Amateur Sports

Athletic Trainer Vardiman is “in Rear with the Gear” in Rio


Amateur Sports

Athletic Trainer Vardiman is “in Rear with the Gear” in Rio

Article reposted from Marshall Democrat News
Author: Chris Allen

As a young man, Phill Vardiman longed to don the uniform of the Marshall Owls.

Realizing that his athletic abilities would get him no closer to the playing field than marching in the band, Vardiman instead opted to be “in the rear with the gear” as an athletic trainer.

Now in the middle of an impressive career, Dr. Phillip P. Vardiman — a 1992 MHS graduate and son of Bill and Billie Vardiman — can watch from the wings of the world’s largest stage, watching the men and women he has aided achieve their dreams as he lives his as a member of the Team USA track and field training staff during the summer Olympic Games at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“The big thing for me is all about giving athletes a chance to use their God-given talent,” explained Vardiman, now Director of Athletic Training at Kansas State University. “To get them back in the field or on the track is very special.”

Vardiman found his calling due to the encouragement of Marshall teachers and coaches, notable Tom “Doc” Sandwith and Ginger McGraw.

“I realized I really, really loved athletic training,” Vardiman said. “The scenario of the tunnel in the gleaming expanse and bright lights and the fans screaming. I know they’re not cheering for me, but it’s still exciting.”

Vardiman went to Oklahoma State and Park University for his bachelor’s degree, got his masters at OSU and completed the doctorate program in kinesiology at Arkansas. It was while in Stillwater that a mutual friend introduced him to his future wife, Bethany, at a track meet.

“You can say track brought us together,” Vardiman remarked.

It was a fortunate pairing for a rising professional in a career which took Vardiman around the country, and the globe, as he became more involved in the USA Track and Field program. Bethany was pursuing her degree as a physician’s assistant, after studying athletic training at Michigan State, so was familiar with the duo worlds of sports and medicine.

“She understands what athletic training is all about,” Vardiman said. “She knows what it’s like.”

With his travels keeping him away from home for extended periods, the support of his wife and children — daughters Riley (13) and Haleigh (11) — is vital. So is the backing he receives from his colleagues and administrators at K-State, who “are ecstatic about the opportunity” Vardiman has to work at the Olympics.

With an impressive list of publications in peer-reviewed journals and professional conference presentations, numerous awards and fellowships, and more than 20 years of hands-on experience — including a decade at Kansas before moving to Manhattan a year ago — Vardiman is among the cream of the crop of nearly a dozen trainers on the Team USA staff under the direction of Arizona’s Dustin Williams.

Each of them had to undergo a sustained evaluation process by USATF before appointment to national teams, which for Vardiman began with the 2008 World Cup Race-Walk in Russia.

“It’s pretty humbling to be in the same group as everybody else,” Vardiman said about achieving such standing among his colleagues. “We all had to earn our way.”

Vardiman is among the final group of the American contingent to depart for Rio, leaving Friday. Not only will it be an opportunity to visit an exciting city for the first time, but to indulge his love for new and exotic food — hardly surprising for a nutrition instructor.

However, the priority is getting athletes ready to compete — and maybe enjoying one of the true pleasures of the job.

“Every now and then an athlete comes up behind you, puts his hands on your shoulders, and says ‘Thank you,'” Vardiman explained. “You may have worked all week to get him back on the field.”

So while the competitors look to climb onto the podium and receive a medal, Vardiman can take pride in his role in helping to make that happen — a gold medal for his heart.

Contact Chris Allen at