Professional Sports

Lynne Young’s cool sports job: Alaska Baseball League athletic trainer


Article reposted from ESPN W
Author: Lynne Young, as told to Doug Williams

Lynne Young says she has four biological children and hundreds of “non-genetic” kids.

That’s how it is as a certified athletic trainer who takes care of scores of athletes at high schools all over the Anchorage, Alaska, area during the academic year, then spends her summers as an athletic trainer for the Alaska Baseball League’s Anchorage Bucs.

Young, who won the National Athletic Trainer Association’s Outstanding Athletic Training Service Award in 2016, began her 23-year career in the sports medicine field while she played volleyball and basketball at Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana-Lafayette).

“I really didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Young, 48, recalls. “I love sports and I loved medicine and helping people, so my dad said, ‘Why don’t you combine them?’ I thought, ‘What a great idea.’ So I combined the two. I love my job.”

She tends to athletes of all ages and has worked all over the country, following her husband’s moves in the Navy. They lived in Louisiana, Texas, California and Florida before moving to Alaska, where Young grew up, 11 years ago. A decade ago, Orthopedic Physicians Alaska, a group that provides care for the Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna Valley areas, hired her. In her role, she helped Alaska adopt concussion legislation to protect student-athletes.

Young is one of six certified athletic trainers assigned to care for student-athletes at local high schools. Over the course of an academic year, she oversees all athletic trainers at OPA and works with boys and girls participating in football, hockey, basketball, volleyball, baseball and skiing at three schools. She teaches about injury prevention and health while tending to their injuries.

The past 10 summers she has worked for the Bucs, calling it “my dessert” because of her love for baseball and the incredible Alaskan summers. The Alaska Baseball League annually draws elite college talent — its notable alumni include Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Paul Goldschmidt. Players use wood bats to prep for a possible pro career.

For Young, being a certified athletic trainer is a year-round job with few breaks, but she still tries to carve out time for her family (with 16- and 15-year-old daughters and 9- and 6-year-old sons) and exercise (she’s a triathlete). Says Young: “It’s able to work, but you have to really keep a tight calendar.”

The story of her sports career, in her words:

Why summer ball?

Baseball, it’s just like life. There’s never a dull moment, and it’s short term. In Alaska we have 18 to 20 hours of daylight so you’re at the ball field almost the whole day and night. You have just under two months to be involved with these kids who are from all over the United States, and hopefully you make a positive impact. You get to be integrated and care for these athletes and they become part of your family. Then summer is over and so is your baseball family.

Work routine

If it’s not a day game, I’m either doing rehab work with them or we’re trying to arrange care for illnesses or injuries. I arrange schedules, appointments, and facilitate communication between care here in Alaska and their providers and family back home. For a 7 o’clock game, we show up at the ball field at 4, do some taping, preventative things, set up the field and watch the game, which can go anywhere from 2½ to 4 hours. If there’s an injury, you take care of that. After that you clean up and say, “See you tomorrow.”

A lot of these young athletes, especially male athletes, think if they do more they will definitely get better … You have to tell them, ‘Your body needs rest to recover as well.’
Lynne Young

The ailments

You hope nobody gets hurt. You try to prevent injuries, working to maintain their arm strength and preventing those overuse-type, upper-extremity injuries, shoulders and elbows. They’re just coming off a college season where they played 60, 70 games and we’re throwing them back into another 50, so we’re trying to manage that. They get hit by pitches and they have contusions. Every once in a while you’ll have something more substantial, fractures or dislocations.

Athletic trainer, confidante, mom

You travel with them, you’re on the road with them, so they do become your family. I’m not one of the coaches — even though I’m part of the staff — but they do rely on me to help them through an injury, and sometimes I’m the person they can confide in. Baseball’s such a mental game. You have to bounce back.

Sights beyond the diamond

We try to show them Alaska, too. This may be their only time they’ll ever be here. One of our road trips is to Kenai, about a three-hour drive, and we get them down to experience fishing for salmon. On days off we try to give them additional Alaskan experiences like rafting, hiking and enjoying the culture.

Staying in touch

I tend to follow these young men after they leave, too. I find myself texting them after a while, “Hey, I saw you went 2-for-3 last night, great job!” or say to them, “How come you’re not playing?” They tell you they had this injury and then you help them through it, even after they leave. So I have probably 300 kids I keep track of. What’s equally fun is I occasionally get these texts, “Hey, here’s a wedding announcement,” or “I just had my first baby,” so it’s fun.

Rewarding times

Watching the team win the Alaska Baseball League a couple of years ago was memorable, just being a part of that. And seeing them overcome day-to-day things. Even watching how they struggle and adjust to wood bats. But most enjoyable for me, we’ve had some athletes that have gotten hurt and had to leave for surgery and they’ve come back the next year and gone on to successful careers. That’s great. It’s not just overcoming surgery or rehab, but the mental aspect. To hope you had a little part in it is extremely satisfying.

The road (back) to Alaska

Some of Lynne Young's players will stay in touch with her when they leave Alaska and begin their pro careers, which she finds rewarding.
Gary Lichtenstein/Anchorage Bucs

Some of Lynne Young’s players will stay in touch with her when they leave Alaska and begin their pro careers, which she finds rewarding.

I grew up in Kodiak, but wanted to see something different, which is why I went to college in Louisiana. I did an athletic training internship in college, then became a graduate assistant for sports medicine at the University of Louisiana, then got a full-time position there. I fell in love, married my husband and we went to Corpus Christi (Texas), where I worked at a high school for three years. In California I did outreach in sports medicine outside San Diego. In Florida I taught in the athletic training and physical therapy department at the University of North Florida. I’m an Alaskan by heart, so I always wanted to come back here and live.

Working with the high schools

Alaska didn’t have a lot of athletic trainers providing outreach care, so in the last 10 years we’ve tried to build that up. I have a group of six of us that I oversee and we help cover the community. It’s the kids you love, no matter if it’s a sport you really love or don’t care for. The greatest reward is just hoping to make a difference of healthy lifestyles and protecting kids from injuries.

Message: Be smart

I teach about hydration, rest, proper stretching and taking care of their bodies. A lot of these young athletes, especially male athletes, think if they do more they will definitely get better, so they put in long hours in the weight room and then are on the field hours and hours. You have to tell them, “Your body needs rest to recover as well. You’re going to break it down.”

Concussion work

All 50 states now have a concussion law that passed in 2011. It’s legislation to protect kids that sustain a head injury, making sure they’re adequately evaluated by trained medical professionals to not put them in harm’s way by ensuring there’s education about the risk of concussions and making sure that properly trained healthcare professionals manage their recovery. The third component is making sure they’ve gone through a safe return to play before we throw them back into an activity.

