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Andrews Institute is an oasis for rehab

The Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze Fla. (April

The Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze Fla. (April 1, 2013) Credit: AP

GULF BREEZE, Fla. - On an early April day, there are surfers and sunbathers and assorted other spring-breakers making their carefree way up and down sunny Gulf Breeze Parkway. They don't seem to realize that behind a thin line of hedges is the NFL's most popular quarterback -- and its most interesting offseason story -- throwing passes, with his dreadlocks bouncing up and down on each hurl.

Robert Griffin III rehabbed from an ACL reconstruction at the Andrews Institute, the home base of surgeon James Andrews, who performed the procedure and is overseeing his return to the Redskins.

Griffin probably is the most recognizable of the many professional athletes who come in and out of the facility, but even he is afforded a level of anonymity here.

"For the athletes, it's their one safe haven," said Jamie Nemith, one of the performance consultants at Athlete's Performance, a training center that is part of the Andrews Institute. "We're here to serve you. It's a one-of-a-kind facility."

And it has everything an injured athlete could need. Griffin had his knee surgery performed in a building here during the winter. On that spring day, he spent time in the morning tossing the football on a 50-yard FieldTurf field, did rehab in the training room next door and checked in with doctors for tests in the adjacent building.

Usually, all of those activities would require traveling among various locations, but at the Andrews Institute, it's self-contained. An athlete could go from diagnosis to surgery to recovery to a return to playing without ever leaving the cozy confines of the campus.

"It's a dream come true to have this type of facility, for me," Andrews said. "It's got everything in it. It's sort of like Wal-Mart. It's one-stop shopping."

Andrews personally does a dozen or so surgeries a week, usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays. And he's always around the facility, so if an athlete has a concern or a setback during rehab, he can go right across the parking lot for an MRI or a face-to-face with Andrews (or one of the 40 other physicians with offices in various specialties -- from neurosurgery to plastic surgery -- at the facility).

"They know they have an entree into me if and when they need it, which is important," Andrews said.

Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas, who rehabbed his third torn ACL this offseason, spent time at the Andrews Institute and said the ability to see Andrews on a regular basis was a plus. But not the only plus.

"The best thing about that place is it's totally focused on rehabbing athletes and being around other players who are going through the same thing," Thomas said.

"All the guys who you've seen play over the years you get to connect with, hang out with, play cards and dominos with. It was peaceful down there. Very slow, very country. It was everything I needed to focus on myself.

Compared to his previous rehabilitations, he said, "I felt like I was getting more out of it."

Andrews was based in Birmingham, Ala., for most of his career. In 2007, though, he moved to Gulf Breeze -- just south of Pensacola in northwest Florida -- and opened the 127,000 square-foot Institute.

Though the institute is home to a good number of famous athletes, it has plenty of other patients. Some are members of the military. A football player who is rehabbing a torn ACL might be training next to a soldier who suffered the same injury. Thomas said he was inspired by a woman who had suffered knee injuries in a car crash and was "a fighter."

The institute also features places most athletes don't ever see. At least not yet.

"There's a research and education side of this to develop new tools for treatment and prevention," Andrews said. "We're teaching young orthopedic surgeons who are getting their fellowships in sports medicine for the future."

Andrews wrote a book that was released this winter called "Any Given Monday," which offers prevention tips in more than two dozen youth sports, an attempt to curtail the number of patients he and other orthopedists see.

"We have a lot of emphasis on prevention of injuries in youth sports, which is my big passion during the twilight of my career," Andrews said. "A lot of the work we're doing in the biomechanics lab and research facility is related to prevention. Right now, there's a terrible escalation of injuries in youth sports. Since the year 2000, it's gone up five- to sevenfold, and we're trying to prevent some of that."

For the most part, the Andrews Institute is a place where world-class athletes can go to be diagnosed, fixed and rehabilitated with assembly-line efficiency.

"The energy in this building is amazing," Nemith said. "There is a tremendous amount of healing that goes on here. There's something magical within these walls."

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