The Rockland Boulders athletic trainer has had four hours sleep but that’s her norm this time of year
It’s 3 p.m. and Lori Rahaim is counting money. It’s player dues in $2 and $3 increments for food and laundry.
The Rockland Boulders athletic trainer has had four hours sleep but that’s her norm this time of year — she’s also head athletic trainer at St. Thomas Aquinas College, which is back in session.
She has 300 athletes at the school, just 22 here. But it seems like more.
Her crowded training room in the Rockland Boulders clubhouse is a mini Grand Central Station, The thirsty, hungry and walking wounded flit in and out.
Her athletic trainer title grossly understates things. When he hired her, then-manager Dave LaPoint characterized Rahaim’s main role as “team mom” and she calls herself the team’s “Mama Bear.”
“I feel like athletic trainer is 5 percent of what I do here,” she says.
Besides collecting dues, she drives the equipment van to New Jersey games; stocks the training room, lugs coffee, other drinks, sunflower seeds, two kinds of gum, chewy bars, peanuts (in their shell, of course) and more to the dugout for games; oversees the clubhouse managers; oversees the bat boys (there are six on this night); and picks up new players at the airport and says final goodbyes to those cut when dropping them off. She also sews torn uniforms, helps arrange player housing and travels everywhere with the team, often helping handle motel matters during long bus rides to Canada.
And then there’s that 5 percent: Physical assessments, massages, taping, icing and other treatments.
In other words, she does whatever needs to be done. Really whatever.
“I can fix pants in five minutes,” she says, her sewing machine just feet from her desk.
Catcher Marcus Nidiffer pops in, his torn jock strap in hand. Rahaim seems nonplussed. Nidiffer starts to exit the room, then pauses.
“It’s clean,” he reassures.
”Anything we need she does. She fixes it,” Nidiffer says.
Rahaim’s right elbow with the old stitch marks might be the only thing in the room she hasn’t sewn.
The Vermont native was a pre-med freshman softball pitcher at the University of Vermont when she blew out her ulnar nerve during a drill.
Surgery followed. The coach didn’t want damaged goods and that was that. Her rehab time introduced her to the world of athletic training and that convinced her to change majors. She has been an athletic trainer for 28 years.
Despite its chaotic nature, she loves her Boulders job and talks about the withdrawal she experiences after each season ends.
But she’s never far removed from the team.
She pulls out a smartphone that contains five years’ worth of Boulder numbers. Even former players call her for opinions about their physical problems, as well as those of their wives and kids.
“We are together as a group 120 straight days. We can’t hate each other. Last summer, there was a wedding, the birth of a baby, somebody’s dad died, a brother got sick. We pulled together as a family. We’re all we have,” she says.
Her 9-year-old daughter, Emerson, when not with a babysitter at home in Nanuet, is often at the stadium.
“Athletics are her life. At three months old, she went off to work with me and never left,” Rahaim says. “She knows how to tape and make ice bags. She thinks that’s normal, too. I guarantee she’ll be the kid on the playground with the First Aid kit in her backpack.”
Maybe because she has both seen so many premature endings and experienced one herself, Rahaim whose professional-looking pencil drawings of bones, joints, ligaments and muscles hang from the training room walls, expresses relief her daughter is into art, not sports.
“I’m not even crazy about sports,” says Rahaim, a three-sport athlete in high school. “I know what it does to you and your body.”
Most of the players’ pain is from muscle pulls and strains. Those eight-to-10-hour bus rides to Canada, followed by a little sleep, then another game, don’t help.
“They just take a beating, these guys,” she says.
A sprinkling of female athletic trainers have come and gone in the Can-Am League. Rahaim has been Rockland’s athletic trainer since the team’s inception, five years ago.
The first year was rough. She supplied her own table and a lot of the care involved ice packs.
“One hundred injuries in 100 days,” she recalls. “We had close to 50 transactions (players moving in and out), almost one every other day.”
She successfully lobbied management for more equipment. Now there are message tables, whirlpools, a muscle stimulator and ultrasound machine and tons of tape, rubs and skin-care products.
“It helps get guys back faster or helps me give the information they aren’t coming back,” she says of the equipment. “We’re constantly watching these guys. We have a limited roster. If a guy goes down, we’re in trouble.”
As she’s talking, outfielder Joe Maloney comes in, to pick up some red tape and grumble about the lack of blue tape. Rahaim finds the blue. Maloney wraps his wrist, confirms that, “Blue definitely works better than red,” and saunters out.
“Baseball is very superstitious game,” she says. “It’s hard to break some habits.”
Manager Jamie Keefe is her buddy, business partner and sometimes verbal sparring partner.
“I just love her to death. We make a good team,” he says. “Her experience is priceless. We just lucked out as an organization to have someone with her knowledge.”
“Lori has been a huge part of our success,” he says, which includes the overall league championship last year
While she thinks breaking into the Major League’s “good old boys club,” would be difficult, her resume could certainly elevate her to a bigger organization. But she’s not interested.
“This level I like. These guys want to get better and work hard to do it,” she says. “If you jump to MLB, they’re paid millions and feel privileged and entitled. These guys are thrilled to death to have a cooler full of Powerade.”
Rahaim buys their favorite flavors 50 at a time.
Bo Budkevics, the team’s burly righty, heads for a whirlpool. He adds water and ice and plops his pitching arm in, foregoing merely wrapping ice around his arm.
“That way I get my Lori time for the day,” he jokes.
Rahaim subsequently massages his arm. Despite some grimacing, he’s soon smiling, noting his arm feels much better.
“She takes care of us,” he says while walking to the dugout. “She means the world to each and every guy.”