Tri time

I stay active. Every once in a while I’ll grab a glove and I’ll just play catch with some of the Bucs or catch for the coaches when they’re doing BP. I do a lot of jogging and sprint triathlons, about two or three a year. That’s how I keep my sanity. I work out in the morning, very early. If I get six or seven hours of sleep, that’s a good night. There’s plenty of time to sleep down the road.

Professional Sports

Lakers head athletic trainer Marco Nuñez did try this at home


Article reposted from ESPN
Author: Andrea Canales

The Los Angeles Lakers head trainer grew up a huge fan . . . of the Dodgers.

Big dreams aren’t limited to the athletes on a basketball court. Sometimes the people on the sidelines, like Lakers head athletic trainer Marco Nuñez, have big aspirations.

“Being an L.A. kid, I thought, Why can’t I work for the Lakers?” Nunez recalled. “If I want to work with the best, that should be my ultimate goal.”

His roots

Nuñez was raised as an L.A. Dodgers fan, living with his family in a residence on the corner of Adams and Vermont, less than a mile away from the Staples Center.

“When I was young, all I knew was baseball,” Nuñez explained. “My dad wasn’t a basketball or football fan. He grew up in Mexico, played in the Mexican league.”

When the Nuñez family went to Dodgers games, Marco’s father had a certain tradition.

“My dad would always take his radio with him, and he would listen to [Spanish-language broadcaster] Jaime Jarrin while we were watching the game,” said Nuñez.

When young Marco reached his teens, the Lakers became the first team he followed after he started playing basketball.

“I decided to venture out and explore other teams,” said Nuñez, who promptly checked out the TV schedule for Lakers games and then set aside time to watch the team and learn the nuances of the game. “I knew the Lakers were a huge team in L.A.”

He became a fan of the Lakers, yet Nuñez stayed true to his first love of baseball, lettering in the sport at Bishop Mora Salesian High School in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of L.A.

“Basketball was a weekend-warrior thing,” Nuñez acknowledged.

His influence

When Nuñez started college at Cal Poly Pomona, he was motivated partly by representing his Hispanic roots in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field of civil engineering.

“There weren’t that many Latinos in engineering,” Nuñez pointed out. “I did it about a year and a half, and I didn’t like it. I was trying to figure out what else to do.”

Once again, Nuñez struck out on his own to discover what really appealed to him. He found it when he attended a lecture given by Ky Kugler.

“I give [athletic training talks] and do a lot of recruitment and mentoring,” said Kugler, now a professor of athletics training at Chapman University.

Nuñez was immediately intrigued by how Kugler described his profession, emphasizing that communication skills and empathy are as important as kinesthetic knowledge.

“The individuals that you work with have to know that you have a vested interest in their safety.” Kugler said. “People don’t care how much you know if you don’t care about them first.”

“[Kugler] invited me to shadow him for a week,” Nuñez recalled. “After that time, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Kugler, who noted he has also mentored Jasen Powell, the current head athletic trainer of local rival Los Angeles Clippers, says Nuñez was committed once he chose the career.

“I’m proud that I had a small investment in his future and that he recalled the talk that I gave,” Kugler said. “He stayed the course with the Lakers.”

Nuñez put in time as an athletic trainer for the Lakers’ D-League affiliate, the D-Fenders, as well as the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks and the Los Angeles Avengers of the Arena Football League. Still, working for the Lakers remained the ultimate objective.

“My goal was the top professional level,” explained Nuñez. “Being from Southern California, why wouldn’t I want to work where I lived and grew up?”

“Everywhere we go, I try to find good Mexican food. It’s tough in Milwaukee.”

Marco Nuñez, head athletic trainer, Los Angeles Lakers

In the 2008-09 season, Nuñez joined the Lakers staff as an assistant athletic trainer, working under Gary Vitti. Vitti has a well-established reputation, serving as head athletic trainer for 32 years and recommending Nuñez as his replacement before departing last year.

“If you have longevity in a position, you develop relationships with people,” Kugler, a close friend of Vitti’s, observed. “Athletic trainers are a sounding board … a go-between [for] athletes and the coaching staff. They become a confidant. They do a lot of role-modeling. They do a lot of mentoring along the way.”

His trust

Players trust Nuñez to help whenever they need it. Lakers forward Julius Randle passed Nuñez the phone when his fiancée, Kendra Shaw, called after the pregnant Shaw felt faint one day while the team was on a road trip across the country. Nuñez, who has three children of his own, spoke to Shaw, calming her down by assuring her that dizziness was a normal symptom before labor. He then helped arrange a flight for Randle to return quickly to his fiancée’s side. A healthy Kyden Randle was born on December 23, 2016.

“The one big thing I learned from Gary was that you’re kind of a big brother to them,” Nuñez said. “The trust is there, not just for the medical, but with every aspect.”

Still, there are limits.

“As head trainer, I have to keep that professional distance,” explained Nuñez. “You won’t see me at the club.”

Instead, he usually bonds with players by sharing meals on the road.

“Everywhere we go, I try to find good Mexican food,” Nuñez mentioned. “It’s tough in Milwaukee.”

Though it isn’t easy being away from his family, especially on holidays, history buff Nuñez also appreciates the opportunities travel with the team offers.

“We go check out the local sites,” Nuñez noted. “In Philadelphia, I went to see Independence Hall.”

His profession

There’s a lot of pressure involved in any position of such a high-profile team as the Lakers, but especially on the person who often decides if the players can perform in a game or not. Too often, competitive players are willing to risk making an injury worse by continuing to play.

“The higher level an athlete is and the more money that is involved, sometimes they become their own worst enemy when it comes to health care,” Kugler opined. “They have high-level salaries and status in society, and they’ll do a lot of things to protect that.”

It helps Nuñez to have a good working relationship with Lakers head coach Luke Walton, one that goes back to Walton’s time as a player when Nuñez first joined the organization. In one of his first acts of employment, Nuñez taped Walton’s knee, which suffered from tendinitis. Nuñez never forgot Walton speaking appreciatively to him and welcoming him to the team.

“I was never good enough as a player to get Gary Vitti’s time,” Walton said on the show Backstage Lakers. “He was reserved for Kobe [Bryant], Pau [Gasol], Lamar [Odom]. So it was me and Nuñez grinding away in the training room.”

“He got the job as head coach before I got the trainer job,” Nuñez revealed, mentioning how knowing Walton would lead the team motivated him even more. “I thought, ‘I have to get the head trainer job.'”

Now the two interact on a daily basis, working together to get the most out of the Lakers roster.

“Every morning, we discuss the status of every player,” Nuñez said. “We’re in constant communication.”

