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.
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.
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.
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!”
@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.
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?