Celebrating Athletic Trainers Who Lend a Helping Hand

Heroes of the Field

 

Sustaining injuries is a natural part of athletics. Whether at practice, during a big game, or even just in day-to-day life, there is a myriad of things that can take an athlete off their game. When that happens, athletic trainers are there to lend a helping hand. From taping ankles to providing triage, the individuals who fill these roles do more than just rehabilitate athletes; they also communicate with doctors and coaches and are mentors for those they serve. Read on to learn more about the local men who are stepping up to the plate when it comes to the health of their athletes.

 

Photography by Vityl Media

Daniel Heinbaugh

Lee University

Photo by Rich Smith

What is the No. 1 thing you enjoy about your job?

The thing I enjoy most is being able to help athletes continue doing what they have loved to do all their life. There’s something special about being part of their journey and helping them push themselves further than they thought they could go.

What teams do you currently work with?

I currently work with Lee University’s baseball, women’s soccer, and men’s and women’s golf teams. I’ve also worked with volleyball, basketball, softball, and track at other D2 institutions.

Describe what your average day looks like.

I typically begin treatments around 9:30 a.m. and will continue those until about 3 p.m. Then, I start getting athletes ready for afternoon and evening practices. The weekends typically have games, and we start pregame treatments about four to five hours before game time.

What’s the most challenging aspect of being an athletic trainer? The most rewarding?

The most difficult part of being an athletic trainer is maintaining a good work-life balance. The best part has got to be watching athletes – and even coaches and coworkers – work hard and have their goals come to fruition. I also enjoy building relationships, and I still have great connections with some athletes who I worked with a decade ago.

In your opinion, what makes a good athletic trainer?

You have to be calm under pressure and be able to think on your feet. It takes creativity to solve problems, and we have to deliver on everything from figuring out what the injury
is to how to keep athletes engaged during rehab.

What is the most memorable moment of your athletic training career?

There’s not one specific moment that sticks out, but every time I have been a part of a winning team has been really special. You get to work with a team for an entire year and watch all of their hard work pay off. I remember each conference tournament game and get to celebrate with the players and coaches after the big win.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

All of my coworkers and the coaches at Lee University have played a big part in my love for athletic training. The athletic training staff works so well together, and it’s reassuring to know that the sports medicine department prioritizes quality medical care. I also wouldn’t be on this journey without my wife holding down the fort during the busy seasons, and I would like to thank our athletic director Coach Carpenter for the opportunity to serve these athletes while they strive to be the best.

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Ryan Murphy athletic trainer for Tennessee Wesleyan University.

Ryan Murphy

Tennessee Wesleyan University

How did you get into athletic training?

I have such a love for sports and grew up in a family that was all about playing sports. I also have had my fair share of injuries, which got me closer to my high school athletic trainer. In the end, I decided to be an AT because I wanted to be around athletes regularly and witnessed the impact my trainer had on the athletic department at my high school.

What is the No. 1 thing you enjoy about your job?

Getting an athlete back playing the sport they love after an injury. Many athletes have their identity in their sport, so when that gets taken away even for a brief time, it can be very difficult for them to process.

What teams do you work with?

I currently work with baseball, tennis, men’s soccer, and men’s track. I also work at Tellico Plains High School during the footballa season, and I have worked with the Knoxville Ice Bears, Meigs County High School football, and Cleveland Middle School athletics in the past. Every team I have worked with has its own personality and culture, and I’ve been fortunate to interact with athletes from all over the world including Ireland, Russia, Argentina, South Africa, Curaçao, Canada, and many more.

Describe what your average day looks like.

Throughout the day, I have appointments for my athletes for treatment, rehab, injury evaluation, and I also get them ready for practice. Outside of scheduled appointments, I’ll perform administrative responsibilities such as documenting injuries and rehab notes, working with insurance claims, scheduling doctor appointments, and communicating with coaches. I also cover practices and games.

What’s the most challenging aspect of being an athletic trainer? The most rewarding?

Being an athletic trainer means long hours, and it can be very frustrating to deal with insurance claims. Coaches can also present a challenge in that each one has a different standard and expectation when it comes to injuries and sports medicine, and they aren’t always realistic. On the other hand, being a part of a team’s success and the relationships you build with colleagues and athletes can be extremely rewarding.

What is the most memorable moment of your athletic training career?

So far, it is being a part of the 2022 Tennessee Wesleyan University baseball team earning a bid to the 2022 NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Athletic trainers are some of the most misunderstood and underappreciated allied health professionals. We do a lot more behind the scenes than most people realize, including our athletes. If you do not know an athletic trainer, get to know one, and if you do know one, thanking them for all the work they do would go a long way.

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Ryan Clark, athletic trainer for Covenant College.

Ryan Clark

Covenant College

How did you get into athletic training?

At my high school, we had a few athletic trainers, and since I played soccer, I got to see what they did. It sparked my interest. I always knew I wanted to be in the medical field, and I also love sports, so this was the perfect job for me.

What is the No. 1 thing you enjoy about your job?

The best thing about my job is the relationships I get to form with the athletes. It is fun to get to know them personally. Building these relationships is essential to cultivating a positive experience in the training room, which will warrant better patient outcomes. Walking alongside athletes while they are battling injuries and pushing themselves through rehab you want to have their trust, and you can only build that through strong relationships.

What teams do you work with?