“The travel, the hours, do they sometimes stink — yes,” Kugler said, before praising the perseverance of Nuñez as an athletic trainer. “Marco is a great example. He went through many, many stops and long hours. You have to have a passion for what you do.”

Professional Sports

Small town kid makes it big: Oklahoma City Thunder Head Athletic Trainer


Article reposted from Bedford Bulletin
Author: Melanie Schumilas

Not many people can say they are working their dream job, but Bedford native Joe Sharpe certainly can.

<div class="source"></div><div class="image-desc">Joe Sharpe has been the head trainer of OKC Thunder since 2008.</div><div class="buy-pic"><a href="/photo_select/33388">Buy this photo</a></div>

Joe Sharpe has been the head trainer of OKC Thunder since 2008.PreviousPlay

“The running joke between me and my mother was that I was going to watch sports my whole life and get paid for it,” said Sharpe, who is currently  the head trainer for the OKC Thunder.

Sharpe opted to “watch sports for a living” instead of playing them due to a myriad of injuries he suffered as a triple-sport athlete at Liberty HS.  Sharpe’s struggles with reoccurring injuries inadvertently sparked his interest in athletic training.

“When it’s just a coach taking care of you, you realize there has to be a better way,” said Sharpe about the lack of athletic training staff in high school.  “There has to be a better way than a coach telling you to put your foot in an ice bucket.”

After doing a research project about sports medicine in his high school English Composition class, Sharpe decided to continue studying the topic at Old Dominion University. He completed his bachelor degree in sports medicine education with a emphasis in athletic training and also received his master’s degree from ODU in 1993.

During his time at ODU, Sharpe got his first hands-on experience with athletic training.

He mainly worked with baseball and men’s and women’s tennis, but he dabbled in assisting basketball, rugby and soccer. To gain experience with football, Sharpe had to travel to Norfolk State University to work with their football team since ODU didn’t have a team.

Although Sharpe has been working in professional basketball for 15 years, he didn’t think this was the sport he’d end up working in.

“I thought coming out of college and doing my internships in the NFL that football was where I wanted to go,” said Sharpe, referring to the summer internship he did with the Cleveland Browns. “My goal was to work for the NFL and with a NFL team and then retire in the NFL, but now that all changed and basketball is my passion. I really enjoy what I’m doing now.”

After graduating from ODU, Sharpe began his journey into the NBA at the University of Connecticut, where he served as the head basketball athletic trainer for nine years. During his stint with the Huskies, Sharpe got to witness their 1999 NCAA Championship season. He also received a valuable piece of advice from UConn’s football coach, Randy Edsall.

“He told me ‘Make sure they know you care abut them, and then teach them how they can take care of themselves,’” reiterated Sharpe. “That was the best piece of advice I ever received.”

After nearly a decade with the Huskies, Sharpe broke into the NBA by becoming the assistant trainer and strength and conditioning coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2002.

“It was different in many ways,” said Sharpe of his transition from working in college basketball to professional basketball. “It’s a different approach. I was a little intimidated because the media can sometimes paint a bad picture of a player, so I didn’t know what to expect. But once the cameras are gone, they’re just like you and me… They like to have a laugh, they like to have fun and enjoy what they’re doing.”

Sharpe enjoyed two years of work with the Timberwolves, which included their Midwest Division title and run to the Western Conference finals.

Sharpe then moved on the the Charlotte Bobcats in 2004 where he became the head athletic trainer.

“It was interesting to go from a team like Minnesota that’s already been established, to a team that’s a start up,” said Sharpe on his move to Charlotte. “The community had lost a team and then had gotten it back for the first time. I had a chance to kind of establish things early and keep things going. I’ve seen an arena go from the ground to the ceiling and been a part of planning out my space in the building. That was cool.”

Sharpe spent four years with the Bobcats before landing at his latest job. In the summer of 2008, Sharpe had already verbally committed to becoming an assistant trainer for the Washington Wizards, but a surprise phone call from the OKC Thunder changed his plans.

“It was an opportunity to be a head trainer instead of an assistant,” explained Sharpe. “I also had a young family and I didn’t think living in Washington was going to be the best thing for them.”

Sharpe joined the Thunder at the same time Russell Westbrook did, and he said despite the media’s portrayal of Westbrook, he’s one of the nicest guys he’s met. Sharpe considers forging friendships with the players he trains and works with one of the favorite aspects of his jobs.

“We have great people to work with and I’ve developed great friendships over the years,” said Sharpe. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with big names in college such as Ray Allen, and then Kevin Garnett in Minnesota to Russell Westbrook… All men I consider to be better people than basketball players.”

Besides working for NBA teams for 15 years, Sharpe has been an integral part of USA Basketball since 2002. Through USA Basketball, he travelled to Venezuela in 2002 with the USA Basketball Junior National Team and then in 2008 to Thailand for The University World Games.

Sharpe also had the honor of working with the 2012 and 2016 USA Basketball Olympic Teams. Working with Coach K, a man he had admired for many years, and winning his first Olympic gold medal in London, are two memories he cherishes.

Evidently, Sharpe has been quite busy over the past few summers, which can pose a challenge to maintaining a balanced family life.

“The biggest thing I do when I’m home is that I’m home… That means I try to leave my phone away as much as possible,” said Sharpe in regards to finding the balance between a rigorous work schedule and being a family man. “Whatever the kids or my wife Jennifer want to do, I make sure I follow their schedule. When I’m home, I just want to be present.”

Strong family values are something that was instilled in Sharpe as a young boy growing up in Bedford. Sharpe said the lessons he learned from small town life are ones he still carries today in his everyday life.

“One, be respectful to others. Two, there’s nothing wrong with a hard day’s work. The values I learned as a kid were phenomenal and that hasn’t changed in me,” said Sharpe. “I wish the job was closer to Bedford, so I could be more there to share it with the folks. But, then again, I left a small town, but the small town never left me. No matter where I am, I’m still the little kid from Bedford.”

Professional Sports

Former Aggies keep MLB players in prime condition


Article reposted from Panorama
Author: Adriana M. Chavez

For baseball fans, summer means long days and hot nights at the ballpark, taking in the smells of hot dogs and roasted peanuts, the sound of bats cracking as they hit a home run and the sight of a ball soaring high over the park walls.

Behind the scenes, athletic trainers are busy making sure your favorite athletes are healthy, warmed up and ready for action. Among the best in Major League Baseball are four athletic trainers who are also graduates of New Mexico State University, where they gained valuable knowledge that they still use daily. They crossed paths while attending the university, and continue to do so now whenever their teams face each other on the field.

Rays Head Athletic Trainer Ron Porterfield plays
an important role in keeping the team healthy.

