Athletic Trainer Al Martindale Invaluable

Everyone hears about athletes and head coaches of the various sports at the University of Illinois. They get the notoriety, for better or worse. But behind the scenes are many essential but otherwise anonymous people without whom those athletes could not compete at peak efficiency. One of the most important groups is the athletic trainers led by Al Martindale.

Al Martindale is the head athletic trainer at the University of Illinois. He supervises 7 full-time assistants, two graduate assistants and more than 2 dozen student trainers. Martindale is primarily responsible for basketball, but he oversees the trainers for all 19 sports.

The Pottsville, Iowa, native generally works from 6:00am to 7:00pm daily, but he is on call 24 hours a day. The workload is even greater during basketball season since he travels with the team and must respond to every injury and provide the care needed to speed recovery.

He accepts the workload graciously. It is something he has been doing for 30 years, the last 27 at Illinois. He started with football and has been in charge of basketball the past seven years. He is a member of the Illinois Athletic Trainers Hall of Fame.

According to Martindale, it is a mistake to presume his responsibilities lessened with his switch from football to basketball. He has fewer athletes to tape before practices and games, but he has less help doing it.

"With football, I had two or three assistants and 10 or 12 undergraduate students that are in our education program. So we had manpower. In basketball, we have myself and one student.

"Everybody knows football is a contact sport, so you're gonna have injuries. It's no different than basketball at times. There's contact in basketball as well, and you're gonna have injuries."

Martindale is the final word whether an athlete is fit to practice and play. Illini coaches must accept his decisions.

"Right. And that goes back to football. A lot of input comes from our team physicians as well. Over the years I've been here dealing with coaches, if we felt that a student-athlete could not go, and we say he's not gonna play, they understood that.

"Sometimes it's, 'Well, let's see what he can do.' And I've done that, having them go out and warm up. Sometimes their coaches are watching them in warmups, and they see for themselves that they can't go.

"Even at times during the week at practice, I've had student-athletes say they can't practice that day. 'How do you know you can't practice if you haven't tried?' So you suggest they go see what they can do in practice.

"'I'm gonna watch you. If I feel that you can't do it, it either hurts too much or you're favoring it too much, if you're gonna jeopardize your health we'll just pull you out. But at least give yourself the opportunity to go try.'

"Then there is the case where as an athletic trainer or a team doctor, it is probably in the best interest of the student-athlete that he or she can't do it. If we have a game in 2-3 days, it may be better to rest them this game and have them next game."

After a long grueling season, most if not all athletes in all sports have bumps, bruises and nagging pains they play through. So even if there are no major injuries, there is still plenty for a trainer to do. A lengthy basketball season takes a toll on everyone.

"After you've played 31 games, you've been at it since August, it's been 6-7 months of high intensity activity. You do see little things like sore knees, sore ankles, sore hamstrings, sore backs. But in all honestly, if these guys take care of themselves like doing their weight lifting, they should be okay.

"If your knee is sore, let's ice it down. If you need to warm it up, let's warm it up for practice. Make sure you get a good warmup before you start practicing. And then the other important thing is to take care of yourself off the court or off the field. Getting enough rest. Trying to eat three meals a day and eating the right kind of food."

To that end, the Illini athletes can take advantage of specialists available to help them.

"We have a full-time nutritionist (Susan Kundrat) on staff, and she's excellent. She's made herself available to our student-athletes. They can reach her to make appointments. I think between the athletic trainers and the strength coaches, we do emphasize that to our student-athletes. If you have questions, she's available."

And strength coach Jimmy Price does more than just supervise muscle development and conditioning.

"At least with basketball, Jimmy weighs them in weekly to get an idea what their weight is. A lot of times, either being on the road or being at home with games, you can watch and see what they actually eat.

"But on the other hand, people need to understand these players are students also. They're no different than the other students on campus. For instance, maybe some of them don't eat breakfast. Maybe they have something for lunch that's light, but then have dinner at night.

"They've got to understand, when you come to practice you've got to have some energy. I compare it to a car sometimes. If you don't put oil in it, or if you don't put good gasoline in it, nothing happens. If you don't put good food with good nutritional value in your system, it isn't gonna run.

"Similarly, if you're not hydrated and drinking enough fluids, water and other juices and stay away from the soda with the caffeine and stuff, you have problems. If you put good fluids into your system, your body runs better."

Martindale has plenty of help for home games. But he has more responsibility on road trips. Even if all the athletes make it through the game unscathed, he has much more to do than just the pregame taping.

"I'm responsible for some of the things on the trip like making sure the busses are there. Making sure we've got meals. Making arrangements if we go out to a restaurant to eat, coordinate that. We will have 2-3 student managers go with us on the trip. Sean Harrington, who's the Director Of Basketball Operations, has made a lot of the arrangements also.

"But I think some of it falls back to me in the sense that, when Rod (Cardinal) did basketball, he did all of that. In some ways, it just kind of filtered backwards. I don't mind doing it. It's fun, but it adds some responsibility to what you do.

"After the game is over and everybody leaves, I do clean up the locker room to make sure it's as clean as when we came into it. I used to do that with football, so that's been a philosophy of mine. Before we left the locker, everything was picked up. I guess I take pride in that."

Martindale talks about the treatment of specific injuries including sprained ankles and torn knee ligaments in Part 2, and he reflects on some of his best memories throughout a long and distinguished career in Part 3.

Illini Inquirer Top Stories