Athletic trainers keep Cougars in top shape

Kristin Weller works as an athletic trainer in the Vadalabene Center on campus, treating athletes and getting them ready for game days. Sophomore wrestler and environmental studies major Matt Malavsky, of Fort Myers, Florida, is on the table.

Athletic trainers go beyond the scope of just preparing an athlete for a game — they work with several others to ensure student-athletes have the best experiences possible.

Athletic trainers are different from weight room supervisors. Instead, Head Athletic Trainer Gerald Schlemer said their work consists of three main domains: injury prevention, emergency injuries at games and rehabilitation.

“We work with prevention of injuries, so we look to identify deficits, areas that we can improve in an athlete’s health and safety,” Schlemer said. “So prevention is a large part of our profession. We deal with the emergency injuries, so when an athlete is on the field and if they get injured, we are dealing with that at that time. Then we deal with the long-term rehabilitation to return them to play and back to their sport.”

Currently, SIUE Athletics has eight certified, licensed athletic trainers on staff. Schlemer said the amount of education required to be an athletic trainer and the licensing process makes them more than just personal trainers.

“We are more than a personal trainer, we have more education and we are licensed at the institutions to basically practice the skills of athletic training,” Schlemer said. “We are an accessory to the physicians, so we are kind of like a physician extender, allowing us to do different [proficiencies].”

Even though athletic trainers must undergo substantial education to work in the profession, assistant athletic trainer Kristin Weller said that because they don’t work in the typical doctor’s office, they are not always recognized as health care providers.

“There’s a lot of misconceptions around athletic training. I think the biggest one that the profession is struggling with right now is [that we are not] being recognized as health care providers,” Weller said. “Because we work one-on-one with athletes and are not in the formal clinical setting, we are almost looked down on and not respected the same because most of us don’t have a doctorate degree.”

Schlemer said a trainer is present at all home practices and games in case an athlete is injured.

“We are on the field for practices and games … and we travel with all of our sports except for women’s tennis and men’s golf,” Schlemer said. “Those sports are very low-risk sports, but we do cover their home events and their home practices.”

According to senior baseball catcher Brock Weimer, the work of the athletic trainers does not go unnoticed.

“[Schlemer] definitely plays a big part in keeping us healthy and keeping our team on the field, helping us recover and just getting us ready for the next day,” Weimer said.

Athletic trainers work with several others to ensure an athlete’s success. Schlemer said they communicate with physicians, athletic performance staff and sports psychologists.

“Another part that we work with is we work with our athletic performance staff, so that’s the strength and conditioning coaches, nutritionists, et cetera,” Schlemer said. “Also with the mental health side of it, with our sports psychologists, as well as our team physicians. So we have a lot of interactions on behalf of the student-athlete, and we really work to keep them in the best possible shape.” 

Weller, who is the primary athletic trainer for women’s basketball and women’s tennis, said while athletic trainers do not work under the coaching staff or strength and conditioning coaches, communication among all of them is key.

“For the athletes to have a good experience, we all need to work together,” Weller said. “For example, if I get someone who has a general ankle sprain, if I don’t communicate and I don’t work with the coaching staff or the strength and conditioning, it’s going to be a huge mess in terms of their recovery and what they can and can’t do on the court, whereas if I communicate well, I can go down and talk to the coaches and say ‘hey, this is what I want them to do at practice’ and they can help me come up with a plan with them.”

Weimer said he has noticed the communication between the trainers and strength and conditioning coaches.

“They do a pretty good job of communicating. If something’s bothering me, [Schlemer] will relay that to the strength and conditioning staff and my workout for that day will be adjusted accordingly to whatever’s bothering me,” Weimer said. “It’s the same for everyone on the team.”

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