Ron Porterfield

A native of Santa Fe, Ron Porterfield ’88 came to NMSU as a walk-on player for the football team. He played for two seasons, followed by two seasons as a walk-on for the baseball team. He’s now the head athletic trainer for the Tampa Bay Rays, and has worked with legends such as Nolan Ryan, Wade Boggs, Evan Longoria and Craig Biggio, just to name a few. Porterfield says the athletic training program at NMSU gave him tremendous opportunities beyond the classroom. While still a student, he received permission to leave classes in the early spring of 1988 to work for the Houston Astros for the summer. His goal had been to go to physical therapy school, but Houston asked him to stay on full time. Instead, he returned to NMSU and earned his degree before returning to the Astros full time. He credits the trainers he learned from at NMSU with his success. “The athletic training program that I worked under was special,” Porterfield says. “So many of the students I was involved with went on to work in professional baseball.”

Ken Crenshaw, second from right, watches the pitchers’ and catchers’ first workout before spring training in Arizona. PHOTOS BY SARAH SACKS/ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Ken Crenshaw

Ken Crenshaw ’90 has been the head athletic trainer for the Arizona Diamondbacks for the past 11 seasons. Crenshaw, originally from Carrizozo, N.M., hired Porterfield when Crenshaw was the head athletic trainer for the Tampa Bay Rays in 1997.

His father, Bobby Dan Crenshaw, played football for the Aggies and the Philadelphia Eagles, and Ken Crenshaw was interested in going down the sports route as well.

“I got hurt when I was a junior in high school. We didn’t have athletic trainers where we were at and my dad said, ‘Why don’t you go down and talk to (former NMSU head trainer) George Westbrook?’” Crenshaw says. “One of my coaches took me down there and I was like, ‘Wow, this is really cool.’ That was my first taste of New Mexico State and sports medicine.”

While at NMSU, Crenshaw spent a lot of time in the training room following a ligament injury, and soon realized he wanted to be an athletic trainer. Crenshaw counts former NMSU head athletic trainer Ricky Mendini as another inspiration, along with some of his classmates, including Matt Lucero.

Matt Lucero

Matt Lucero ’93, a native of Santa Fe, initially came to NMSU without knowing what he was going to study. “I really liked the campus,” Lucero says. “The people were tremendous and the classes I started taking were really intriguing.”

Lucero, who is in his 11th season as the assistant athletic trainer for the Texas Rangers, was initially studying astronomy. Fortunately for him, his college roommate was Porterfield’s younger brother.

“Ron came over to our dorm room one day and asked what I was studying,” Lucero says. “He asked me how I liked it, and I told him the physics and the chemistry were really getting to me because that stuff’s really hard. And he said, ‘Why don’t you try sports medicine?’”

Lucero said that although he didn’t know a lot about sports medicine, he instantly fell in love with it. “The human body intrigues me, and when I started to learn about it, it just captured me,” Lucero says. “It made classes that much easier, because my interest levels were at a peak and it came really easily.” After graduating from NMSU, Lucero worked at private clinics before deciding he was ready to try some-thing different.

“I was hired by the Tampa Bay Rays,” Lucero says. “Watching Ken and Ron and the success they had, it kind of made the drive in me even stronger.”

Matt Lucero, right, works with Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo on various warmup exercises during spring training in Arizona.

Nathan Lucero

Nathan Lucero ’92 (no relation to Matt) didn’t want to stay in his hometown of Las Vegas, N.M., after graduating high school, so he followed his older brother to NMSU. Lucero is now an assistant athletic trainer for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Like Crenshaw, Lucero’s high school didn’t have athletic trainers. While playing high school football, Lucero would watch athletic trainers come in from other schools to work with injured players and saw how the players trusted trainers with their injuries. “I knew I wasn’t going to be an athlete, but I loved sports, and NMSU had a tremendous sports medicine program and still does,” Lucero says. Lucero’s advice to students interested in sports medicine? “Take in as much as you can from your mentors,” he says. “You can learn a lot just from being a fly on the wall. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.”

Nathan Lucero warms up before the Dodgers vs. San Diego Padres game on April 3, 2017.


Professional Sports

Ottawa RedBlacks Athletic Therapist Marcelo Cuenca


Article reposted from

Chris Hofley sits down with Head Athletic Therapist Marcelo Cuenca to talk about how he found his way to Ottawa, what he loves about his job and what goes into keeping a team of football players healthy.

REDBLACKS: Where did the journey to becoming the REDBLACKS’ Head Athletic Therapist start for you?

Marcelo Cuenca: I was raised in Toronto and grew up in Vaughan before heading to school at York University, which was close by. I studied kinesiology initially and they offered a concurrent program in athletic therapy, so I did the combination of the two and spent six years at York.

REDBLACKS: Is that where you got your first taste of working with a pro sports team?

Cuenca: Yeah, in my program at York we did a lot of internships, working with universities and working in a clinical setting. In my last year, in 2010, I worked with the Toronto Argonauts. That’s where I got my foot in the door with the CFL.

REDBLACKS: Had you always wanted to be an athletic therapist?

Cuenca: I knew I wanted to be in health care and work in sports, somehow. Through the program at York, I came to love the profession and realized it was geared towards m own goals. I knew from my first year that the Argos full season internship was a big deal – they take four students for training camp and they kept one on all season. So it worked out pretty well.

REDBLACKS: Can we assume sports played a role in your life growing up?

Cuenca: For sure, but it was mainly soccer and martial arts – karate initially and now Muay Thai. But I didn’t grow up with football, I got into it through my job.

REDBLACKS: So from York University to working for the Argos…how did you find your way to Ottawa?

Cuenca: Getting jobs in athletic therapy is pretty tough and I was lucky enough to get a contract out of school working with Carleton University’s varsity teams. I was also fortunate to work with the Ottawa Senators at the same time. I had these two opportunities that I amalgamated to give me full time work for the year. After the NHL lockout and working in a clinic and at Carleton, Dave Wright was hired as the head of OSEG Athletic Therapy in 2014 and I got in touch and got the assistant job working under Dave.

REDBLACKS: Speaking of Dave Wright, he has moved onto the next chapter of his career and you have taken over the head athletic therapist job. What did you learn as Dave’s assistant along the way to help you prepare for the new responsibility?

Cuenca: Dave taught me a lot in terms of skills, no question, like rehab work, on-field management and in the clinic. But more than that, he taught me the other side of this job, the admin side.

You’re dealing with player insurance and working with all the different specialists, doctors, diagnostics, coordinating all that. Every player that signs with the club has to have medical before stepping onto the field and we regularly have new guys coming in, so that’s a big deal.

REDBLACKS: What’s the grossest injury you have seen in your line of work?

Cuenca: Every season there’s pretty bad knee injuries and bad fractures and they’re always concerning. But one that was really gnarly was a contusion one of our players had on his forehead. When he went to make a tackle, his helmet wasn’t on properly so most of the contact occurred at his forehead.

He didn’t fracture his skull or anything and cognitively he was good, but he had a massive bruise or hematoma above his eye. It was scary because it looked like something had shifted, but it was just the fluid, because your scalp there’s so much pressure that builds there and it’s very vascular, so it literally looked like a tennis ball above his eye. It was instant.

REDBLACKS: What do you like most about your job?

Cuenca: I love game day, no question. We work really hard and long hours for it and it feels like it’s all worth it on that one day of the week. We play a very small role but it is pretty cool when our team – there’s going to be four athletic therapists this season – see everyone’s hard work pay off, like seeing a player come back from a long-term injury.

REDBLACKS: What’s the toughest part of your job?

Cuenca: In pro sports, your time is spread very thin, especially during the season. There’s no days off, so you miss a lot of personal events. That’s the hardest part, no question. up early no problem. The hours are tough but more so I feel bad for my family, my wife. You feel a bit guilty sometimes but I know this is my calling and she supports me.

The REDBLACKS 2017 mini-camp kicks off Thursday, April 27 and all training sessions are open to the public. For more information, please click here.

Professional Sports

Hardee’s Pro Classic competitors receive excellent medical care by veteran athletic trainer


Article reposted from
Author: Kimberly Hyde

USTA Pro Circuit

Athletes, of course, need top medical care.

That’s why the USTA Pro Circuit sends a certified athletic trainer to every tournament they host. And it’s like a revolving door in the training room at Westgate Tennis Center with pro players coming in and out to receive treatments from trainer Sheri Hedlund.

Hedlund has worked for the U.S. Tennis Association since 1998. She’s based in Seattle, Washington and travels to about six to seven tournaments each year. Hedlund carefully tends to a variety of medical needs of Pro Circuit players. She says the majority of her time is spent performing joint mobilizations and would care, as well as, you guessed it, managing shoulder injuries. Hedlund estimates she’ll perform roughly thirty athletic treatments each day during this week’s tournament. It’s her job to help keep players healthy despite their demanding match and travel schedules.

Hedlund says she takes great pride in helping these young athletes stay sharp on their professional tennis journey.

“These ladies are an incredible group of young women to work with,” said Hedlund. “I’m always a better human after I’ve been able to work a tournament because it brings everything back into focus. They work so hard. If I can offer a little bit to help make their journey be a little better that makes it worthwhile to me.”

Interesting to note, besides her twenty years at USTA, Hedlund has also served as a trainer for both the Seattle Storm and the Seattle Sonics.


Professional Sports

Lakers’ Marco Nuñez adapting to role as team’s head athletic trainer


Article reposted from San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Author: Mark Medina

As Marco Nuñez plopped into a booth in a Miami restaurant, it marked his first spare moment after grabbing 3-1/2 hours of sleep.

The previous night in Charlotte, Nuñez, in his first season as the Lakers head athletic trainer, treated Larry Nance Jr. after the reserve forward injured his left knee. Soon after, Nuñez scheduled Nance’s MRI for the next day before joining the team for the flight to Miami. Nuñez arrived late to the airport (1:30 a.m.), the hotel (3:30 a.m.) and his bed (4:30 a.m.).

Nuñez then woke up at 8 a.m. to finalize Nance’s MRI visit, secure a bus for practice and treat other players. Nuñez stayed busy after practice, taking Nance to his MRI appointment, awaiting the results and consulting with doctors. Nuñez then informed Nance, his agent and the Lakers about the bone bruise in Nance’s left knee that would sideline him for four weeks. Around 9 p.m., Nuñez finally ate dinner.

This schedule during a trip in late December captured Nuñez’s typical workload in that entails both treating injured players and handling logistics with the team’s travel. As the Lakers near the end of the 2016-17 season, Nuñez has grown accustomed to juggling various responsibilities during his first season as the Lakers’ head athletic trainer.

There have been a lot of days like this for Nuñez, in his first season in this role.

“I don’t know if I’ve had time to sit down and say what I like or don’t like,” Nuñez said. “I have hit the ground running. I’m just glad to keep going.”

Nuñez, who joked that he would have preferred sleeping in before practice then enjoying the beach, has refused to relax, though. To prepare for his “dream job,” Nuñez shortened his August vacation from two weeks to three days.

“About 30 years from now, I might regret doing that,” Nuñez said. “But at the moment, it felt like it was the right thing to do.”

When he joined the Lakers’ training staff for the 2008-09 season, Nunez wanted to prove himself worthy of being the future successor to Gary Vitti, the Lakers’ longtime head athletic trainer. Nuñez also declined opportunities to go elsewhere, including when the Lakers laid off part of their training staff to save money during the 2011 lockout. After Nuñez received an offer from another NBA team, the Lakers retained him.

“I wanted to come back here,” Nuñez said. “This was my goal.”

So, Nuñez became what Vitti called his “right-hand guy.” Vitti groomed and recommended him to become his successor once he retired last season, capping a 32-year stint during which Vitti kept the Lakers’ multi-million dollar players healthy enough to win eight NBA championships in 12 Finals appearances while also handling all of the team’s travel arrangements.

The nature of that relationship has since changed.

Vitti has remained under contract as an athletic training consultant. But since the Lakers fired longtime general manager Mitch Kupchak and executive Jim Buss on Feb. 21, Vitti has not been at any practices or home games. Vitti declined to comment about his lack of attendance and referred questions to the Lakers.

Team spokesperson Alison Bogli said Vitti remains welcome at games and at the facility. Bogli added that Lakers GM Rob Pelinka is evaluating Vitti’s role in various technology projects. Those have included talking with software engineers and analytics firms, meeting with vendors about wearable sensors and sneaker microchips, examining SportVU data and exploring trends in sports medicine and nutrition.

“I worked more than half of my life with the Lakers and look in the mirror and feel good about what I have given them,” Vitti said. “I gave them everything I had every single day. I will forever be grateful to (the late Lakers owner) Dr. (Jerry) Buss, a man I believe exemplified the most important human values in honesty, kindness and loyalty. It’s Jeanie (Buss’) team. It’s not my team. There’s nothing I can do. She’ll do what is best for the team.”

As for Nuñez, Vitti said, “He hasn’t had a shortage of stuff to deal with. He’s had a lot for a first-year guy. He’s gotten slammed. I don’t think he’s come up for air yet.”


Vitti’s retirement party at Petros in Manhattan Beach last April showed Nuñez something as valuable as when he watched Vitti heal players.

Lakers luminaries expressed their affection for Vitti. Magic Johnson, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Byron Scott, Derek Fisher, A.C. Green and Mitch Kupchak were all in attendance, and that had more to do with the bond Vitti forged than it did with healing their wounds.

