Janet Taylor’s typical work day starts at 6:30 a.m. and ends nearly 12 hours later.
Treatments before class, pre-practice heating, taping and stretching, then practice, cold tubs and post-practice treatments.
In her 11th season as the athletic trainer for Auburn’s gymnastics team, the list of injuries Taylor hasn’t treated is much shorter than the list of those she has.
“You go from ankles to knees to backs to elbows to wrists. Hips, hamstrings, it really just depends on the year, shoulders,” Taylor says. “In gymnastics, since they use all of their body parts, you pretty much see injuries with all of them at some point.”
“Janet is as important, if not more important than every one of us coaches, especially this time of year,” coach Jeff Graba says. “She’s basically in charge of who can train and what they can do. We build our recipe each day. We’ll have a meeting with her ahead of time. I can’t think of any way to quantify what she brings to the program.”
While much of Taylor’s regimen deals with treating physical ailments, there is also a mental component to her role.
“There’s definitely a huge psychological aspect of it. Especially when you get hurt,” she says. “When you get hurt, you feel like you’re not a part of the team anymore. It’s part of the job to encourage in that respect and help them to still feel a part of the team even if they are not actually out there contributing on the floor.
“Even the ones who aren’t hurt, just staying out there and practicing day in and day out, it takes a toll on you physically, but it does that mentally as well,” Taylor says. “So the kids come in, they’re just beat down, or just need a little encouragement for the day, or saying they can’t do something, and have all kinds of negative self-talk. I definitely have become the person who says, ‘You can do this. We’ve got to change your way of thinking. Let’s focus more on this aspect or that aspect.’”
Ironically the person tasked with getting others back in the game needed her own trainer last spring, when Taylor tore her ACL playing softball.
“It helped me realize how much encouragement means. How painful injuries are. It made me way more empathetic.”
Since every gymnast is unique, Taylor’s “beamside manner” varies.
“You definitely have a wide range of personalities on this team, that’s for sure,” she says. “Some people just want to be left alone and don’t want to be touched, and some people need all of the hugs in the world. You have to know the kids. Everybody’s different. I’m going to be available and be loving to every single kid, just maybe in a different way.”
“We are a quirky sport,” Graba says. “It’s a very aggressive sport. It looks easy, that’s our job to make it look easy, but it’s very tough on the body. And it’s very tough emotionally on these girls. They’re pretty high-level athletes, but they’re also extremely driven, extremely competitive. Janet does a good job with balancing all that.”
For Auburn’s gymnasts, having Taylor in their corner is crucial to their success.
“I don’t really think that she gets a lot of recognition for what she does since she is behind the scenes,” junior Kelsey Kopec says. “She really is a huge factor and a huge part of our team and we appreciate her every day.”
“She means a lot to this team,” junior MJ Rott says. “She fixes us. She gets on a personal level with everyone. It’s really nice to know that somebody else outside of the coaching staff cares about you. She means a lot to me, because she’s helped me through a lot of my injuries and a lot of my other issues, inside and outside of the gym.”
“She’s like their second mom,” Graba says. “She’s not only in charge of all of their health, from sickness all the way to rehab, but she’s also in charge of a lot of their mental health outside the gym, trying to keep them on track, trying to manage stress.”
For Taylor, the payoff for all of those long hours in the training room and the gym comes when a student-athlete returns to competition after an injury.
“When you’ve got a girl who’s had shoulder surgery the year before, and all she wants to do is be able to compete on bars again. After she does it for the first time again on her senior night, it kind of brings tears to your eyes because you’re helping them get to where they can achieve one of their goals and dreams.
“We had a girl tear both of her Achilles last year – the first time she got back and was able to compete in all of her events, there were tears in both of our eyes that day,” Taylor says. “That’s definitely so rewarding when they come up and give you a great big hug as soon as they’re done with their event.”
Taylor’s investment in Auburn’s gymnasts pays off with friendships that endure long after their final dismount.
“You build those relationships, but also, just being able to see the expression on their face when they’re able to get back on the floor and do what they love to do. That’s probably the most rewarding part, being able to know that I played a part in getting them back out there to do what they love.”
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: