Athletic Trainers: What Are We?

While this blog is mainly about fitness and nutrition, it’s no secret that I’m just as passionate about what I do for a living –athletic training — as I am about health/fitness. I’ve written here before about why I love my profession so much, and seeing as it’s National Athletic Training Month, I think it’s only appropriate that I touch on this topic again!

NATM-2014-Poster-Weve-Got-Your-Back

For those of you who aren’t familiar with what athletic trainers do, you can read a little bit more about it here. We are sports medicine specialists who’s job generally falls into a few major categories: injury prevention, recognition, evaluation, and rehabilitation for the active population.  Many of us are certified strength and conditioning specialists, most of us have a Master’s degree or higher, and we’re trained as emergency first responders.  Yes, I think we’re pretty important.

But today’s post isn’t to give you a run down of all of the things that we do. Today I want to talk about AT’s in a broader sense. Yes, we can tell you that you have a torn ACL and we can rehab the heck out of you after you have that ACL reconstructed, but we do a lot more than that as well.  And at the risk of sounding cheesy or over dramatic, it’s not necessarily just about what we do, but about what we are.

So what are we?

  • We are life savers. This is the number one reason– and really the only reason you need–  why every school and athletic program should employ an athletic trainer (sadly, many do not).  Every year there are a handful of stories of athletes who have collapsed on the ice/court/field who have been revived by a fast acting AT. Without proper medical coverage on the sideline, an athlete who suffers from sudden cardiac arrest is going to wait 20 minutes (if they’re lucky) for an ambulance, which is often far too late. An AT on the sideline who is equipped with an AED can, and will save lives. If you think that that type of emergency can’t happen at your school or on your team, please read here, here, and here, to see that it can happen anywhere, any time. (And a quick Google search will give you many more stories just like those!)
  • We are future-preservers. Wait, what? Stay with me here. ATs want their athletes to be healthy so that they can play in next week’s game, or the championship game two weeks from now. But you know what we really prioritize over any game, practice, or playoff berth? We prioritize your long term health, and your ability to live your life 10, 20, 30 years from now. I had a conversation the other day with one of my lacrosse players, in which I told her that yes, I want her to be able to play this season, but I also want her to be able to run around with her kids when she’s 45. A quality AT will preserve both your present and future health as much as we can, even when there is pressure to do otherwise.
  • We are a support system. We do much of what we do in the background, behind the scenes. We are unseen, often unheard, and unfortunately often unmentioned in the world of athletics, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not effective (and totally awesome). Honestly, if someone wants to be a superstar, athletic training is the wrong profession for them — our patients’ health is far more important than the spotlight. We do what we do so that the people who do want to be super stars can shine in the best way possible. What happens when an injured quaterback comes back from surgery to lead his team to a national championship? The athletic trainer is not hoisted upon the shoulders of the team; that honor belongs to the coach and the athletes (and they deserve it!). Athletic trainers are there to support the system, to make sure that all of the cogs in the wheel are running smoothly, to make sure that each link in the chain is as strong as it can possibly be.
  • We are medical professionals.  Many people think of ATs as the person in khakis and a polo on the sideline who squirts water bottles in football players’ mouths. (Let’s not even get me started on how seeing that makes me feel). But the reality is, we are sports medicine specialists. We are the most accessible form of health care for many athletes, and we have an exceptionally broad scope of practice. We specialize in treating the active population and helping to return them to their activity as quickly as possible — and this goes far, far beyond ice bags and ace wraps.

NATM_2014_logo

We are all of these things, and much much more (too much to include in one blog post).  I think my main point here is that while ATs are often thought of as the people who tape ankles, we are a hell of a lot more than that. Do we tape ankles? Thousands of them, yes, and we’re all pretty darn good at it. But when someone asks me what it is that I do, “tape ankles” is never an answer that will come out of my mouth. That is like asking the President what he does, and his answer being “sign papers”. We are a profession of ethics, integrity, and empathy. We are people who care so deeply for the athletes that we work with that we often make sacrifices in our own lives to ensure that they get the best care possible. We are not just here to tape ankles and stretch hamstrings, we are here to give athletes the optimal opportunity to not only be healthy now but to be healthy in the future as well. That is what we do, and if you ask me, I think we do it pretty well.

Happy National Athletic Training Month to all my fellow ATs out there!

A Mini Blog Break

:::Radio Silence:::

Sorry for the blog silence (and almost Twitter silence too) this week! I’m pretty sure the exact same thing happened right around the same time last year. It’s fall preseason for NCAA athletics, and any ATCs out there know exactly what I’m saying when I tell you it’s almost physically impossible for me to write anything meaningful this week.

My brain is mush.

To all of my fellow ATCs, good luck with preseason yourselves, we’re all in this together!

As for the rest of you, I’ll be back next week, I promise, and hopefully even with my brain intact.

I’ll leave you with this gem:

ecard

Athletic Training: Why I Love My Job

I’m an Athletic Trainer.

Oh, so you’re a gym teacher? NO. 

Oh, so you’re a personal trainer? NO

Oh, so you’re a strength coach? NO

Wait, so what do you do?

Believe it or not, this type of exchange actually happens a lot.  It’s funny, because athletic trainers (ATs) are everywhere. Most high schools, colleges, semi-pro teams, Olympic teams, professional teams, and basically any organized athletic association has them. Athletic Trainers work for corporations, for the military, as physician extenders, and in the performing arts (Yes, Cirque du Soleil employs athletic trainers for the performers).

Athletic Trainers are on TV all the time. Although they’re usually being called “trainers” by the talent at ESPN or your local news organization, so I don’t blame you if you don’t know who we are.

athletictrainer

I work at a small Division III college in Boston, and along with my colleagues, am responsible for the medical care of our student athletes. We have a team physician who directly oversees us, but we are on the front lines. We evaluate, assess, and rehabilitate injuries. We provide preventative care in order to avoid injuries. We provide manual therapy, corrective exercises, and we utilize modalities when necessary. We participate in continuing education and utilize evidence-based practice based on current medical and scientific research.

We do all of this (and more), and we do it because we love it.  There is so much more to Athletic Training than taping ankles and stretching hamstrings, although that is all that many people see us as.  When people ask me why I got into Athletic Training, or what I love about it, I’m often at a loss for words. It can be difficult to explain why I love a profession that is so drastically overworked and underpaid (when compared to other medical professionals), but I thought today I would give it a shot. Let’s see if I can put into words why I do what I do. (and why I love it so gosh darn much)

1. My workday is NEVER the same. The human body is an amazing thing. The same injury on two different people could (and usually will) have two very different healing times and potential for complications. Even something as common as an ankle sprain is going to vary so much from person to person, depending on their physical limitations, structural integrity, movement patterns, etc.  Along those same lines, a general return-to-play time after an ACL reconstruction is 6-9 months, but that doesn’t mean that everyone will fall into that timeline, or will do so in the same way. Case in point: last year, we had a week from Hell in which 3 athletes ruptured their ACL within a 7 day period. They all had surgery around the same time, but do you think they all returned to play at the same time, and at the same level? Not a chance. It’s that variation that keeps this job exciting, and always keeps us on our toes.

ankle

Ever see an ankle that looks like this? We see it a lot. 

Even the smaller day-to-day activities of athletic training vary. New injuries happen every day, improvements in rehab status, new rehab progressions, etc. All of these keep each day different than the last, which leads to a job that is anything but boring.

2. We are always learning. If you are an athletic trainer who is not continuously learning, than you’re doing something wrong. And I’m not just talking about structured, organized Continuing Education programs; I’m talking about doing your best to stay on top of your game every day. To be successful as an AT you have to be hungry for knowledge, because the world of medicine and science changes on a daily basis, and there is  research coming out continuously on just about every topic you can think of. True, it’s impossible to read every new research article that is published, but working your hardest to stay on top of new research that is relevant to your practice is imperative. As someone who can’t stand just staying still, I love this about this profession. We are always (hopefully) moving forward, becoming better every day.

3. Connecting with amazing people. I would be lying if I didn’t say that (a big) part of the reason I love my job is because of the connections I make with people. Working closely with student-athletes day in and day out helps me get to know them well, and helps me get to learn who they are beyond just a student-athlete. I have been in this profession for close to 8 years now, and have worked with hundreds of student athletes, many of whom I keep in touch with to this day.

IMG_2113

This (above) is one of my very first student-athletes that I ever worked with. My very first job as an athletic trainer was at a prep school, and Nicole was a freshman ice hockey player there my first year.  We have kept in touch over the years, and I was recently able to see her play a game in her senior year of college when her team came to Boston. She was one of the first student athletes that I worked with as an AT, and she remains, to this day, one of the reasons why I love this job so much. I’ve watched her grow up into an intelligent, motivated, and successful person and athlete, and I couldn’t be more proud! (Hey Barty!)

4. We’re appreciated. No, we may not always feel appreciated, and sometimes AT’s feel downright ignored. But there are always those student athletes, coaches, and parents who go out of their way to tell us how much they appreciate us, and they make all the difference. I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s true. I got an email from a coach at my last job that I’ve kept to this day, and read it on those days when I just need a reminder that what I do is important. I’ve gotten cards, tweets, emails, and messages from athletes and coaches that have literally brought tears to my eyes.  Just over the holidays, we got a couple of tweets that absolutely made my day.

@MikeyJr4: “Merry Christmas to the best athletic trainers in the business, Enjoy the day!”

and

@ShannyNort: “Happy Holidays to Mandy, Steph, and Laura! My wonderful, amazing, helpful athletic trainers who keep me going on the court!”

Yes, these are quick little messages, but they mean 1000 times more than just the words written. How often do people in other professions get little notes like this telling them how much they are appreciated? Not too often, unfortunately. Maybe I just work with an incredible group of people, but I love every second of it.

5. We witness miracles. Ok, that’s a stretch, because most “miracles” we see come from hard work on the part of ATs, doctors, surgeons, PAs, and mostly from the athletes themselves. But some moments feel like miracles anyway.

Imagine watching an athlete go down on the court, and knowing instantly that she’s ruptured her ACL. Imagine sitting with her on the sideline, staying calm and comforting her as she cries, knowing that her season is over. Now imagine that same athlete, after you and she have worked incredibly hard day in and day out for months on end. Imagine watching her battle through the ups and downs of a post-operative rehab program, doing your best to keep her motivated and positive throughout the process. Her next season begins 9 months after her surgery. She not only plays the entire season, injury free, but she leads her team to a conference championship.

It gives me chills just thinking about it now. This particular athlete and I actually shared a moment after the final buzzer of the championship game where we both teared up a little, knowing all of the hard work that both of us (but lets be real, mostly her) put in, to get there.

champs

Those are the moments that make me love this profession. Those are the moments that keep me going, through the late nights, early mornings, and long days. Those are the moments that make it all worth it, and that keep me coming back for more. The world of athletic training is a crazy one. In this job, you never know what tomorrow will bring, or what type of injury will walk through the door next. This profession brings with it crazy highs and crazy lows, and everything in between. But at this point in my life, I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Do you know any athletic trainers? Do you love what you do for work, and why? 

A Stadium Workout

I have been researching a post that I fully intended on posting today… But then life got in the way and I have not finished either researching or writing at this time.

Any of you who know the world of athletic trainers know that there are certain times in the year (playoffs in particular) when our lives have the potential to get a little ridiculously hectic. That is this week. I’m too tired to think, let alone write a well thought out, well-researched post.

Not only that, but I finally saw Titanic 3D on Monday night, and lets just say that I cried so much that my eyes hurt all day on Tuesday. That’s right, the love story between baby Leo and Kate Winslet is part of the reason why you’re not getting that post today.

Yep, it looked something like that. WIth 3D glasses on. Classy huh?

Sorry!

Anyway, what I am going to give you today is a Stadium/Stair workout that you can do on your own! I figure that I talk about running stadiums so much, but I know that many of my readers have never had the chance to do that, or don’t know exactly what “running stadiums” means.

I’ll break it down for you: Usually I run up and down the giant cement columns of Harvard Stadium, basically until my legs fall off.  Sometimes, however, I break up the run into “circuits” to make it a little more interesting.  But to be more specific, here is a workout that I did recently.  Keep in mind that Harvard Stadium has both big steps and small steps. The smaller ones are about the size of a normal stair, while the big ones are about twice that height and about 3 times as deep. So even if you don’t have a stadium accessible to you, you can do this type of workout on any large set of stairs (sometimes you can find great, secluded high stairways in parks or leading up to a bridge — just make sure you are safe!)When I say “Bigs” here, I mean the big steps, and “Smalls” are of course the smaller steps. If you just have one set of regular sized stairs, try doubling them up for the Bigs!

The Bigs and Smalls at Harvard

Start off with about 10 minutes of a Dynamic Warmup. Without a DW, your first few reps of stadium runs will feel like you’re moving through quick sand, which is not a pretty way to start out a workout! If you’re not sure what this is or how to do one, head over to Kristen at StrengthSwag for her great posts on the DW (Here and Here)!

Stadium Work Out

5 Columns – Run Bigs (as fast as possible), walk down

2 Columns – Side Step Bigs (one column leading with each leg), walk down

1 Column – Run Smalls (as fast as possible), walk down

1 min rest.

Repeat this Circuit (8 Columns) once more.

1 min rest

2 Columns – Run Bigs, walk down

2 Columns – SPRINT Smalls, walk down

Stretch/Cool down

A few notes:

  • I try not to rest in between columns, unless I’m absolutely dying or if it’s between circuits. Try to rest as little as possible during the circuit, but if you’re a beginner, or just having an off day, rest does not make you weak, and if you need it, take it!
  • Side Stepping is exactly what it sounds like. Face to your right do a lateral step up with your left leg, bring your right up to meet it. Continue this all the way up the stairs, and face the opposite direction on the following column. These will absolutely kill the glutes of the lead leg, so beware!
  • You’ll be amazed at how light your legs will feel on the Smalls, after the Bigs and sidesteps. I tire out by the top though, due to the height of Harvard Stadium, but try to keep an all out sprint to the top. The last two Smalls should be everything you have left!
Come on, how can you resist this face?  

So there you have it. An example of one of the many types of stadium workouts I do. I try to get out there at least once per week during the warmer months; it’s one of my absolute favorite types of workouts (if you couldn’t tell by the shear number of times I’ve mentioned them here and on Twitter). Questions? Comments?

Do you run stadiums? Do you have a stadium near you but you haven’t dared to run in it yet?