Athletic Trainers Provide Support Behind Scenes

The scenario is a familiar one - a WVU athlete falls to the field or court in pain following a play. As fans try to identify the injured player, the first people on the scene are members of the West Virginia athletic training staff.

Randy Meador, the coordinator of Athletic Training Services at WVU, is often one of those who responds to athletes in distress. In addition to his coordinator duties, he also serves as head men's basketball trainer. For a few brief moments, Meador or one of his fellow staffers is in the spotlight as they assist the fallen player. However, that scrutiny usually ends once play has resumed, as the training staff fades into the background behind the bench or in a treatment room.

That's hardly the end of the staff's involvment, however. In fact, it's barely the tip of the iceberg. Being so close to the playing surface, and interacting with the athletes, may seem glamorous, but there are many parts of Meador's job that extend far beyond that initial treatment on the floor.

In addition to the sheer amount of time that trainers spend with the team (they are there for all games and practices as well as during workout sessions), there's a great deal of interaction between them and the team physicians and strength staff as they work to devise plans to treat injuries, rehabilitate the players, then get them back into competition.

"There's a big crossover between doctors, the skill development staff and the strength coaches," Meador explained. "We all work within the concept of sports medicine.

"When we get an injury, we take the athlete to the physician first. Let's say we have an injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) of the knee. Roughly speaking, the doctors do the surgery, we develop a rehabilitation program, then the skill development staff gets involved as the athlete gets closer to returning to competition. We all work together, though. For instance, we might talk with the strength staff and tell them to avoid certain exercises but emphasize others to help the athlete recover.

"We do a lot of that coordination between all the groups," Meador continued. "We feel we have great staff here, so it is a good process. We also help the athlete through the entire process.

"For instance, we don't send anyone to the doctors without either myself or a member of the athletic training staff present. That way, we know what is going on first hand, and we can also help explain everything to the player. A player might be hurt or upset or nervous after getting injured, and they might not get all the information they need or know what questions to ask. So, with one of us there, we can help in that area, talk to them in layman's terms, and get everything we need to know from the doctors in order to help the recovery process along, and also make the player more comfortable."

If that sounds like a complicated process, well, it probably is. It takes a great deal of coordination and effort on the part of several different departments in order to help an injured student-athlete along the road to recovery. With so many different sections involved, the potential for confusion or missed signals is present, so each sport, and each coach, has their own system for getting all the information about each player.

In the football program, for example, head trainer Dave Kerns and his staff turn in a daily report on injured players. With more than 100 players to account for, that report can be fairly lengthy. Other coaches, with fewer players, get their reports via e-mail or other electronic means. But in the end, each coach, and each part of the WVU sports medicine family, are kept up to date on the status and progress of each player. That's the responsiblity of the respective athletic trainer in charge of each sport, and those people have daily access to the coaches.

The documentation process is also another time-consuming part of the trainers' lives, as they have to complete not only status reports, but also track other items.

"We have to document injuries and treatments, too," Meador adds. "Just about anything we do, we have to keep a record of."

Once the process of rehabilitation nears completion, the doctor involved has the final say on when a player can return to practice. That's not the end of it, however, as the trainers will want to make sure the athlete can meet certain criteria before returning to the playing field.

"Even after the doctor clears a player to come back, it can still be on us to make sure he can meet specific guidelines before he gets back out on the field," Meador explained. "For example, can the player walk or jog without a limp? Until he can, we might not let him practice."

Fortunately for WVU, there's a lot a mutual respect between the various arms of the sports medicine family. Without it, the process might break down.

"We are blessed with a large and good strength staff, and they look at preventing injuries," Meador noted. "Mike Barwis and I communicate a good deal, both in and out of season. We might adjust workouts to combat a rash of injuries that we have had, or discuss other modifications. At a smaller school, an athletic trainer might have to do more of that on his own, but here, we have some great people on the strength and conditioning staff that work with us."

In addition to full time staff such as Meador, a number of undergraduate and graduate students in WVU's athletic training program also provide services to the Mountaineer athletes. Students work rotations for different sports so they get experience in all sorts of situations.

"We have a large chart we use for tracking, and we make sure students get exposed to different sports, and different genders in those sports," Meador detailed. "Everyone goes through football at some point, as well as several other sports. When they graduate from WVU, we want to ensure they have had a good, varied background."

Just like the staff, the students also put in long hours. In additon to their coursework, the students also have their duties in their current sport assignment, as well studying for certification exams.

"There are more hours involved in curriculm now than there were 10 years ago," Meador observed. "Time management is a major factor. There's a high burnout in this profession due to the time involvement. Unless you are just teaching, you have to be there for practices, games, and treatments.

"It is busy at different times for different people," Meador went on. "August is just a total wipeout for football guys, for example. For me, since I am the coordinator, preparing the budget, working on insurance issues, and purchasing keeps me very busy in May and July, and then of course basketball season occupies me from November through March."

In addition to those duties, Meador also coordinated and hosted the annual meeting of the West Virginia Athletic Trainers Association earlier this month. That meeting included lectures and practical experience on a number of topics, and added to Meador's already hectic schedule.

As if all those things weren't enough to keep the athletic trainers busy, Meador and the Coliseum staff are in the process of moving the Coliseum training room to the Shell Building while renovations, which will include a new training area, are performed at the Coliseum. The new room and area, which Meador is looking forward to utilizing, will make his job a bit easier.

Like any other medical science, athletic training isn't something that stays static. New ideas and new treatments continue to emerge, which is a big reason for annual meetings of the sort that WVU just hosted. Meador detailed one new development that appears to be coming onto the rehabilitation scene.

"Something on the horizon is new laser techniques that will be made available to athletic trainers. The device looks like a flashlight, and is currently being used for rehab of carpal tunnel injuries. We believe that it could improve healing times for any sort of tendonitis type of injuries."

So, the next time you see members of the training staff on the field or court, remember that you are only witnessing a very small percentage of the time and effort they provide to the WVU athletic program. Their dedication in providing assistance to the athletes is no less that that shown by the players themselves.

You can find out more about the WVU athletic training program at their website.

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