IN LATE AUGUST, strength coach Mike Alessi walked into Impact Sports Performance in Boca Raton, Fla., and saw Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul crouched over his size-14 sneakers, using his right foot to hold a shoelace in place so he could tie it with his left hand. But by then Alessi was used to seeing JPP get creative in the gym.
The knot-tying routine was just one of the many adjustments the 26-year-old had to make after a Fourth of July fireworks accident that caused the amputation of his right index finger and the tip of his right thumb while also severely damaging his middle finger. Alessi says every session since the incident had to be modified because Pierre-Paul couldn't hold weights with his right hand.
"For three to four weeks we only trained his left side," says Alessi. "Then we started manipulating things to get the right side working."
Alessi did that by wrapping an ankle strap around the wrist of Pierre-Paul's injured hand, allowing him to do rows, shoulder presses and other movements on the cable pulley machine. He also did various multidirectional footwork and running drills for agility and pulled a sled that was attached to his waist with a belt and harness.
After each workout Pierre-Paul met with occupational therapist and hand-rehabilitation specialist Deborah Austin. "The ring and small fingers were just soft tissue injuries, so we were able to strengthen those," says Austin, adding that those two outer fingers are the key to grip strength. "When it was time to use the thumb and middle finger, we were ahead of the game." Because Pierre-Paul's position requires a lot of pushing, Austin incorporated wall and tabletop push-ups, and used other tools (see box) to increase upper-body flexibility and dexterity and to build strength. "[The surgeons] allowed Jason to be where he is today," Austin says. "He has a fully controlled hand."
Alessi agrees that Pierre-Paul looks "as good ever." On Sunday he played 47 snaps in New York's 32--18 win over the Bucs. Says Austin, "He exceeded all his goals in therapy, and then some."
During Pierre-Paul's rehabilitation, a specialist used a variety of tools to measure progress and help improve range of motion in his right hand.
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This moldable substance changes colors as it gets hot, providing visual feedback during squeezing, stretching and pinching exercises.
While a standard, two-prong tool works well, Pierre-Paul used hand exercisers that can work individual fingers.
Similar to clothespins, these devices offer varying resistance levels to build strength and coordination.
Pierre-Paul dribbled and caught a basketball to apply impact to his hand, and shooting helped with wrist extension and flexion.
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ILLUSTRATIONS BY MARTIN LAKSMAN