The smell of sweat hung in the air as athletic trainer Yoshi Ono moved from athlete to athlete, taping muscles, bandaging feet and massaging muscles — all in preparation for the Plymouth High School soccer game later that evening.
Then Ono boarded a flight bound for New Jersey, where he would repeat the ritual, but this time on members of the United States national men’s soccer team.
As an athletic trainer, Yoshi Ono makes it his mission to help athletes be their best.
Whether its students at Plymouth High School or the nation’s top athletes on the United States men’s soccer team, Ono is on the sidelines ready to tend a pulled muscle or wrap a sore ankle.
“Their success is obviously our success,” he said of being an athletic trainer. “We have a huge impact on how successful athletes are. We try to make sure everyone is available to be out on the field.”
The Aurora athletic trainer leads something of a double life in the profession. He works with students at Plymouth High School through his job with Aurora but also freelances regularly with the nation’s top athletes, who are currently prepping for World Cup qualifying matches.
“It’s one of the biggest honors I could get called into,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve been called into the final qualifiers.”
This week, Ono is working with the U.S. athletes on strength and condition before their first qualifying match against Costa Rica on Sept. 1. From there, the team will fly to Honduras for its second match Sept. 5. If the team does well, it’ll advance to the World Cup next summer in Russia — and Ono hopes he’s invited along.
“Hopefully we qualify. My long-term goal has always been to go to a World Cup or the Olympics and be one of the athletic trainers there,” he said.
As an athletic trainer, Ono is a health care professional often spotted on the sidelines during games, but his role involves more than just treating injuries on the field. Ono said his main goal is to stop injuries before they happen through proper training and conditioning of athletes both before and after a game.
Ono began working with professional athletes out of college, first with junior and youth development teams, and later with Minnesota United FC and the national U.S. men’s team.
Ono said he recently relocated to Sheboygan County to focus on his family and travel less, and he said he wants to give back to the community by taking what he’s learned with the pros and applying it in Plymouth.
“Pretty much what I do with the (national) team I try to do here,” he said. “I don’t want to call them guinea pigs, but what works with the national team I want to bring here. That’s my way of thanking the community for allowing me to do this.”
Of course, there are differences between the two jobs. With the professional teams, Ono said he spends a half hour or more tending to one athlete, while the high school athletes require less one-on-one attention.
“With so many sports here, you can get stretched thin,” he said. “I barely have enough time to tape everybody, then there’s treatment and rehab. It can be frustrating, because you can’t do everything to everybody.”
Ono said he enjoys working with athletes of all skill levels and was humbled to be asked to help the national team this year. Long term, he said he will keep working hard — with his eyes set on the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
“I’m actually Japanese, so I’m really hopeful I can make it there,” he said. “I think ultimately I have to keep working hard and, as long as I do the right thing, I’ll get the opportunity.”