By Gina Mussio
The role of the athletic trainer has taken on even more importance recently, as data on the risks of head injuries and other serious health issues among football players come to light. But beyond injuries, athletic trainers, or ATs, are involved in many aspects of players' performance.
They handle the prevention, diagnosis and intervention of any medical issues for the athlete, according to the National Athletic Trainers' Association, the field's professional organization. As licensed health-care providers, they are often the first point of medical contact for athletes.
And as it happens, Ohio University's athletic training program, housed in the College of Health Sciences and Professions, has a deep bench of AT alumni filling key positions in the NFL, as well as college and high school sports.
One such alum, John Bowman, returned to his alma mater in 1994 to serve as head athletic trainer for the Bobcat football team. Bowman, BSH '87, is now the Bobcats' director of sports medicine, overseeing all aspects of all teams' health. He manages a 12-person staff, which cares for dozens of athletes in sports ranging from football to soccer to swimming. It's a big job.
"You're dealing with the whole health care of the athlete, both athletic and nonathletic," Bowman says.
For a profession founded with the purpose of providing medical care to athletes, it's probably no surprise that many in the field seek out the hard-hitting sport of football.
"I like the intensity of it, the impact," says Jennifer Brodeur, BSH '91, head football AT for the University of Massachusetts, one of just a handful of women holding that position. "(There's) more of an urgent nature and a high-impact nature than many other sports. That's what us crazy athletic trainers thrive on."
An injury-prone sport such as football definitely challenges an AT's skills, agrees Todd Toriscelli, BSH '84 and director of sports medicine and performance for the NFL's Tampa Bay Bucs. Toriscelli is quick to add that many of those skills he learned in Athens.
"I had a ton to learn when I came out (of my undergraduate program), but the foundation was set," he says. "A lot of things that I learned at Ohio University I still use to this day."
Athletic training originated in the 1930s, but the profession gained traction in the '50s, after the NATA was formed. Ohio University's program was accredited in 1972.
Just as it is now, "real-world" training was a key part of the early AT program. Students worked with different teams, switching sports with each new season.
"We were hands-on from the get-go," says Chris Hanks, BSPE '89, who took over as head athletic trainer for the NFL's Chicago Bears in the spring. "That was the strong point of the Ohio University athletic program when I went through it. It's not just the education – which was very sound – but your practical clinical experiences. When you leave, you feel very confident and well-educated."
Today, the undergraduate professional program has about 100 students enrolled and the graduate program has 36, making it one of the largest post-professional programs in the country, says Chad Starkey, professor of athletic training.
"The AT 'Bobcat Nation' is one of the pillars that supports the longstanding tradition of producing quality health-care providers," Starkey says. "We always look forward to hearing from our alumni and bringing them back to Athens to relive memories and help us build toward the future."
The lineup of Bobcat ATs in major sports is extensive. It includes Dave Kerns, MSPE '87, head football athletic trainer at West Virginia University; Matt Johnson, BSAT '01, assistant athletic trainer for the Chicago Cubs; Tim Neal, BSED '79, assistant director of athletics for sports medicine at Syracuse University; and Angela Andrews, MSRSS '10, head athletic trainer at High Point (N.C.) High School.
What do all these ATs have in common?
"Game day is what it's all about," says the Bears' Hanks. "Game Day gets you hooked. It's a lot of work during the week, and it's a reward for the players as well as the athletic trainers to get to that point."
"There's so much behind the scenes that goes into it to get those kids as healthy as you can, as ready as you can," he says. "I've always got that feeling when I go home at night that I felt good about what I did today."
Gina Mussio was a student writer for Ohio University's College of Health Sciences and Professions during the fall 2012 semester.
Video by Ryan Nord
Interviews by Elizabeth Dickson
Real-world training is a key part of the athletic training program at Ohio University: Undergraduate and graduate students receive hands-on experience in providing care for a variety of sports at both the high school and collegiate levels. While the students enroll in the program to learn the methods of the field, many come away with something more.
Nowhere is this more evident than at the athletic training facility in Peden Stadium, where two dynamics at play can be observed. The first is that of an athletic trainer helping an athlete — by putting an ice bag on the athlete, taping up a set of ankles or identifying a problem. The other dynamic is one of friendship. Many of these trainers develop a bond with the athletes and over the years witness how they overcome injuries and struggles to achieve success.
In this video, students at Ohio University and Director of Sports Medicine John Bowman, BSH '87, talk about the work they do and what makes the program unique.