At Covenant College, I work closely with men’s soccer, basketball, and baseball. Before I came to Covenant, I worked for the Tennessee Titans, Detroit Lions, and Christ Presbyterian Academy.

Describe what your average day looks like.

Every day looks a little different, which is one of the reasons I love this profession. I might be making a house call because an athlete dislocated their finger or taking a call at 3 a.m. because an athlete needs help and doesn’t feel like there is anyone else to turn to. On a typical day, however, I come in around 1 p.m. to start on administrative duties. Several hours later, the athletes start piling in to start on their rehabilitation or to get ready for practice. After practices, we start on post-practice treatments and recovery to prep the athletes for the next day. The weekends just depend on what sports are going on and what they are doing.

What’s the most challenging aspect of being an athletic trainer?

The most challenging aspect of the job can be how quickly you have to think on your feet. In most settings, there is only one athletic trainer, so not having a sense of backup can be daunting in a serious situation. We have to be able to recognize medical emergencies and know exactly what to do, often with very little equipment. This is why an athletic trainer is so important to have on staff. We are heavily educated and trained to handle high-stress situations.

What’s one piece of advice that you have for someone considering entering the athletic training field?

You have to advocate for yourself. Being able to draw boundaries means you can have a healthy work-life balance, which I’m a big advocate for in this profession.

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Austin Stevens, The University of the South (Sewanee)

Austin Stevens

The University of the South (Sewanee)

Photo by Rich Smith

How did you get into athletic training?

When I was younger, I wanted to make an impact on people and be a physical therapist. I started down that road, but then as a freshman in college, I dealt with a string of concussions that landed me on injury reserve. I didn’t want athletes to experience what I experienced, so preventing injuries or providing rehabilitation to athletes was the impact that I wanted to pursue.

Describe what your average day looks like.

The beauty of being an athletic trainer is that every day looks different. On an average day for me, I will do treatment/rehab in the morning and afternoon with different athletes, then I will get the men’s lacrosse team ready for practice. After practice, I provide any post-treatment that the athletes need.

What’s the most challenging aspect of being an athletic trainer? The most rewarding?

I think the most challenging aspect of being an athletic trainer is perfecting time management. Seeing an athlete perform successfully after working through an injury is one of the most rewarding aspects. Watching an athlete work through every stage of injury and return to the sport they love will always be the motivation I need.

What are some common misconceptions people have about the profession?

We contribute way more to athletes’ lives than just tape and hydration. We’re sometimes the only means of healthcare to athletes, whether that’s general medicine or rehabilitation services. We are often the shoulder to cry on during the recovery period, and being present for the emotional and mental aspects of an injury is just as important as the physical aspect.

What’s one piece of advice that you have for someone considering entering the athletic training field?

Prepare to be a lifelong student. With any medical profession, new research and treatments are coming out every day.

What is the most memorable moment of your athletic training career?

I had a soccer athlete who spent the first half of the season on the injury reserve list. In their first game back, they got substituted into the game, and within 15 seconds, they scored their first goal of the season.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Athletic training is not a one-person show; it takes a dedicated staff to keep the wheels moving. At Sewanee, we have 24 varsity sports, and it takes a great staff to take care of the more than 500 student-athletes. In addition to myself, we have four trainers spread among 24 sports – Ray Knight, Aaron Miller, Taylor Yeager, and Taylor Chandler. I can’t thank them enough.

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Nathan Barger

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

What teams have you worked with?

I work exclusively with the UTC football program but am heavily involved in the day-to-day care of all student-athletes at UTC. When I started my athletic training career in 2013, I worked at East Tennessee State University. Each team and group of athletes I have covered has been unique and will always hold a special place in my heart.

Describe what your average day looks like.

An average day at UTC starts early. I wake up every day by 3:30 a.m. to work out and prepare for the day. I arrive at work by 5:30 a.m. Depending on the time of year, our doors open around 6 a.m. to begin treatment and taping. During the morning hours, we will perform treatments, transport athletes to doctor appointments, and cover practice. Our afternoons consist of post-practice treatments, doctor appointments, and administrative work.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of being an athletic trainer?

The most rewarding aspect of the job is seeing student-athletes achieve their goals. There is no better feeling than watching a student-athlete walk across the stage at graduation or returning to the field of competition after an injury.

What are some common misconceptions people have about the profession?

I think one of the biggest misconceptions is the actual role of an athletic trainer. When I started most thought of us as “water boys.” I think this mentality has changed drastically as the profession has grown. Of course, we do take care of hydration, practice, and game setup for athletes, but athletic trainers do so much more. Athletic trainers are also sport-specific rehabilitation specialists, medical liaisons to doctors, friends, mentors, and administrators. Athletic trainers serve as the front line for triaging all healthcare needs for our athletes.

In your opinion, what makes a good athletic trainer?

A good athletic trainer must possess the necessary clinical skills to identify, treat, and rehabilitate injuries. However, a GREAT athletic trainer must care and effectively communicate with all parties. A coach once told me, “These kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” These words transcend the work we do with student-athletes.

What’s one piece of advice that you have for someone considering entering the athletic training field?

The field of athletic training must be more than a job. It has to be a passion – something you love and enjoy. It is a privilege to work with athletes and share in their trials and victories. I would also stress to those going into the athletic training profession to find some semblance of work-life balance early on in their career. We are seeing too many athletic trainers leaving the profession because of burnout.

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