“That’s when it hit me,” Nuñez said. “I can be a great trainer. I can rehab a guy. I can treat a guy. I can tape a guy. But if I don’t have that trust or relationship with these players, this whole thing doesn’t really work.”

That played out in different ways for Vitti as a “contemporary” during the Showtime Era and a “father figure” in later decades.

Vitti and Johnson bonded over their charming personalities. Vitti then became one of Johnson’s confidants when he tested positive for HIV. Vitti and former Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal used to “fight all the time” over his work habits. The tension diminished when O’Neal showed his playfuness. While marveling at Kobe Bryant’s determination to play through pain, Vitti often tried to protect Bryant from himself.

Through those circumstances, Vitti followed two rules. He told players, “I will never lie to you, but I will never lie for you.” He told the Lakers’ front office, “You’ll know what you need to know. But if you don’t need to know it, you’re not going to know it.”

“If you have a superstar on your team and he is the best person, it makes life a lot easier. But if your superstar makes life difficult, that’s tough,” Vitti said. “(Marco) hasn’t had that test yet. But when it comes his way, as uncomfortable as it is, you have to stand up for what you believe.”

Still, Vitti observed Nuñez already has cultivated “good, solid relationships with all the players.” First-year Lakers coach Luke Walton added Nuñez has done “a phenomenal job” in managing a roster that has dealt with its share of injuries.

“Everything about him is really professional,” said second-year guard D’Angelo Russell, who has dealt with injuries to both knees this season. “He takes his time and pays attention to everything. Everything was hands on. He didn’t need to pass me to an assistant.”

Nuñez has fulfilled that job description with a blend of sympathy and humor.

When the Lakers initially suspected veteran guard Nick Young strained his right Achilles tendon against New Orleans in late November, Nuñez comforted Young. Once an MRI revealed a strained calf that would sideline Young for a far shorter window (six games), Nuñez jokingly teased Young for exaggerating the pain.

“Gary likes to talk. He’s a big-time storyteller. Marco likes to crack jokes more,” Young said. “It’s been great. He knows the balance between keeping guys healthy and being funny.”

While helping Nance heal his left knee amid a minutes restriction, Nuñez also accommodated Nance’s request to keep after him about cold tub recovery when he returned to the court.

“There’s a few times I hate the cold tub. So I know if it’s up to me, I won’t do it,” Nance said. “I trust him to do that for me. He’s done a good job with it.”

When the Lakers spent three days in Charlotte in December, he encouraged Julius Randle to fly home to Los Angeles to support his fiancée, Kendra Shaw, who was expecting their first child, Kyden. Nuñez also arranged a flight for Randle later that week from Miami to Los Angeles to witness his son’s birth.

“He cares about us,” Randle said of Nuñez. “He did an amazing job taking care of me, my fiancée and my whole situation with my baby. He made sure everything was OK when I was on the road.”


During his sophomore year at Cal Poly Pomona, Nuñez heard former head athletic trainer Ky Kugler deliver a keynote speech that emphasized what he called the “four P’s,” in preparation, poise, patience and perseverance. Once the speech ended, Nuñez introduced himself to Kugler and shared how that speech fueled his ambitions to become a head athletic trainer. Nuñez then changed majors from civil engineering to kinesiology.

“It sounds like (those qualities) defined Marco’s career. That was evident since I’ve known him,” Kugler said. “I thought he was always going to be successful.”

Nuñez carried out Kugler’s vision with a sports athletic training internship at Mount San Antonio Community College and Pasadena City College. He then had a short stint with the Long Beach Ice Dogs (1998), before taking on an assistant trainer role with the Los Angeles Avengers of the Arena Football League (1999-2002).

During that time, Nuñez saw several aspects of an industry where job security can be tenuous. After an Avengers player scolded him for taping his ankles poorly, Nuñez gathered friends as test subjects so he could perfect that job. Nuñez improved in his craft quickly enough that former Avengers head athletic trainer Brian Nguyen often deferred his workload to Nuñez.

As Nuñez’s responsibilities grew, he developed a more light-hearted relationship with players. He played pranks by pouring a bucket of ice water on players on their birthdays, and players nicknamed him “Blinkie” in reference to his constant eye twitching.

“It says something that is very endearing when people know your mannerisms like that,” Nguyen said, laughing. “Marco truly cares as an athletic trainer both with his job and working with people.”

That’s why Nguyen recruited Nuñez in 2003 for another project. After producers of the movie, “The Longest Yard,” hired Nguyen to treat actor Adam Sandler on set, Nguyen hired Nuñez to handle the rest of the cast, including the likes of former professional wrestler Steve Austin, rapper Nelly and former NFL player Michael Irvin.

While filming in Santa Fe, N.M., Nuñez’s most memorable experiences involved his time handling Irvin – an early test of his ability to handle star players nursing injuries.

After he tweaked his hamstring during a game of pickup basketball, Irvin asked Nuñez a pointed question.

“If I go out there, can I make it worse?” Irvin asked.

“Yeah, you could aggravate it,” Nuñez answered.

Irvin lightly slapped Nuñez s face. Irvin then repeated his question.

“If I go out there, can I make it worse?” Irvin asked.

“No,” Nuñez said. “You’ll be fine.”

After Nuñez treated Irvin’s hamstring, the Hall of Famer finished the scene without making his injury worse. In between laughs, Nunez said that anecdote isn’t about him caving to a demanding athlete.

“He knows his body,” Nuñez said of Irvin. “They know the risk.”

Soon after, the uncertainty of the industry cost Nuñez his job with the Avengers because Health South, his employer, experienced financial issues. Nunez landed another AFL job a short time later, but his time with the Carolina Cobras ended a year later for the same reasons.

“That was two years in a row where I felt I got screwed,” Nuñez said. “I got to a point where I thought there’s too much politics and too much BS. I think I’m done.”

Actually, Nuñez was just getting started.

In 2004, Clive. E Brewster, a former regional manager with the Kerlan Jobe Orthopedic Clinic, recommended the WNBA’s Sparks interview Nuñez for their vacant head athletic training position.

“All of a sudden, he was left out in the cold. But if you’re good at what you do, something will fall,” Brewster said. “When you’re good people, things like that don’t affect you.”

Nuñez took the Sparks job for the 2005-2006 season, then joined the D-Fenders, the Lakers’ Development league affiliate, afterward. It wasn’t long before Nuñez remarked to Nguyen he hoped to become the Lakers’ head athletic trainer someday.

“When I was in college, my goal was to get to this level,” Nuñez said. “But now that I’m here, I may as well keep going.”


Vitti initially cringed upon hearing about Nuñez’s longtime aspirations.

