Some people may find it hard to juggle taking care of 302 kids, but Rachel Ross seems to do it with ease and precision. …
As soon as 3:30 p.m. hits, several high school students are lined up at her athletic training room door in the Franklin County High School field house, waiting to get bags of ice, have their ankles taped, perform exercises for their rehabilitation after having surgery, or whatever medical problem the young athletes are dealing with.
Ross, a mother of two boys, is the athletic trainer for Franklin County High School and oversees all the athletic-related medical needs for 300 of the high school’s athletes.
“It’s me and 300 athletes,” Ross said.
Ross oversees all of the varsity sports, but she said some sports take priority over others, and with football being a collision sport, it’s at the top of her list.
“There’s been studies done that have set a hierarchy of accident rates. In the fall, my hierarchy is football, soccer, volleyball, then cross country.”
Ross attends every football practice and if other athletes need her, they go to her on the practice field or field house before practices begin. If it’s a serious situation, then she goes to where the athlete is located.
During the week, when varsity football practice is over, she then attends either freshman or junior varsity football practice or a soccer game at Capitol View Park. If there isn’t soccer, then she stays at the school for volleyball practice or home matches.
On Friday nights, Ross attends the football game no matter where it is being played.
“On Friday nights, I could be done by 10:30 or 11 p.m. on a home game. Depending on where we travel for away games, I could get home around 12:30 or 1 a.m.”
Ross’ interest in athletic training began when she was a young girl cheerleading on the sidelines during sporting events in her hometown of Dublin, Ga.
“My dad was a football and baseball coach in high school. I was just always around and interested when people got hurt or when I got hurt, and I thought that would be a neat way to do both medicine and be around athletics,” she said.
After high school, she attended Georgia Southern University for two years, before transferring to her father’s alma mater Eastern Kentucky University. Ross graduated from EKU in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in athletic training.
She then went on to obtain her master’s degree in athletic training from the University of Mississippi. Her first year there, she was a graduate assistant for the football team and then was hired on full time to work with the women’s basketball team.
“I did that for seven years, eight years total,” Ross said.
In 2003, Ross left Ole Miss and moved back home for a year-and-a-half.
“Burnout is a prevalent thing in our profession,” she said. “I moved back home for the first time since high school. I tried my hand at some art. I started making stained glass.”
In 2005, her friend who was an athletic trainer at Berea College was going on sabbatical and needed an assistant to come in for a year.
“It was good timing because she was needing help and I was getting antsy at my parent’s house.”
While working at Berea College she taught intro to athletic training classes at EKU.
That spring of 2006, Ross said she met her husband, Jeff, and since her position at Berea College expired, she moved with him to Frankfort, his hometown, and through a friend of a friend got in contact with Dr. J.D. Quarles, who was looking to hire athletic trainers for Western Hills High School and FCHS.
“I interviewed and here I am.”
State Journal: Describe the athletic training program.
Ross: I started everything from the beginning. The way we work is Frankfort Regional Medical Center makes a generous donation to all three schools (WHHS, FCHS and Frankfort High School). That pays a large portion of our (the trainers’) salaries. That’s how we came to fruition.
It’s a grant the hospital gives to the school system. They (fund) my supply budget every year. This (supplies and equipment in the FCHS athletic training room) is an accumulation of budgeting and buying supplies.
SJ: What was it like making the change from working at a college to working at a high school?
Ross: I’ve worked in the Southeastern Conference, I’ve worked in colleges, I’ve taught in colleges and now I’m in high school. When I graduated from undergrad, I wanted to get a graduate assistant position at a big school that had money, because I wanted to see how they operated.
I never figured I’d ever get a job in an SEC setting. So, I figured I’d go for two years and then get a job at a small college. But, then that position fell in my lap.
I swore that never, ever in a million years, that I would work in a high school, but when you work in a college, if a coach wants to practice at 5 a.m. in the morning, you have to be in at 4 a.m. to do treatments. If they’re mad when they get home at 1 a.m. from a road trip and want to practice for two hours, you have to sit there and get the kids ready for practice.
I went from working 60-80 hours a week in Division I, SEC, to working 40-50 hours a week in a high school.
And it was just a time thing. I have a life. I have two boys, Nate, 6, and Jack, 8.
Jeff has been tremendous in all of this. With the hours I work, he had to pick the kids up from daycare, get them home, feed them, get them bathed and everyone in bed. He has to do that by himself.
It’s kind of hard. If I’m sick or one of them is sick, the world moves on when I’m not here, but I’m the only athletic trainer. You can’t just call in a substitute.
Jeff has had to do a lot of extra stuff when most guys are used to coming home to a warm meal on the table and stuff like that. If he’s lucky, I might cook dinner before I go to work and it would be in the refrigerator ready to be warmed up.
I know I said I never thought I would ever work at the high school setting when I graduated from college, but I think I have enjoyed this setting the most, because it has allowed me to have a family of my own and be part of the Flyer family. I know that sounds corny, but I treat these kids like my own.
SJ: What’s the difference between working with college versus high school athletes?
Ross: In college, you don’t have to deal with as many parents. When you’re dealing with high school kids you’re dealing with minors, so you have to communicate with parents more.
We have a good group of parents. They know who I am and I think they trust how I take care of their kids.
In a college setting, they’re over 18. You don’t talk to parents unless they’re about to have surgery or something.
It’s funny because the kids think they’re so sly and we don’t know what’s going on. I guess I’m old, but it doesn’t seem like I’ve been out of high school that long, even though it’s been 26 years.
Things haven’t really changed a whole lot, except for social media and stuff — which I don’t have a clue with a lot of it. Their struggles are the same we went through.
I hope they know they can come to me. My door is always open.
SJ: What is it about athletic training that keeps you working in the field for so long?
Ross: It’s cool because I get to see all of the sports and get to meet new families and kids and help them from when they get injured to when they get back on the field.
That’s the most rewarding part. Evaluating a kid, seeing they’ve torn an ACL or something major that’s going to need surgery, have them go through surgery and come back to do rehab with me.
We see each other every day. You spend six months rehabbing somebody and they finally get cleared to go back and play basketball or whatever sport they’re in, and you know you had a big part in that happening — that’s really neat.
SJ: What’s the biggest thing you warn student athletes about at the beginning of a season?
Ross: Probably hydration and fueling their body, eating. You have to put gas in your car or it’s not going to go.
You have kids who don’t eat breakfast, eat a candy bar at lunch and then come out here and you’re supposed to go outside in the heat and practice for two or three hours and they wonder why they get dizzy and sluggish and can’t function.
If you don’t put fuel in your body it’s not going to do what you want it to do. That’s probably the biggest battle — making sure they eat and drink what they’re supposed to be drinking — and drinking enough.
SJ: Do you have any hobbies?
Ross: I go in phases, quilting, sewing — knitting. We just bought a new house in January, so I spent the whole winter and spring unpacking and painting and doing DIY stuff. It just depends on what project I’m on.
Right now I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to feed nine people over seven days at Christmas, and decorate my new house. It’s a new house, a bigger house. I like to decorate and paint and fix things the way I want them.