As team orthopedic surgeon, SJU graduate has front row seat for Timberwolves' playoff run

Alum Features Athletics

May 22, 2024

By Frank Rajkowski

It’s been a memorable season for the Minnesota Timberwolves and their fans. Led by superstars like Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns, the team has advanced to the NBA’s Western Conference finals for just the second time in franchise history.

And Dr. Aaron Krych, a 2001 Saint John’s University graduate, has been there every step of the way.

Krych, an orthopedic surgeon who serves as chair of the Orthopedic Surgery Department and Division of Sports Medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, has been the Timberwolves’ team orthopedic surgeon the past five years.

That means he’s been there since players like Edwards, the top overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, started their careers with the team.

“It’s been really fun because you get to be there with some of these guys since day one,” said Krych, a standout football player for the Johnnies who started at running back when SJU reached the NCAA Division III national championship game in 2000. “You’re involved in evaluating them before they’re drafted or traded for. Then you have the chance to watch their journey – the growth and development and the highs and lows. You feel like you’re part of it in a way.”

Mayo has handled the Timberwolves for a decade now. Dr. Diane Dahm served as the team’s orthopedic season for the first five years of that span before Krych took over in 2019.

“Our (previous) CEO Dr. John Noseworthy wanted a strong Mayo Clinic presence in Minneapolis,” Krych said. That led to the opening of Mayo Clinic Square in downtown Minneapolis in 2015 and the evolving collaboration with the Wolves and the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx, he added.

“Diane Dahm handled this role for five years, then I’ve taken it over for the last five. I think it just came down to who were the orthopedic surgeons we had who could take care of professional athletes. A lot of it was being in the right place at the right time.”

But that’s not how Dr. David Soma sees it. The pediatrician and sports medicine specialist at Mayo, who graduated from SJU in 2004, was a teammate of Krych’s on the 2000 team. He’s now worked with him for well over a decade at Mayo and said his colleague is being modest, which is not unusual for him.

“Even as a player (at SJU), he wasn’t a big vocal guy,” Soma said. “He let his work and actions demonstrate his greatness. He’s a humble guy, but he’s the department chair here and he sits on many prominent committees across the country. He’s a powerhouse in the area of sports medicine and orthopedic surgery.”

Johnnies head football coach Gary Fasching was an assistant under legendary former coach John Gagliardi and recruited Krych to SJU. He said it was clear even then that the Holdingford High School graduate was capable of great things.

“He was an incredibly hard worker,” Fasching recalls. “He was the strongest guy on our football team, and the work he did in the weight room to become the athlete that he did was remarkable. I ran the fitness center at the time, and he was one of my employees. He was a fantastic worker there, too. He gave 100 percent to everything he did.

“The other thing that stood out was that he is the type of person who can get along with everybody. Some people just have that ability in their nature. He could carry on a conversation with anyone he met. There was absolutely no doubt he was going to be successful at whatever he did.”

Fasching said Krych has now become a great resource to draw on when it comes to player health.

“I’ve called him a few times about some of our players who’ve had injuries, and he’s gone out of his way to help in any way he can,” Fasching said. “He’s been superb in that way. He’s always there to offer his assistance if we need it.”

Krych’s professional achievements are even more remarkable because of the health challenges he’s had to overcome himself. He was first diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma during his second year of medical school, then battled a recurrence in 2010.

“That was my last year of residency,” he recalls. “I was chief resident that year and I was dealing with strong chemotherapy for nine months of that time. It was a tough year with a lot of adversity, but fortunately I’m doing very well now. It definitely helped me develop even more resilience and I’m stronger for having gone through that experience.”

Krych also works extensively with high school and college athletes, and while treating athletes at the professional level can be different, he said the fundamentals remain the same.

“At the end of the day, you’re there to be their physician and advocate for their safety and health,” Krych said. “There can be layers, and agents and contracts, and other considerations come into play. But at the end of the day, my role is just to take care of the athlete and their injury. When you keep it simple, then things become a lot clearer overall.”

What’s clear now is that the Timberwolves have captured the hearts of Minnesota sports fans, especially after memorably knocking off the defending champion Denver Nuggets in the conference semifinals – coming from behind to win Game 7 of that series on the road last Sunday (May 19).

“There are a lot of ups and downs in sports,” Krych said. “But you can tell when a team has momentum and that’s been very exciting.”

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