Once Upon a Time in the Vest

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

V 11 N. 1 Clem Eischen Olympian 1948 1500 Meters R.I.P.


Clem Eischen  (B. Dec. 24, 1926 - D.  Dec. 7, 2020)  age 93

Clem Eischen born in Nebraska in the 1920's and moved with his family to Vancouver, Washington, where he went out for track his junior year in 1944.   He thought he wanted to run the 880, but the spot was already taken according to the coach who wasn't all that welcoming to the newcomer.  So Clem moved up to the mile, both he and the half miler won state titles that year, and Clem won again his senior year.  That bought him a ticket to Washington State in Pullman where he was an All American in the mile though never an NCAA champ finishing 2nd in the 880 in 1951 and 5th in the mile in 1946 and 6th in 1948.  He surprised  a lot of people with his third place finish in the 1500 at the Olympic trials thus earning the trip to London.  His personal bests were  880 1:51.3 (1951), 1500-3:52.5 (1948), Mile 4:13.5 (1948) -

In London he was eliminated in the qualifying heat when a British runner cut in front of him causing him to lose his footing and clipping the offending runner's heel.  That kept him out of the final.  

But where Clem really made his mark in sport was as a physical therapist.  After six years of teaching high school in Washington, he went to Stanford and got a graduate degree in physical therapy and opened his first clinic in Vancouver.  The field was not recognized as a valid treatment by the medical profession at that time but Clem was noted for lobbying for better recognition of physical therapy and winning that effort.  He eventually had six clinics at his retirement, and they are now run by his son and grandson.

The following article is from a website called PTPUBNIGHT that tells about Clem's work to get recognition for the profession so that people on Medicare could get physical therapy.

Clem Eischen was a physical therapist for all of four years when he stood up during the 1966 national convention of the Private Practice Section (PPS) in L.A. to express frustration about how physical therapists were “shut out” of Medicare, the national program that had been established just the year before.

The problem: physical therapy wasn’t included as a reimbursable medical service in this new health care program.

Clem Eichen PT Pub Night on the Hill

Clem Eischen (second from right) poses with Keith Glasser, private practice attorney Diana Godwin, and PT Pub Night founder Tannus Quatre (far right) during a 2014 advocacy trip to Capitol Hill.

“I was pretty harsh,” Clem recalled. The nation’s PT advocates had been “asleep at the wheel,” he announced that day, which was forcing him to turn away elderly patients at his Northwest practice.

“The little old ladies were kind of the thing that set me off,” said Clem, now 88 and still a licensed physical therapist. “When an old lady would come in the office and I’d say, ‘I can’t treat you,’ they could really make you feel bad. They don’t say anything, but there’s that look on their faces.”

Clem’s impromptu speech, and the criticism it contained, undoubtedly struck a chord in the room. The PPS quickly moved to make him the chairman of its legislative committee, an assignment that came with two committee members, no budget and two goals: lobby Congress to change Medicare to include physical therapy in private practice, and ensure this change is funded.

By 1972, Clem had accomplished both of these goals.

“It can’t be overstated how incredibly important Clem’s legacy is to both the physical therapy profession and the millions we serve across the country,” said Tannus Quatre, PT Pub Night founder, a licensed physical therapist, and recent physical therapy advocate through the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). “I met Clem during a trip to Washington D.C. last year, and it was an honor to work by his side on Capitol Hill, this time fighting to repeal the sustainable growth rate and therapy cap.”

Clem Eischen PT Advocacy

Clem Eischen, member of the 1948 U.S. Olympic team.

Clem was no stranger to performing under pressure, though before he was practicing physical therapy and meeting members of Congress in D.C., his stage had typically been a cinder track. An All-American track star at Washington State University, Clem earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team and competed in the 1,500-meter run in the 1948 Olympic Games in London.

Following a brief career as both an athlete and coach, Clem received his graduate degree in physical therapy from Stanford in 1962. The very next year, he started his own private practice, SportsCare Physical Therapy, leading to his involvement in the PPS and its legislative committee.

Once appointed as its chairman, Clem said he quickly got to work, creating valuable relationships over time with members of Congress as well as advocates from other groups such as the Oregon Medical Political Action Committee (OMPAC) and the American Medical Association.

Rep. Al Ullman, the U.S. Representative from Oregon’s 2nd District at the time, proved to be his most valuable advocate. When Ullman became chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, he assured Clem that expanding Medicare to include physical therapy was on his agenda.

“He said, ‘I know what you want. I’ll stand tall for you in committee,’” Clem recalled. “And he did. He took care of it.”

In 1972, Medicare expanded to not only include physical therapy, but speech and occupational therapy, as well. It was also that year when Clem helped form PT-PAC, which later became the political outreach arm of the APTA.

Since this milestone legislative victory, Clem has continued to serve as a long-time physical therapy and private practice advocate. He also enjoys encouraging others to serve in a similar capacity, citing his own experiences as an example of how passion, persistence and advocacy can change the world we live in.

“I tell people that you live and die by the legislation in Washington D.C..” he said. “Legislators can hurt you or they can help you, but you’d better talk for yourself. If you don’t, there are plenty of voices that will speak on your behalf, and it won’t always be good.”

Vancouver's Clem Eischen Was Master of the Mile, The Columbian May 12, 2020

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