Ice Ice Baby: Athletic Trainers Keep Bulldogs on the Field

While many students do homework, watch Netflix or workout after class, Union’s athletic trainers work to heal their classmates in the Fesmire Field House training room.

There, athletes sit on high wooden benches covered in red cushions waiting to get stretched, heated or taped. One lies on his back with his hood over his face relaxing under a heated blanket. A couple of soccer players perch on top of the wooden table in the middle of the room, each waiting patiently for their turn to get taped.

Among the 15 athletes around the room, five athletic trainers move hurriedly like a bee traveling between flowers. One trainer puts a heating pad on an athlete, while another tapes five consecutive ankles. Still another trainer counts to three as he performs a resistance warm-up on a pitcher. Zach Crane, senior sports medicine major, walks in after just putting out water jugs for the softball, baseball and soccer teams.

“I just went to my first basketball game last night,” Crane said following the last home game of the season.

As a student athletic trainer, Crane spends his free time studying instead of attending extracurricular activities. Though he missed being a spectator during basketball season, he never misses working a soccer or baseball game.

Athletic trainers spend countless hours on and off the field or court. Crane arrives at the baseball field at 9:30 a.m. for a 1 p.m. game. Before the game, trainers help the players stretch and start rehab. They put water in the dugouts and prepare the John Deere Gator with equipment needed for potential injuries.

Though there are a lot of tasks to complete before a game, there are usually a couple of trainers assigned to one team.

“We have a lot of student athletic trainers to help juggle the athletes and the jobs that have to be done before and after practices and games,” Crane said.

Athletic trainers do a lot of physical work with their athletes and sport, but there is also much more included in their job description.

Jonathan Allen, clinical coordinator and assistant professor of athletic training, said it’s important for athletic trainers to build close relationships with their athletes. They become a part of the team. They become great listeners as they spend quality time with the athletes, as part of their job is to connect with them.

“It’s a lot of armchair psychology,” Allen said. “There are a lot of stories I will never tell. They need to know I’m willing to go to bat for them.”

Athletic trainers take the weight of secrets entrusted only to them and are fully responsible in making sure athletes heal to their full mental and physical capabilities.

Crane understands the need for healing. He attended Union his freshman year to play soccer, but a health condition hindered his performance on the field. After a frustrating year, he transferred to Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson to continue playing.

“The same thing happened to me there,” Crane said. “Except this time I had to go to the emergency room, and they had to put fluids in me.”

Though it wasn’t easy, Crane transferred back to Union realizing playing soccer would no longer be in his future. But he still wanted to be around the sport he loved and felt the Lord calling him to athletic training.

“I know what athletes ultimately want, and I understand there are limits and things that hinder their performance,” he said.

Crane said he can relate to hurt athletes and uses his frustrations toward his own injuries to help others understand their situations better. Injuries can easily and quickly fill an athlete’s head with worry and doubt, sometimes leading to confusion and depleted confidence.

Liam Munshi, freshman sports management major and baseball player, had shoulder surgery over winter break. He works with trainer Oscar Orengo and Crane on an intense rehabilitation program.

“They’ve been awesome,” Munshi said. “They really make you feel like you’re their number one priority. They really have a servant’s attitude.”

Munshi said he was surprised when he walked into the training room one afternoon and Orengo handed him a printed two-month rehabilitation schedule. He wasn’t expecting Orengo to be so prepared to help him come back from the injury.

While Orengo planned the next two months for Munshi, Crane risked his own safety catching his first pitches following the recovery process.

“That’s really scary catching for a pitcher the first time back after two months,“ Munshi said. “I don’t really know where the ball is going to go.“

While they have a lot of hands-on experience, athletic trainers spend just as many hours in the books as they do with their teams. During their first three years, students memorize medical terms in preparation for their junior evaluation of the body.

“We have to learn all of the special tests that make up an evaluation of a certain joint,” said Laura Michael, senior athletic training major. “Like, if you were to hurt your knee, I would run through a list of tests on your knee to rule out injuries and narrow it down to figure out what’s wrong.”

Sophomore year, along with their studies, Allen assigns the students to clinical rotations. Their senior year, students get to request one sport they want to work with. Faculty members interview candidates and assign them to a sport.

Crane said he knew from the beginning he wanted to work with soccer players. This past fall, he was assigned to the men’s soccer team at Union as well as the football team at South Side High School.

In the fall, Crane will attend Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville to work as an athletic trainer graduate assistant for their men’s soccer team and women’s basketball team.

Thanks to his time at Union, Crane said he is prepared for any situation that could happen from the sidelines—whether that be cleaning up blood or splinting a fracture.

“This program has prepared us really well to be on our own,” Crane said. “They do a good job in making sure we’re competent in what we do.”