At home on the high wire

March 29th, 2018

Dr. Ian Tullberg works in a high-wire profession and plays in the same arena – he’s a champion pole vaulter in national men’s competitions.

As the medical director of UCHealth’s six Urgent Care clinics in Colorado Springs, Tullberg, 41, is the go-to doctor when other providers in Urgent Care clinics across Colorado Springs need a quick consultation or advice about treatment for a patient.

At Urgent Care at Circle Square, where he practices, Tullberg sees many patients in a day, some who are suffering from colds or flu and others who have broken a bone or twisted an ankle.

Dr. Ian Tullberg

In addition to his UCHealth work, Tullberg is Medical Director of Athletics for Academy School District 20, a medical consultant for Harrison School District 2 and a volunteer track and field coach for Discovery Canyon High School in District 20. He is also the community department chair – a physician leadership position – at UCHealth Memorial Hospital.

While coaching high school students, he got the itch to make his own track and field comeback and return to pole vaulting. It had been 19 years since his last jump, but he sprinted toward the bar, planted his left leg, and sprung his 180-pound frame upside down, over the 13-foot-tall bar, and did a free fall onto a large mat.

“It was a huge rush to see myself fly over the bar,’’ Tullberg said. “It’s just an awesome feeling when you see yourself go over the beam.

“Vaulters, I don’t think I’ve met anyone who isn’t an adrenalin junkie,’’ he said, noting that vaulters often participate in rock climbing or sky diving. “It’s that kind of a rush.’’

He made his first recent vault two years ago, and he’s participating again in men’s track and field competitions nationally. A few weeks ago, he jumped his personal best in adult competition – 14 feet – to win the Masters Division of the Colorado State Games. In his 40-44 age group, he is tied for No. 1 in the world.

Tullberg followed his older brother into the sport of Track and Field at Custer High School in South Dakota, where he still holds a record for the top vault of 15-4 ½. A former state champion, Tullberg earned an athletic and academic scholarship to Drake University in Iowa.

Tullberg won many competitions as an athlete, and spent four to five hours a night at the college track. He began to train for the NCAA championships, with his eye on the Olympics, but he suffered a terrible injury when he “blew up my ankle tendon ligaments.’’

“It took me out for almost a year,’’ he said.

The injury, though devastating, ended his Olympic drive and he began to concentrate more on academics. He decided in the fifth grade that he wanted to become a doctor.

He said he learned a valuable lesson in college by spending too much time on sports and not enough time on academics, graduating from Drake with “only a B average.’’

He enrolled in Ross University School of Medicine in the Caribbean and completed his residency at the University of Texas. He’s been treating patients at UCHealth’s Colorado Springs clinics since 2010.

Like many doctors, Tullberg is fiercely competitive.

“I’m not happy if I’m not at the top, so I do my best to make that happen,’’ he said.

Whether it’s providing the best patient experience possible, or scaling a high bar 14 feet in the air, Tullberg is at home on the high wire.

About the author

Erin Emery is editor of UCHealth Today, a hub for medical news, inspiring patient stories and tips for healthy living. Erin spent years as a reporter for The Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette and Colorado Springs Sun. She was part of a team of Denver Post reporters who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting.

Erin joined UCHealth in 2008, and she is awed by the strength of patients and their stories.