“If your goal is to be the head athletic trainer of the Lakers and you never get there, does that mean you’ll be unhappy where you are the rest of your life?” Vitti said. “You have to be very careful of making that such a priority.”

Nonetheless, Nuñez quickly proved he wasn’t about ego. With the rest of the Lakers’ training staff treating other players, Walton asked Nuñez to tape his ankles before a practice at the beginning of the 2008-09 season. Once Nuñez finished, Walton uttered a few memorable words to Nuñez.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Walton said. “You’re a great fit into our system.”

Those words made Nuñez feel “reassured that I do belong here.”

“Luke is a guy that you want to go that extra mile for and you want to make sure he succeeds,” Nuñez said. “He just has that personality that makes you feel like you are part of the team.”

Walton laughed about the anecdote before acknowledging a foggy memory. Nonetheless, Walton called Nuñez a “good ankle taper.”

“He was great, easy to talk to and knows his stuff,” Walton said. “That’s when you build trust with a trainer. It’s not if he’s funny, but if he knows his stuff and knows how to fix you. He’s very knowledgeable, works hard and is a good communicator.”

Building on those qualities, Nuñez’s role grew.

He continued to observe Vitti closely in the training room, most notably how he handled Bryant and the star’s ability to play through injuries.

When Bryant fractured the right index finger of his right hand during the 2009-10 season, Nuñez admired how Bryant never missed a game and abstained from surgery. Shortly after the injury happened, Nuñez watched Bryant’s shooting routine while wearing a new splint. After missing a few shots, Bryant tinkered with the splint and his form before finding his stroke again.

“He already had gotten to the point where he figured out how to adjust and adapt to his new injury,” Nuñez said of Bryant. “That’s Kobe. That’s what great athletes do. They figure it out.”

Nuñez has since tried to figure out his niche with the Lakers.

Vitti estimated in the past three or four years he had delegated more of the treatment responsibilities to Nuñez, so he could spend more time entering information in the Electronic Medical Record (EMR). Nuñez took on inventory and purchasing of most of the medical supplies to ease Vitti’s workload.

Meanwhile, Vitti instructed Nuñez to keep both a backup battery and portable charger on his phone since he spends nearly 70 percent of his day on it coordinating with the front office, players and doctors. Vitti also advised Nuñez on how to help the Lakers’ coaching staffs manage their timeouts.

As the season winds to a close, Nuñez has done his part to keep the Lakers’ roster healthy while navigating the potential pitfalls of their demanding travel schedule. Nuñez says his dream job has all been worth it, even if the responsibilities have left him little time to sleep.

Professional Sports



Article reposted from Denver Broncos
Author: Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos have promoted long-time head athletic trainer Steve “Greek” Antonopulos to director of sports medicine and assistant athletic trainer Vince Garcia to head athletic trainer, Executive Vice President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway announced on Wednesday.

In his new role, Antonopulos will oversee all aspects of the Broncos’ sports medicine program, including athletic training and player rehabilitation. Garcia will serve as the lead athletic trainer for players and assume all day-to-day head athletic training responsibilities. 


“Greek’s been a cornerstone of the Denver Broncos for more than four decades, and we’re excited to have him move up a level to become our director of sports medicine. In talking with Greek, he indicated that he was ready to make this transition and turn the head athletic training position over to the very qualified and well-respected Vince Garcia.

“There’s nothing more important than the health of our players, and Vince is prepared for the important responsibilities as our lead athletic trainer. We’re in good hands with Greek overseeing our sports medicine program and Vince becoming our head athletic trainer.”


“I’m very excited to begin the next chapter in my athletic training career in this new role. I’ve taken so much pride in serving as the Broncos’ head athletic trainer for 37 seasons, and while it’s difficult to pass on those responsibilities, I know this is the right move for my family and me.

“I could not think of a better fit than Vince Garcia to become the Denver Broncos’ head athletic trainer. He cares about our players and always puts their well-being first.

“I’ve been living a dream for the last 41 years while I’ve worked for the Denver Broncos. It’s an honor to work for Mr. Bowlen and Joe Ellis, and I couldn’t have a better boss than John Elway. I’m grateful for this new opportunity and am really looking forward to working with Vince, our players and coaches, and the rest of our very talented medical staff.”


Antonopulos, who enters his 42nd season with the Broncos in 2017, began his career with Denver as an assistant athletic trainer in 1976 and worked his way up to becoming the club’s director of rehabilitation in 1979. His 41 years as a Broncos athletic trainer are believed to be the most in NFL history with a single team and include 37 seasons (1980-2016) as the team’s head athletic trainer.

Antonopulos has worked nearly 900 Broncos games in his more than four decades with the team. During that time, he has been part of 27 winning seasons, 22 playoff berths, 15 AFC West titles, 10 AFC Championship Games, eight Super Bowls and three World Championships.

In 2011, Antonopulos was named the Fain-Cain Memorial Award recipient, an award that is given annually to a NFL trainer who best exemplifies a long-term commitment to the NFL as well as exemplary performance. He has received numerous other honors throughout his career, including the NFL/PFATS Athletic Training Staff of the Year Award (1987), the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Athletic Trainer Service Award (1996) and the NATA Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer Award (2006).


Garcia, who is in his seventh year with the team, spent five seasons (2010-13, ’16) as assistant athletic trainer for the Broncos after serving as an athletic training intern in 2008.

He also has experience working as head athletic trainer for South Metro Fire Rescue in Centennial, Colo., from 2014-15 and head football athletic trainer for the University of Northern Colorado in 2009.

In addition to receiving his athletic training certification from the National Athletic Trainers Association, Garcia is certified as a blood flow restriction rehabilitation specialist. He is treasurer of the Colorado Athletic Trainers Association along with his membership in the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society and the Rocky Mountain Athletic Trainers Association.

Garcia received his bachelor’s degree in sport and exercises science from Northern Colorado and earned his master’s degree in sports medicine from Oregon State University.

Professional Sports

Vikings Coach Says Athletic Trainer May Have Saved QBs Leg and Career


Article reposted from Purple PTSD
Author: Joe Johnson

As most of Minnesota finally saw mid-day Tuesday, Teddy Bridgewater is in fact capable of not only standing and walking, but of throwing a football as well. According to some news reports at the outset of his devastating knee/leg injury back before last season pointed out and comments by head coach Mike Zimmer explained a bit yesterday, that was very close to not being a reality. Bridgewater’s leg knee and lower leg dislocated from his upper leg, which is apparently no fun to be a part of (for anyone). Obviously for Bridgewater this was extremely painful, but the reaction of other players on the field was what was the most startling (As it explained how severe and rare his injury was in the sport) as some players threw their helmets, others prayed and reportedly some even vomited on the field.

