The student trainers at Western are fourth-year kinesiology students. However, they aren’t just any normal students. They have each gone through a long academic process to get to where they are today.
Each student trainer is required to take a specific athletic injuries course in their second year at Western. After they have taken this course, the students with the best marks in the course have the opportunity to take another athletic injuries course in their third year. After the third-year course, each prospective student trainer must go through an application process where only the students with the best marks are selected to be trainers in their fourth year.
It’s also important to note that being an athletic trainer involves work in the classroom as well. They meet for class once a week where professor and athletic trainer Rob Walsh teaches them new techniques and helps them improve as trainers. This class portion was unexpected by some of the trainers, including men’s lacrosse trainer Elizabeth Fryer.
“I just thought it was a secret society kind of thing,” said Fryer.
The classroom portion is particularly important for trainers who work with lower contact sports where there is a lower chance of injury. It’s a chance for students to be exposed to a wide range of possibilities they might not be able to see in their work.
“In class I get to hear about all the traumatic stuff that I don’t have with volleyball,” said men’s volleyball trainer Eman Smaltic. “I can then take that and use it in the future if I see those injuries.”
Despite the advantages of the classroom setting, Fryer noted there are many things about being a trainer that can only be learned on the playing field.
“With athletes, it was more trying to figure out what the problem was and how to help them, whereas in lab and in class we already knew the context of it,” she said. “It was very much adapting what we learned in class to a real life setting, which I found challenging.”
Specifically, Fryer found that the most challenging injury she had to deal with was not what she expected.
“Injuries wise, it was definitely blisters,” said Fryer. “That was a huge thing. We actually didn’t learn about that in class at all.”
Wrestling team trainer Christian Laidlaw also found identifying and dealing with new injuries to be difficult in a real life setting.
“It’s taken a bit of time to be confident in the things I think the injury is,” he explained. “It’s kind of tricky sometimes to really lay the law down.”
Despite these challenges, Laidlaw also emphasized the important role of the student trainer for the well being of student athletes at Western.
“For some teams, it can make the difference between somebody competing and not competing,” said Laidlaw. “In the case of a concussion, second impact syndrome can be pretty harmful to somebody’s life. If they get a concussion and return too soon, they’re vulnerable to pretty serious brain injuries. Having us as that resource for them is pretty vital to some people.”
Laidlaw’s assessment of injuries has been particularly important for the well being of the Western wrestling team.
“There’s been no shortage of injuries given the nature of the sport,” he said. ” It’s pretty high impact stuff. It’s a really good experience in that way.”
Laidlaw added that the wide range of motions in wrestling cause a variety of different injuries in the sport.
“The good thing with wrestling is there isn’t one typical thing you see all the time since it’s such a full body involved sport,” said Laidlaw. “You can get anything from concussion to high ankle sprain to fractured hand.”
Even though trainers are very helpful, women’s lacrosse trainer Sasha Guay commented on the limitations of a trainer.
“It always breaks my heart a little when someone gets a concussion because there’s nothing really that I can do,” explained Guay. “I’ve had numerous before and it’s very frustrating because your body is fine but it’s just your head. The symptoms are super frustrating.
“I always hate dealing with concussions because as a trainer I can’t work with them that much more than letting them know how to be cautious,” she added.
Men’s basketball trainer Alex Restrepo also reiterated that the chance of a high impact injury like a concussion makes the job particularly stressful at times.
“We have to respond to any injury on the field, as extreme as it might be,” said Restreppo. “In basketball, they go pretty hard in practice and games, so sometimes there’s going to be a lot of contact…. The moment someone goes down, whatever it may be, you’re the first one there for them. You have to be able to treat them and hopefully not make them any worse.”
Limitations also arise for the trainers because of the athletics budget. Not every team can have a trainer because there are simply too many teams; teams like tennis don’t get the privilege of having a student trainer.
“Part of the issue is budget. Definitely a lot of money is involved in the training program itself and paying for everything that is associated with it,” said Restrepo. “[Western] might consider that some teams aren’t as high contact and might not require a trainer but of course if they did introduce more trainers I’m sure more people would be interested in pursuing those other sports.”
Despite these limitations, it’s evident that the student training program at Western is superb. It benefits both the student athletes and the student trainers by giving the athletes the best treatment possible and giving the trainers great practical experience.
It also gives the student trainers a chance to be apart of a team. Almost all teams are very welcoming of their trainers and many of the trainers find themselves feeling as though they are apart of the team themselves by the end of the season.
“I find myself during games getting just as hyped up as some of the guys on the bench,” said Restreppo. “If you look at some of the videos I’m always really involved in the game because I want these guys to succeed of course…. Basketball is a really intense sport and when you see your team do really well you get fired up. There’s no other way to word it.”
There also seems to be a great relationship between student trainers and varsity coaches at Western.
In particular, Smaltic had high praise for men’s volleyball head coach Jim Sage. After taking a few volleyball courses with Sage earlier in his undergrad, Smaltic requested the men’s volleyball team to be his number one choice and was ecstatic to get to work with Sage.
“Jim Sage is the biggest beauty you will ever to come to meet. I honestly couldn’t be happier with any other coach,” explained Smaltic. “He’s a London local and born and raised in London, he played volleyball for Western and he lives around the corner from the school. He’s just an overall beauty.”
Based on the positive experiences of all these trainers, it is clear that the student trainer program at Western has had a great impact on the athletic department and is integral in ensuring the best student experience for the student athletes at Western and students in the Kinesiology department.