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!

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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.

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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!

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What Happens In Vegas…

… Is a lot of learning and networking…

Right?

Oh, and pool time.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m off to Vegas for the National Athletic Trainers Association annual conference until next Friday.

There’s sure to be a ton of learning, a ton of networking, and also plenty of pool time and other fun. The NATA holds it’s national conference in different cities each year, and this year is the one we’ve all been waiting for since it was announced a few years ago. Vegas! Last year we were in St. Louis, and while I really do love St. Louis, it’s about time for a trip to Las Vegas. I haven’t been there in years, and I can’t wait to get back. There’s something about a city that actively tries to keep you from finding out what time it is…

Anyway, anytime you’re away from home, there are some simple ways to stay sane and (fairly) healthy even while away from your routine. Yes, even in Vegas, it is possible to stay (fairly) healthy, and that is my plan. Hydration, veggies whenever possible, and at least a few light sweat sessions will be musts. But like I said, my goal is to keep this week only fairly healthy, because who goes to Vegas and follows all the rules?

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I’m not even sure there are any rules in Vegas to be honest.

My point is, vacation (even though this isn’t really a vacation) is not a time to stress about rules, calories, macros, and hitting PRs or certain mileage. As long as you keep yourself mostly in check, a few days of relaxed food and exercise “rules”will do you more good than you realize. It’s one thing to maintain a mostly healthy lifestyle while on vacation, and it’s another thing completely to obsess over everything concerning nutrition and fitness. Stress is stress, and worrying incessantly about only eating perfectly on your trip or burning enough calories will actually be harmful toward your health goals, not beneficial. The body needs periods of time with low stress, and that includes mental stress as well as physical. So my plan this week is exactly as I outlined above. Get those veggies in, stay hydrated, and work out at least a couple of times. This will ensure I don’t feel like complete crap but doesn’t mean that I’m going to skip the strawberry margarita just because it doesn’t fit into my plan.

Sometimes you just gotta relax and live it up, you know?

Maybe I’ll come back with some knowledge that you all will find interesting. Maybe I’ll put some posts up while I’m gone next week, but really who knows? That would require me writing them today, since the thought of me writing next week while I’m there is just completely ludicrous.

Any-hoo, I’m off to do some learning, networking, and to have a few cocktails by the pool. And I’m going to enjoy every second of it.  Don’t miss me too much!

Have you been to Vegas? What is your favorite thing to do there? Any good book recommendations for my flight? 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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? 

You Ate ALL The Food?

Happy Independence Day to all my US readers! Does anyone have any cool plans for the holiday?

And in unrelated patriotic news…

When I was in St. Louis and Memphis over the past week, I think I ate all of the food in both cities. All of the food, and all of the coffee.

Whoops.

Would you like to see a few of these morsels? I know how some of you truly enjoy food voyeurism. And it just so happens that it’s Wednesday… so I’m going to go ahead and link up to the WIAW party over at Peas and Crayons (even though this is kind of cheating, it’s not a true WIAW. But I don’t care)

St Louis: 

There are 2 places I want to talk about in this lovely city, both of which we unfortunately did not find until the last night/last day. The last night we were there, we had gotten a recommendation to visit Broadway Oyster House, so we decided to give it a try. In my head, I was picturing some fancy schmancy oyster house, with tiny plates and even tinier food. BOY was I wrong.

I know, the flash completely blanked out the name. Sorry! 

The name was deceiving, as it was actually a little old Cajun restaurant/bar with the most delicious looking menu I’ve ever seen. Jumbalaya, Crawfish, Alligator, Gumbo Ya-Ya, Etouffee, the list went on and on. How does a girl choose?

I ended up going with the Crawfish Etouffee, which was like a party in my mouth. No, not just any party, like the BEST PARTY YOU’VE EVER BEEN TO. If you’ve never tried Etoufee (shrimp or crawfish), shame on you. Go down south and get on that.

Crawfish Etouffee. *drool*

I also had some crawfish, because who can resist sucking juices out of a crustaceons head?

Why hello, Sir! Don’t mind me while I break you in half, eat your tail meat, and suck out your brains. 

The next morning, I decided to skip the out-the-door line at Starbucks before heading over  to the convention center. I wandered about a block and a half away, and stumbled upon a little coffee shop/cafe that served all local fresh foods. Score!

Local Harvest had just opened up about 3 weeks ago, so there were still a few glitches in their system but overall it was wonderful. I loved it so much that after my breakfast and coffee, I ended up back there for lunch!

The berry/granola parfait I got for breakfast. I also had them add in a dollop of organic peanut butter so that it would keep me full for a long day of lectures!

I came back for lunch with one of my friends, and had this delicious turkey sandwich with all local and fresh ingredients. 

Memphis:

To put it simply, Memphis rocks.

Not only does it rock, literally, with live music up the Wazoo, but the food is freaking delicious too!

Our first morning there, we were wandering through the blistering heat trying to get to a coffee shop. That is, until, we walked by Automatic Slims, looked at the menu, and decided that crab cakes benedict sounded far better than walking 3 more blocks for coffee. In we went for a brunch that left us both drooling!

Probski one of the best bloody mary’s I’ve ever had. Don’t judge. 

This was called the Slim’s Scrambler, and was farm fresh eggs, fresh tomatoes, red onions, potatoes, and chorizo, with some miracle of a sauce on top. SO GOOD. 

That brunch left us full for the entire day… All the way through our trip to Graceland (which is probably one of the coolest places I’ve been to). Hanging out in Elvis’ house? Yes, please!

Me with my awesome head set straight from the 80s, getting ready for the Graceland Audio Tour. Dorkfest. 

Once we got back from The Kings’ mansion, we prettied ourselves up and headed towards Beale St for some real Memphis BBQ.

We ended up at Blues City BBQ for some ribs, and they didn’t disappoint! We shared a rack of ribs, and although it was far too dark in there to get a good shot, I’ll give you what I got even though it kind of just looks like an animal carcass.

I know, I know, that’s technically what it is, but still. I should be able to take a prettier picture than that! Let me tell you though, the meat was just Falling right off those bones and melting in my mouth. Yum-O.

And let’s not forget to mention all of the nutritional goodies that I snagged while walking around the NATA trade show back in St. Louis.

Most of the spread on my hotel bed. 

I think I spent one visit to the exhibit hall on a hunt strictly for protein, and it paid off! This stuff was my #1 free find …

The folks at EAS were kind enough to give me this full sized tub of protein, and although I think the name is stupid (Shocker… protein shakes will not make you “lean and toned”) I’m not going to turn down free protein, especially this much of it. Score!

That’s all for today folks, enjoy your holiday!