Illinois head athletic trainer Al Martindale has many fond memories of his years helping athletes and coaches.
"After you've done this for 38 years, you've got a lot of memories. I started off in a high school. Making it to a Supersectional was one of the first things.
"I was in Hawaii for six years. You look back and think about the teams you played and some of the people who played on those teams. You're a part of some good athletes. Remembering some of those people who came back to you and said, 'Hey, thanks for taking care of me. Thanks for getting me here.'"
His time at Illinois has provided some immense highlights.
"In essence, my first year at the University of Illinois we won the Big 10 Championship and went to the Rose Bowl. Not a lot of people get that opportunity. My second year with men's basketball, we win the Big 10 Championship and are #1 in the nation for many, many weeks and end up going to the Final Four.
"I remember Rod Cardinal and I sitting in the locker room before the National Championship game, and we're talking back and forth. How many athletic trainers can say they went to the Rose Bowl and went to the Final Four? There's not very many that can do that."
Athletic trainers receive adequate compensation, but their best rewards come from personal interactions with those they help.
"I think the other thing is the relationships you build with the student-athletes. Those are the things that you remember the most. It's like taking care of Luther (Head). You spend all this time with Luther, and then you sit there and watch the game he has afterwards. Basically, it's a game that sends them to the Final Four.
"Afterwards, he comes up and puts his arm around you and says, 'Thanks for all the time.' That's it. That's my reward. Yeah, it's great going to the Final Four, but the reward is when somebody like that comes to you, puts his arm around you and thanks you for getting him there."
When one gives of himself unselfishly throughout an entire career, he gets back in equal or greater abundance. The more years of service, the more people there are to remember you and appreciate your efforts on their behalf.
"There's been a lot of those. It's some of these guys that come back five years or ten years later for a reunion. 'I remember the time when you had me doing this and that, but you got me ready to play. Thanks for doing that.' Those are the rewards that you get out of this job."
Yes, it is rewarding to be a part of an athletic team's success. But a trainer must also share in the heartbreak of losses.
"There's rewards in the wins and losses, more so in the wins. Sometimes when you have a loss, it's tough. You deal with that because there's always tomorrow. I remember that loss to North Carolina.
"It hurt, but you wake up the next day, you get on a bus and get an escort all the way back from St. Louis. You walk into the Stadium and there's 20,000 people there. That's impressive.
"It was amazing to see the reaction of the players, to walk out there and see these people. And to be honest with you, that group of guys were like Rock stars. Everywhere we went, it was unbelieveable.
"It's like the 2007 Rose Bowl team. They were worshipped. That's pretty nice. Sometimes when you have that, compared to where you were a couple years before that, and then to accomplish that and have people in the community say, 'Hey, that's great!'"
The support people helping Illini players and coaches achieve success may outnumber them, yet they are basically anonymous. Their job is to make sure those they serve have success. Martindale likes his role despite the anonymity.
"At times, the athletic trainer is the guy that's in the background. The same way with the strength coaches and the equipment people. Those are three groups of people that play an integral part of the student-athlete achieving their success. You remain in the background, but you're one of the spokes in the wheel. At times you become a very important spoke in the wheel.
"The strength coach is a spoke, the equipment manager is a spoke, the sports information people are a spoke in the wheel, your team physicians are a spoke in the wheel. The team nutritionist is a spoke in the wheel, your academic people are a spoke in the wheel, and then you add all the coaches. They're all spokes in the wheel.
"At the core of it all is the student-athlete. Everybody who is a spoke guides everything to the student-athlete for them to perform at their highest level to achieve their success. That's what it's all about. There's been times in the past where coaches say trainers are a dime a dozen. Well, we probably are."
Those who fail to realize the value of truly good trainers who care about their work have a jaundiced view of the world. Outstanding trainers deserve all the praise they can receive. And Martindale is one who deserves it.
"It all comes back to the student-athlete. If you work hard and take care of them, and they're successful and come back and thank you for taking care of them, that's the success in my eyes for what you give."