Rick Shaw has been selling insurance for 15 years, but his real claim to fame comes from his previous career as an athletic trainer. For years, Shaw worked with some of the biggest names in professional sports, from Chris Ballard to Tony Gwynn to Larry Bird.
Shaw grew up in Plainfield, attended Plainfield High School, and currently serves as Chairman of the Plainfield Chamber of Commerce Board. Since the seventh grade, Shaw wanted to be an athletic trainer. As much as he loved sports, he felt he lacked a few good things to pursue sports past high school.
“I was too short, too fat, too slow, and I couldn’t jump,” Shaw says, laughing. “That limits your sports career.”
The school’s basketball coach at the time got Shaw involved as a manager at the high school, taping ankles and helping with minor injuries.
He never dreamed his humble beginnings would lead him not only to brushing shoulders with some of the biggest names in sports but becoming lifelong friends with them.
It all started after high school. Shaw went on to become a manager and student trainer at Indiana State University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in health and physical education.
He returned for a fifth year as the administrative coach and assistant athletic trainer for the Indiana State Sycamores, one of the school’s greatest men’s basketball teams in history. During the 1978-1979 season, the team was led by Larry Bird, a senior at the time, and undefeated in the regular season. However, they lost the championship game to Michigan State, led by Magic Johnson.
Shaw still considers his experience one for the books, having just recently reunited with the team for a 40th anniversary weekend in Terre Haute this summer.
“We had a wonderful time,” Shaw says. “These are lifelong friendships. It truly feels like time hasn’t passed, even if it’s been 10 years. It’s like that with all those guys. Everybody likes each other.”
Shaw was particularly impacted by his longtime friendship with Larry Bird.
“You can’t talk about me without talking about Bird,” Shaw says. “He’s always been great to me and has opened more doors for me in my life that he doesn’t even know about. He’s just like your neighbor, just a regular guy.”
In fact, Shaw’s connection with Bird is showcased at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.
“There is a four-foot by six-foot photo of Larry Bird on the bench with his head in his hands at the Championship game,” Shaw says, referring to the 1979 NCAA Championship game. “My whole back and shoulder are in the photo. I was kneeling in front of him. My daughter thought that was so cool.”
Later in his career, when Shaw was living in Texas, the San Antonio Spurs were in town, and Bird gave him a call to see if he was going to the game. Bird offered him two free tickets, one each for Shaw and his wife. However, when they showed up to the game, they found that seats were actually 10 seats apart with Cedric ‘Cornbread’ Maxwell, a forward for the Boston Celtics at the time, and his entire family sitting between them.
“I said to Bird, ‘What gives?’” Shaw says. “Bird told me, ‘Hey, the tickets were free. Shut up.’ We had such a good time at that game though.”
That wasn’t the last Shaw would see of sports’ biggest names. After his stint at ISU, Shaw became an athletic trainer for the professional baseball team Pittsburgh Pirates and then the San Diego Padres, serving as Tony Gwynn’s very first athletic trainer in his professional career. Gwynn, nicknamed “Mr. Padre,” was a right fielder who earned eight batting titles, tied for the most in MLB history.
“He’s a very good guy,” Shaw says. “Everyone warned me that he would be very difficult to work with, but he was the total opposite. He was very easy to work with. He was such a talent.”
Later in his career, Shaw became the head athletic trainer at Texas City High School, where he became friends with yet another significant sports figure in Indianapolis. Chris Ballard, current General Manager of the Indianapolis Colts, was the quarterback of the Texas City High School Team.
Shaw formed a unique connection with Ballard because of their family background.
“We gravitated together,” Shaw says. “His father wasn’t in the picture, so his life and my life were about the same because my father wasn’t in the picture either.”
Shaw still remembers how hard Ballard worked at football. He recalls giving Ballard, a severe asthmatic, breathing treatments during tough practices in the extremely humid air near Galveston Bay.
“He was the best,” Shaw says of Ballard. “He grew up in football and his grandpa was our football coordinator.”
As Shaw’s personal life took on more importance with the arrival of a daughter, he wanted to move back to Indiana. He ended up leaving Texas City High school during Ballard’s senior year, something Ballard still gives him grief for all these years later. Last November, Ballard spoke at the Annual Chamber dinner and mentioned how Shaw left him during the most important year of his high school career.
“He still won’t let me forget it,” Shaw says.
Shaw settled down as an athletic trainer at Rose-Hulman for five years, but the constant traveling for games was taking a toll. Shaw’s good friend, Steve Reed, who had been a guard on the’79 Sycamores team, offered Shaw a job starting a sports medicine program at Terre Haute Regional.
Shaw still marvels how the connections from athletic training have followed him all his life and paved paths he never saw coming.
“You can’t plot this stuff out,” Shaw says shrugging. “I consider myself one of the luckiest guys in the world.”
After more than eight years in the hospital sports medicine business, Shaw decided to switch gears.
“I was kind of a free agent,” he says. “I looked at everything. I looked at buying a bar, I looked at selling smoothies out of my trunk, I looked at buying a McDonald’s. Insurance made sense. It’s a lot like athletic training. You get to help people prepare for bad things to happen, and when they do, you help them rehabilitate to get back to where they were.”
Shaw loves being back in Hendricks County, serving on the local Chamber of Commerce, Optimist Board and being involved with the local schools. Shaw works hard at improving the world around him. His motto in life is, “Dreams Don’t Have Deadlines.”
“Have your dreams,” Shaw says. “Don’t throw them away. Hang on to them and set yourself up to follow those things. Do the things that interest you because you’re not living someone else’s life. You’re living your life. Make it as fun as you want.”