Article reposted from Aurora Advertiser
Author: Aurora Advertiser
When Aurora High School athletic trainer Rob Azelton thinks about some of the craziest sports injuries he’s seen, he easily recalls his “most vivid” memory as a particularly nasty broken leg.
A defender on the college soccer team Azelton was working for kicked the ball at the same time an offensive player ran into his lower leg, breaking the defender’s tibia and fibula.
“I was less than 10 yards away,” recalled Azelton, “I could hear it snap.”
Such an event would likely cause even a seasoned athletic trainer to wince and maybe get a little queasy. But Azelton said he is hardly fazed by injuries like that, which isn’t surprising once you learn he grew up around his family’s veterinary clinic.
“I traded the four-legged for the two-legged animals,” said Azelton, who was set to take over the family business before he realized he preferred a future as an athletic trainer.
Now, after spending the last 16-plus years in and around the business, Azelton is set to begin his fifth season as the Houn’ Dawgs’ trainer.
After graduating from Central Methodist University (then Central Methodist College) in 2003, Azelton went on to receive his master’s degree from Winfield College. He then worked as an athletic trainer at McPherson College for a year before taking a year off from the profession.
Fast-forward a few years, after a couple moves and changes of direction, and Azelton is working for Cox Monett as Mt. Vernon’s athletic trainer. Two years later, he moved to the rival school in Aurora — and received the expected amount of grief over it.
“The first couple of years here, a lot of people from Mt. Vernon didn’t talk to me,” he said.
But the move seems to have worked out, as Azelton and wife Ronda have settled down with their two children, eight-year-old Perry and four-year-old Reagan, and the father of two is as excited about his job as ever.
One big reason for that excitement, he said, is working closely with Aurora student athletes.
“I think to do anything with high school kids, you have to be able to like the kids and enjoy the time with those kids,” said Azelton, who routinely has to remind students of his policy of only accepting their Facebook friend requests after they graduate.
But the enjoyable part of his job unfortunately plays a role in what he says is the most difficult part of the job: telling an athlete they have been badly injured.
“That’s probably the toughest part of my job, telling a kid that they can’t get back out and do what they love to do,” Azelton said. Over the course of his career, the trainer has had to “retire” several athletes due to serious injuries like concussions or spinal damage.
Despite these heartbreaking moments, or perhaps because of them, Azelton knows his job is extremely important to the high school and the athletes that represent it. When asked what he thought was the biggest benefit in having him at the school, he simply replied: “cost.”
“The athletes pay nothing for me to be here,” he said, noting that athletic trainers outside situations like this can be expensive.
With Azelton readily available at the high school, student athletes not only benefit from his on-field help, but also in-house treatment, rehab and strengthening. Similar services would be extremely costly to athletes’ families — or would go unused, which could be costly in other ways — if not for Azelton’s presence at the school.
As much as the athletes benefit from having Azelton as their athletic trainer, he recognizes that his job has its benefits for him, as well.
“I get the best seat in the house for every game,” he said, adding that the last school year especially provided for some “pretty magical” sports experiences. And he believes this year could be just as exciting.
“We had a very special group of seniors [last year], but we’ve got a lot of good kids left,” Azelton said.
When asked if he thought any of those kids may one day turn out to be athletic trainers, he said he always hears of some who are thinking about it.
“I’m always open to it if they want to come and hang out on the sideline,” he said. “The next generation [of my job] is somebody, hopefully, within these walls.”