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Michigan All-American Tannenbaum shares story as third-year orthopedic resident

Eric Tannenbaum as an orthopedic surgery resident... and surgically precise University of Michigan wrestler
Eric Tannenbaum as an orthopedic surgery resident... and surgically precise University of Michigan wrestlerPhotos courtesy of the University of Michigan, used with permission

It’s all too easy for wrestling fans to lose track of college wrestlers once they hang up their headgear, unless they go into WWE, mixed martial arts, or coaching. Even a wrestler as accomplished as Eric Tannenbaum, one of University of Michigan’s top mat stars of the past decade.

Now the wrestling community can catch up with Dr. Tannenbaum who is now in his third year of medical residency, thanks to an Alumni Spotlight profile from Michigan’s newly-created Office of Alumni Engagement posted online Wednesday, July 16,

First, a look back at Tannenbaum, the Wolverine wrestler. The Illinois native -- a three-time state champ at Naperville North High School outside Chicago -- was a four-time NCAA All-American (2005-08), only the sixth in the long history of Michigan wrestling. Tannenbaum won Big Ten conference championships as a freshman and senior. He completed his collegiate career with a 143-21 overall record, putting him fifth among Michigan’s all-time winningest wrestlers.

Tannenbaum was equally successful off the mat. As an undergrad majoring in neuroscience, he was a three-time Academic All-American, earning multiple academic awards from the Big Ten and the National Wrestling Coaches Association. Tannenbaum also received the prestigious NCAA Post-Graduate Scholarship. He graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School in 2012 and recently started his third year of orthopedic surgery residency at the University of Michigan Health System.

In the interview, Tannenbaum revealed the challenges of the first two years of his residency, then explained what he expects as a third-year resident in orthopedics. “This year, third year, it's supposed to be a little bit easier than the second,” according to Tannenbaum. “We rotate through various orthopedic specialties -- hand surgery, trauma, reconstructive joint surgery, sports surgery, etc. I'm on sports right now, so I'm at MedSport, and we see a lot of athletes and do a lot of knee, shoulder and hip scopes.”

Tannenbaum also shared a key secret to his success: time management. When asked how he balanced an academic and athletic career, Tannenbaum – who is now married and about to become a first-time father – responded, “It definitely was never easy. I think the most important thing was planning. It started in high school. I knew wrestling would take a lot of time, and I knew I wanted to do pre-med, so I took as many AP classes in high school as I could and came in with those credits. I took 16 credits my redshirt year and took courses in the spring. It was all about planning for me, which made it manageable. When I stopped wrestling after undergraduate, it was a little easier. Maybe not easier, but I was able to spend my free time regrouping and relaxing instead of working out or on the road. It was just different.”

The former Wolverine wrestler's explanation about time management stirs memories for this reporter. I remember sitting on press row at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships a number of years ago, seeing Tannenbaum sitting right next to the mat where he was slated to wrestle, focusing not on the action, but on his textbook.

Tannenbaum is not alone as a successful athlete who has entered an academically-rigorous profession; a number of former wrestlers have become M.D.s, veterinarians, architects and engineers. However, this story from the Michigan Alumni Engagement reinforces the idea that the oldest and greatest sport can be a great training ground for success in professionally demanding arenas.