High school athletic trainers continue to offer guidance to their athletes
March was National Athletic Training Month.
You'll pardon the honorees if they weren't in a celebratory mood.
As the winter high school sports season wound down, spring sports ramped up. Athletic trainers were swamped trying to get their athletes physically fit for anything and everything.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck. On March 13 Gov. J.B. Pritzker closed Illinois schools, and a couple weeks ago he extended the closure through the end of the school year.
While athletes and coaches drift through an unknown landscape, athletic trainers also must navigate the dramatic shift. They've been cut off from those they should be treating.
"There are a lot of kids who just don't know what to do and need that guidance," said Naperville Central athletic trainer Mark Florence. "Right now we're just trying to let everyone know that we're still here and ready to help."
The spring sports season and chaos go hand-in-hand, and athletic trainers train themselves to deal with the busiest time of the entire school year.
But even in early March as they worked with scores of athletes getting ready for baseball, softball, volleyball, soccer, badminton and everything else, athletic trainers had COVID-19 on their radar. More information emerged and the possibility of shutting down looked more realistic.
"When I saw this was coming down the pipeline, I worked to get a home exercise program in place for the athletes," said Hoffman Estates athletic trainer Greg Garofalo. "We ran out of time to get everything in place but we did quite a bit."
In addition to the athletes starting spring sports, Stevenson athletic trainer Tyler Kollmann was working with the boys basketball team competing in sectional play when school closed.
Beyond the significant attention needed for athletes recovering from ACL tears and other serious injuries, the timing for the shut down was less than ideal.
"We did see a lot of traffic in the days leading up to school closing," Kollmann said. "Spring is the busiest, most-scattered season but I'd rather be dealing with that right now."
In lieu of detailed, in-house therapy, athletic trainers are moving toward more general advice for their athletes. The only question is how to deliver the information.
"The main thing is to help them stay fit and stay athletic," Florence said. "It's all about making sure they have options."
Here to help
Florence turned to Twitter and the Remind app to stay in touch with athletes. Kollmann also uses social media and the Habit Share app.
Garofalo made sure his athletes knew he was readily available on social media and email, but it hasn't been easy to stay connected. The longer students remain out of school, the more distant they become.
"It's been a little frustrating because I know there are kids who could benefit from talking to me," Garofalo said. "But there's only so much I can do."
Pictures of an injury with a description of the pain is often enough for someone as experienced as Florence to diagnose an issue. It's no substitute, though, for the comfort of a face-to-face visit.
"There's a certain bedside manner that goes along with it," Kollmann said. "You're always better when you see the issue in front of you."
Now that school is indefinitely shut down, a new worry arises. When prep sports do return, proper acclimatization must occur to prevent injury.
Because each athlete will have been on their own for months, they'll each be at a different starting point for the reboot. Too much too soon is a concern -- especially with overly eager prep athletes.
"At the time it happened, backing off wasn't the worst thing but we didn't see it lasting this long," Kollmann said. "Now it becomes a balancing act. It's a definite fear that some of the athletes are going to push themselves too hard at the beginning."
If athletes push themselves too hard, the athletic trainers will be there. And, as always, they'll be ready.
Before, during and after the pandemic, the same message resonates.
"I'm here, and I'll continue to be here," Florence said.