemen, but it was the same year the Reds drafted Aaron Boone (out of the University of Southern California). Once they tabbed him as their guy of the future, I was moved to first base.”
Toward the end, he was even tried as a catcher. “I wish I’d done that earlier, because one of my best tools was my arm strength.”
He thought he might be headed to Triple-A Indianapolis for the 1999 season. Then, in spring training that year, it all came crashing down on him – literally, and ironically, on the weight bench. (Ironically, because it’s the kind of accident Shelly preaches against.) Jay, himself, calls it “a dumb thing.”
“I was squatting – about 400 to 500 pounds – and I misracked the weight. I thought I’d racked it securely, so I kind of let go of it, it fell on me and as I twisted to avoid it, I turned my ankle over. There was a lot of ligament and tendon damage.”
“He was maxing out to build strength, which is what they did then,” said Shelly. “I thought he ought not do that so early in spring training, but hindsight is always perfect.”
In hindsight, though, what it did give Jay was the opportunity to move onto the next phase of his life. “I was given a few options – keep bouncing around in the Reds’ system, take my release and try to hook on with another organization, or become a hitting coach.”
He said it was tough to accept – “when you’re in the heart of it, you always think you’ll make it up there, eventually” – but he took the coaching job and found it was something he was really suited for.
He started with the Rockford (Ill.) Reds in the Class A Midwest League, where his 1999 roster contained Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, Corky Miller, Brandon Larson and Travis Dawkins, all of whom made it to the majors. Dunn hit 462 home runs in 14 big-league seasons.
Jay also managed a couple of times – in Clinton, Iowa, and back in Billings. “When Buddy Bell, our farm director, offered me a managing job, I was 26, the youngest manager in the nation.”
But Jay found he liked the teaching part of the game better. So, in 2006, he left the Reds for the head coaching job at his alma mater. Shelly found that Jay’s career offered her a calling as well.
“I was Jay’s personal strength coach, because they didn’t have that then,” she said. When the Reds had their spring training camps in Plant City, Fla., weight rooms were nonexistent. “We had some benches and some lat pull-downs,” said Jay. “Fast-forward three or four years, the weight room is elaborate and there are strength coaches at every level.”
When Jay returned to Morehead, Shelly became the team’s strength and conditioning coach. And she began to develop a very specific training regimen.
“We’d work on nutrition and body fat, how to gain 25 pounds of muscle in the off-season,” Shelly said. “As I tracked who lost weight, who kept it off, who stayed injury-free, who performed better, I started putting everything together.”
“Shelly did a really good job of keeping up with the science and the technology,” said Jay, “and the more experience you have, you can say, ‘I know this is what the book says, but this is what my body is telling me.’ Maybe, if she weren’t an athlete, she wouldn’t have those insights. But she was. And she did.”
Eventually, the couple opened their own fitness studio, Sorg’s Sport & Wellness in New Albany. Shelly has advanced the science to the point where she proclaims, as the studio’s tagline, “Transforming lives, inside and out.”
It’s a thorough and holistic approach, whether she’s working with Central High School’s soccer team, or teens whose parents want their children to have improved skills and confidence; or adults rehabbing an injury or seeking more endurance or flexibility.
“My goal is intervention,” she explained. “I do a lot of balance and a lot of core, for every muscle group. And then I concentrate on what they need individually, whether it be speed, agility, endurance, vertical jumping, biometrics.”
She said everybody thinks “exercise science” is just diet and exercise, “but it’s more comprehensive. My master’s thesis was a 100-page paper on the interconnectedness of mind-body-spirit on sports performance. Most trainers focus on eating and working out, but the mental part is more important than anything else.”
The Jay Sorg Baseball Academy works with teams and individuals, generally ages eight through high school, though “we’ll have college kids who come back, and even some pro guys who work out with us until they go to spring training.”
There, Jay offers hitting, pitching and fielding, but not just the mechanics. There’s also strength-training, vision-training and the mental side of baseball – confidence concentration, situational intellingence. “We do a lot more than just ‘come on in and swing the bat.’ ”
Among their most apt students are the four Sorg children, ages seven to18. Ty is a senior at Floyd Central High School, where he plays football and wrestles.
“Next year,” said Jay, “he’ll play college football somewhere. He’ll be recruited as a tight end. He’s 6-foot-4, 245 pounds Where will he play? You can hear Jay’s voice swell with pride. “If he’s accepted, he’ll go to Harvard – or Washington University of St. Louis, or Centre College – and study computer science or engineering.
“He’s really smart.”
Kyley is a junior in high school, running cross country and track. Casey, an eighth-grader, “follows me in baseball,” said Jay, who coaches Casey’s Ironmen Elite baseball team.
As for seven-year-old Macy, “she’s into everything.”
“Shelly always had them doing something,” Jay said, admiringly. “Even Macy does some of her mother’s classes, the footwork and speed-and-agility stuff. We always encouraged them as far as sports were concerned, but we never forced them. All we asked was that they do something physical every season. It’s good for their overall development.”
“I’m a big fan of what sports does for discipline, teamwork, social skills, responsibility, accountability,” said Shelly. “You learn all that in a different way than you would in other avenues.”
They not only walk the talk, they work it out.
Where Total Fitness Rules
Sorg’s Sport & Wellness is 5,000 square feet of sport-turf flooring located at 800 E. Eighth St. in New Albany. Shelly Sorg proclaims that her 12-week transformation training Wellness Workshop and Universal metabolic makeover PQ program transforms people’s lives, whether it’s the high school athlete or senior citizen.
The intensive hitting program at the Jay Sorg Baseball Academy is aimed not only at better batting mechanics bu also at mental training and focus.