Bill Heisel: Keeping Athletes Healthy from Kayak to Racetrack

When not treating NASCAR's elite teams, Bill is paddling the many waterways of the Southeast.
When not treating NASCAR's elite teams, Bill is paddling the many waterways of the Southeast. Bill Heisel
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This content is sponsored by OrthoCarolina.

As even a casual viewer knows, the physical challenges facing a motorsports crew are significant. Tire carriers jump a wall carrying 70-pound wheels, while specialists known as jack men are required to stabilize a 3,400-pound vehicle, sometimes still moving, lifted in the air. Torn tendons, wrist and elbow injuries, and back and shoulder problems are all routine occupational hazards.

As the co-director of OrthoCarolina Motorsports, Bill Heisel spends much of his professional work week dealing with the inevitable ailments, aches, and pains associated with the rigors of working at the highest levels of NASCAR. For several days each week, Heisel is at the track and in the training room with these teams to both treat injuries and teach how to prevent them.

Heisel is also a lifelong water sports enthusiast who spends many weekends paddling local lakes and rivers. His deep knowledge about racing injuries also translates to his passion for paddling, as Charlotte-area adventurers hoping to spend an injury-free day on the water can learn from his expertise.

A History of Helping Athletes

Kayak Fishing is a popular activity in the teeming waters of the New River
Kayak Fishing is a popular activity in the teeming waters of the New River Bill Heisel

Throughout his education and career, Heisel has always focused on treating athletes. He completed a master's level program at the U.S. Sports Academy and earned a physician's assistance license from the Bowman Gray School of Medicine. In 1991, Heisel moved to Charlotte, joining OrthoCarolina’s quickly growing practice. And about eight years ago, he noticed a highly underserved market.

“College athletes have always been taken care of by physicians,” Heisel says. “But the drivers and pit crews [of NASCAR teams] were not cared for at the same level.”

His idea was to harness the same medical principles used to support athletes of “stick and ball” sports and, with a few modifications, apply them to the drivers and pit crews in professional motorsports.

Since those early days, the motorsports team at OrthoCarolina has grown tremendously. They now care for two-thirds of the teams in the Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR’s most competitive. About 10 other racing series, including Indy, Formula 1, and several levels of NASCAR, currently receive regular care from OrthoCarolina.

Tips for Injury-Free Paddling

Kayaking the salt marshes of eastern Carolina are a top pick for Heisel.
Kayaking the salt marshes of eastern Carolina are a top pick for Heisel. Bill Heisel

Heisel also applies a philosophy of injury prevention while pursuing his personal recreation passion: flatwater kayaking. His advice to paddling enthusiasts to avoid the aches and pains of a repetitive motion like paddling a boat are simple: strengthen your core and stay flexible.

For a great core workout, Heisel suggests back and abdominal work on a Swiss ball. The instability of the inflated ball forces a greater portion of core muscles to be engaged. Both back stretches and abdominal strengthening should be included in a regular routine, too. Such balance work is integral to developing strength that helps protects the back during times of stress, he says.

Stretching is not all that much fun, Heisel admits. But as muscles are worked and become tense, it’s critical they get a break. He suggests rolling your shoulders and pinching your shoulder blades together to get things moving before jumping in your boat. During a long day of paddling, take a break and stretch the trapezius muscles (top of the shoulder) and the large chest muscles (pectoralis major) so they can recover.

Kayaking Around Charlotte

There are many gorgeous spots along the New River, like this one near Galax, VA.
There are many gorgeous spots along the New River, like this one near Galax, VA. Virginia State Parks

Heisel has always been drawn to the water. Growing up in Atlanta, his family would often paddle the waters of Lake Lanier. The Chattahoochee River ran just behind his high school, offering a frequent escape into nature. Heisel was also an Eagle Scout, and his troop would often incorporate paddle trips into their activities.

Since moving to Charlotte, he has invested lots of time exploring the waters around North Carolina and beyond. Heisel’s suggestions for two of the best paddle trips around? Mountain Island Lake and the New River.

The peaceful waters of Mountain Island Lake are not only the closest to uptown but also don’t see the same heavy traffic as other Charlotte-area lakes. Heisel recommends accessing the lake via Latta Plantation and Nature Preserve. Taking a right just past the preserve’s equestrian center leads to a well-marked launch that’s perfect for a pre-work paddle.

For a full day of floating through lush, tree-lined banks, Heisel suggests making the 2.5-hour drive to the New River in southern Virginia. Located just north of the NC state line, the New has become a true paddler’s destination. Investments include well-developed parking areas and easy to manage portages around several of the dams that control the river’s flow. Some sections of the river require whitewater skill and gear, but many are an easy float for a flatwater boat. Try the 12-mile trip from Baywood to Riverside for a beautiful trip through amazing scenery that’s easily accessible from Galax or Independence, VA.

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