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The former Nebraska Cornhusker second baseman from Sharon Springs, Kan., waltzed from dancing internationally and tending the injuries of rodeo cowboys and Major League Baseball players to become Darmstadt’s community recreation director. He and his wife, Renee, have two children: Drew, 7, and Valen, 4.

How did you get into competitive dancing?

I was playing baseball in college and had to take an activity class. I signed up for social dancing, and when I went to class, there were 36 women there — and me. I kept that part under my hat and ended up taking the class for four semesters. I got pretty good, and the instructor, who had been one of the original class of instructors when Fred Astaire opened his dance schools in the ’50s or ’60s, said she could get me into a camp that trained instructors. I was one of two males selected and eventually made the Fred Astaire National Dance Team.

How did that lead to sports medicine?

I came back from Europe and was riding my motorcycle home for vacation when I was hit by a car. I had torn tendons and compound fractures that required lots of steel pins and rods. When the doctor came in after surgery, he said, “At least you’re not a dancer.” When I said that actually I was a dancer, he said, “You used to be a dancer.” I spent a year in rehab. I became really appreciative of all those folks who helped me and decided to go into sports medicine.

How did you break into that field?

I started out in 1995 providing sports medicine to college and pro rodeo. We were the first company to offer services to rodeo cowboys. It was my dream job. They are probably the most appreciative athletes you’ll ever work with. You can put a Band-Aid on a guy and he’ll come up to you weeks later just to say thanks. I came from a rodeo family and established a rapport with them right away. I knew where they were coming from and what they had to do to get where they wanted to go. I knew that for them, taking [their injury] to the hospital wasn’t always the answer.

Why did you switch to baseball?

In rodeo, you’re gone a lot, and there’s not much of a financial future. I was hired by the St. Louis Cardinals as a strength coach and athletic trainer. I started out with their Class A team and transitioned up to the Cardinals as vacancies occurred. I was with the Cardinals the first year Albert Pujols was there. I have the ball at home he hit for his first professional home run in Class A ball. His daughter and mine used to watch the games together.

Were you exposed to the drug use in baseball we hear so much about?

It was a given. Drugs were everywhere. When I was with the Cardinals, steroids weren’t used openly. I’d give my normal standard spiel, “steroids are bad for you,” but until they started testing for them, no one paid too much attention. They weren’t prohibited. Amphetamines were a much bigger problem. … Baseball’s going to have to do something about amphetamines.

You did plenty of traveling when you went to work for the Navy, too, didn’t you?

I was the afloat fitness director for USS Essex, an amphibious assault ship based in Sasebo, Japan. We were forward-deployed 80 percent of the time — to the Philippines, East Timor, the Persian Gulf. We had a 1,500-square-foot gym with cardio machines and free weights, and you could run on the flight deck when there were no air operations.

Isn’t working for the government kind of tame after international dance, pro rodeo and big-league baseball?

I enjoy what I’m doing now. You can affect a lot more people by putting together a recreation program that benefits an entire community.

Vance Penn

Age: 40

Title: Former competitive dancer and professional athletic trainer.

Day job: Darmstadt’s community recreation director

Europe readers: Know someone whose accomplishments, talents, job, hobby, volunteer work, awards or good deeds qualify them for 15 minutes of fame? How about someone whose claim to glory is a bit out of the ordinary — even, dare we say, oddball? Send the person’s name and contact information to news@mail.estripes.osd.mil.


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