Because of the severity and relative unprecedented nature mixed with the Vikings brass’ tendency to play injury news tight to the chest/vest and the one surprise out of this thing is the fact that we as writers/fans we were really unaware of where Bridgewater was in his recovery up until this week, save for a few people seeing him walking around the locker room and some unreliable comments from the Vikings staff. So, when video was released by Bridgewater himself in a video titled ‘Spring Cleaning’, Vikings fandom rejoiced, as just the night before Zimmer had said that Bridgewater was still mostly doing pool rehab.

Again, things almost didn’t end up this way and Zimmer knows it. He thanked head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman in a press conference yesterday for essentially saving Teddy’s career and status as a bipedal human, saying (To many reporters but I read it on

“It could have been really, really bad, Eric Sugarman did an unbelievable job of possibly saving this guy’s career and maybe saving his leg.”

He also added that:

Zimmer on Sugarman: “Teddy should be his friend for life.”

Beyond the injury, Zimmer reiterated his love for the young quarterback, saying:

“I saw Teddy in the training room a week or so ago. He’s in great spirits, working hard, doing all the things necessary. There’s no timetable. I keep getting asked these questions but when he’s ready, he’s ready.”

“He’s getting to where his range of motion is good, he’s starting to move more, strengthening the leg,” Zimmer said, according to a report by ESPN on the same press conference. “It was a rough injury. I’m sure there’s more land work he’s going to do.”

When asked if he trusts Bridgewater to follow rehab while in Miami, Zimmer said, “100 percent.”

And while the video may have raised some hopes for a 2017 return, Zimmer reiterated that the lack of a timetable still returns for an injury that really wildly varies from case to case and that the league hasn’t really seen a ton of. So, the question remains; What do the Vikings plans for a back-up quarterback for at least the beginning of the 2017 season? Seeing that they currently only have two healthy players in Sam Bradford and Taylor Heinicke on their roster, it’s clearly something that they need to address before long.

“I’m sure we’re going to get something done there.” Zimmer said.

That “Something” is looking like it’ll occur in next month’s draft, but considering how encouraging Bridgewater’s video was (It’s better than jogging in place in a pool)  they may be able to bring veteran Shaun Hill back for one more year (if that), really it depends on whether or not they believe Heinicke has reached his end as a project or has reached the level of perennial back-up. His self-inflicted injury probably doesn’t help his cause for the latter. Either way, it was great to see Teddy back on the field, throwing the ball again, even if it was in shorts at the end of March. But considering where he could’ve ended up, that’s really all any of us could ask for.

Professional Sports

Athletic Trainers are Big Reasons Why Northern Arizona Suns in Playoff Mix


Article reposted from Northern Arizona Suns
Author: Northern Arizona Suns

Getting to the gym first and being one of the last ones to leave. That usually is a sign you will see in a player on the verge of making it to the next level, or at least in a player who has the potential to be great. With the Northern Arizona Suns, most of the players get to practice early and stay late, but the ones who show up first and leave last are the athletic trainers.

Jonathan Mak and Michelle Ruan represent the Suns’ athletic training and sports medicine department. Both can be seen performing treatment on players on a regular basis on the sidelines and during practice, both will be in the building preparing for practice and games before the building’s staff arrives, and both absolutely love what they do.

Mak is the Suns’ head athletic trainer, head strength and conditioning coach, team nutritionist, equipment manager and assistant travel coordinator. With so many duties, you would think he doesn’t even have time to sleep.

“This season has been a grind. It’s been crazy, especially being on the road, it’s definitely a grind. But it’s really fun working with these players and seeing them go on the court,” Mak said.

“Elijah Millsap was telling me, ‘Hey J-Mak, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to go tomorrow.’ That guy is 29 years old, but he takes care of his body like a pro,” Mak said. “He does about an hour of treatment every day after practice, definitely more than anyone else on the team.”

Mak credited Xavier Silas, Josh Gray and Alex Davis, among others, who really focus on their physical wellbeing, especially in the food department.

“They go to the grocery store with me and I teach them to buy good foods and teach them some recipes that’s easy for them to make,” Mak said.

In a sport riddled with injuries where players can miss multiple games, if not an entire season, often because of the never-ending workload on their bodies, the Suns have been able to stay healthy all year. It should come as no surprise that some players Mak listed in Millsap, Gray and Davis have played in every single game this season, as has Derek Cooke Jr.

“I think the athletic trainer is one of the most crucial elements of a basketball team,” Mak said. “If you don’t have a good athletic trainer who’s willing to put in that time and have that compassion and care to really put everything that we have into getting those guys right, they’re just not going to be able to go out there and perform at their best day-in and day-out.”

Mak is in his fourth year with the organization, as he spent the last three years with the Bakersfield Jam before the team was moved to Prescott Valley in April 2016.

The 26-year-old is one of the most well-known athletic trainers around the league, spending the last two summers at the Summer League in Las Vegas working as the co-head athletic trainer for the D-League Select Team as well as assisting the Phoenix Suns Medical Staff with their Summer League games.

He also served as the head athletic trainer for the NBA D-League Elite Mini-Camp in Chicago the last three years, working with the best players and coaches around the league by himself.

Mak came to Northern Arizona in the move, bringing in Ruan as his assistant this season.

Ruan, a 25-year-old out of California Baptist University, doesn’t travel with the team, but when the Suns are in Prescott Valley, she almost never leaves the gym.

“She really is the glue that holds all this team together,” Mak said. “She definitely is an important part of this team and the other half of the sports medicine team; it’s us two and there’s 12 guys. So she’s great and a hard worker.”

Ruan, who earned her master’s degree in athletic training at CBU in Riverside, California, gets to the gym hours before practice starts to set everything up, staying hours after to make sure the players get the treatment they need and everything is taken care of.

One of her big concerns is players’ hydration, so she constantly makes sure everyone has enough water and the proper nutritional value is available. Ruan said she takes care of the players like they are family.

“My grandma fell and broke her hip and she went and got homecare, but the care she was receiving wasn’t exceptional. She shortly passed after that,” Ruan said. “After I saw that – no one should ever have to go through that. They should be treated with exceptional care. That’s how I like to treat all of my athletes, players, I want to treat them like how family should be treated, with exceptional care.”

Despite the excessive number of hours both have to put in to keep the team healthy and in good shape, both love their jobs and being a part of the Northern Arizona Suns. Each mentioned getting to the NBA as a potential dream landing spot, but both consider this an amazing job that they’d be happy at maintaining for a while.

“My dream job is to eventually make it to the NBA and work with these great athletes, but honestly I would be OK anywhere,” Ruan said. “Just being around sports, it doesn’t have to be basketball … as long as I’m able to keep doing what I do, provide care for them, making sure their health is at their optimum and their performance is at their optimum, I’ll love my job.”