Article reposted from Calaveras Enterprise
Author: Guy Dossi
Kristin Vieira has seen more football games than most head coaches. For the past 14 years, Vieira has been on the sidelines nearly every fall Friday night. And while she has never called a play or come up with a defensive scheme, Vieira can change the outcome of a game with a single diagnosis.
Vieira is the head athletic trainer at Bret Harte High School and she is the one responsible for making sure the athletes are healthy enough to play, as well as attempting to fix them when they are hurt.
“I have the mentality of letting the coach coach, the refs ref and the trainers train,” Vieira said. “I’m just there to do medical and make sure they stay safe and healthy. That’s my main focus. I pick them up when they are broken and nurse them back to health.”
Vieira, who is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and also a nationally registered paramedic, made the decision to enter the field of sports medicine when she was 20 years old and attending California Polytechnic State University. She later transferred to California State University, East Bay, and later participated in a sports medicine internship at Diablo Valley College.
Vieira, who grew up in Hayward, was originally looking to go into pre-med orthopedic surgery, but the more time she spent in the athletic training room with some of her kinesiology classes, the more she realized she belonged on the sidelines.
“I really liked the hands-on aspect of working directly with the athletes at the time they got injured,” Vieira said. “I get to fix them and have a part in that. So, I like dealing with the immediate injury and figuring out what’s going on. I really liked the athletic training aspect of the sports medicine umbrella.”
A fateful day
Even though it has been 15 years, Vieira will never forget Aug. 19, 2002. It was her first day of her senior year of college and it was also the first day of contact football practice at Diablo Valley College. Vieira, who wasn’t an official athletic trainer yet, was at practice performing some of what would be her daily duties when out of nowhere, a 19-year-old player collapsed on the field.
Vieira, along with a first-year athletic training student, were the first to reach the player. The player told them that he had been hit a couple of times, but it was clear to Vieira that his condition was rapidly deteriorating. She summoned the head athletic trainers and CPR was immediately started.
The player was taken to a nearby hospital, where he subsequently died of what was believed to have been a brain stem hemorrhage. However, the autopsy came back inconclusive.
“That’s the one that has always stuck with me,” Vieira said. “Even though it’s been 15 years, every time I step out onto this turf, it’s always in a corner of my mind. It was one of those situations that totally could have broken me and it almost did. Instead of letting it break me, I took it as my drive to make sure that I do the best that I can do and make sure these guys are safe and taken care of.”
All on her own
In 2003, Vieira was named the head athletic trainer of the Summerville High School junior varsity football team. She was only 24 and was responsible for a team of 30. Vieira was ready to prove that she could handle the situation and perhaps was a bit too eager to convince not only herself, but the Summerville players and coaches that she belonged.
“I was actually kind of cocky, because I was fresh out of college,” Vieira said. “I had the, ‘I know it all,’ attitude. Now I’m a little more humble and actually rely on my peers to come up with answers and to help me.”
Vieira enjoyed her time working in Tuolumne County, but kept her eyes and ears open to anything available in her new hometown of Angels Camp. It wasn’t long until former Bret Harte head football coach Gordon Sadler Sr. got ahold of Vieira and made an offer that she couldn’t refuse.
“Gordon Sadler Sr., whom I called ‘Papa Sadler,’ said to me, ‘We need you. I want an athletic trainer and I want you to do the job.’ So, I said, ‘OK,’” Vieira said.
Since then, Vieira has spent the past 12 years on the Bret Harte sidelines. And in that time she has worked for four different head coaches. From Sadler to Scott Edwards and Jon Byrnes to current head coach Casey Kester, the one constant has been Vieira.
“I’d like to think that I have a good rapport with the kids,” Vieira said of what she believes is a reason for her longevity with the Bullfrogs. “I feel that I have a good rapport with the coaching staff and the administration here on campus.”
But one thing that Vieira hasn’t been able to fix is Bret Harte’s record. In 12 years, she has been involved with only one winning team and seen two playoff games. She has seen the good along with the absolute worst of Bret Harte football.
“It is hard for me because I do see the heartbreak in their eyes, especially if it’s a game where they played their hearts out,” Vieira said.
An absolute necessity
Having a certified athletic trainer on the sidelines and at practice is a valuable asset to any football team. However, it is currently not required in California. Often, coaches are responsible for taking care of the health of their players when that goes above their area of expertise.
“Coaches are not qualified, nor do they want the responsibility or liability of making medical decisions for their athletes,” Vieira said. “They feel way more comfortable having it put in the hands of a trained professional. I think the coaches realize that it’s a good thing to have around.”
Coaches aren’t the only ones happy that Vieira is around. The players have no problem going to her with questions and concerns regarding any bump, bruise, sprain or stiff muscle. And while some parents and coaches might not get the full answer from the athletes regarding injuries, Vieira has been around long enough to figure out exactly what is wrong.
“If they are not giving me straight answers or I’m not getting a good read of what’s going on, that’s actually the part of my job that I love the best,” Vieira said. “Because then I have to kick my brain into high gear and try to figure out what it could be. I try to piece things together from square one.”
There is nothing that Vieira hasn’t seen and nothing that she hasn’t heard from players. While some injuries are serious and need further medical attention, others can be fixed with something as simple as ice and rest. One of the biggest parts of Vieira’s job is helping the players recognize the difference between being hurt and being injured.
After 14 years on the job, Vieira has become fairly skilled at sniffing out real injuries among players who believe they are hurt more than they actually are.
“We’ve had kids where you think that they are dying out on the field and that I’m going to have the ambulance come out and haul them off, all because of the production that they are making,” Vieira said. “Then they end up being fine.”
A future on the sidelines
Vieira is a mother of three young boys. Her oldest is 8, the middle son is 4 and she has a 7-month-old son. So when the question arose regarding whether she would allow her own children play football, Vieira had an answer ready in her back pocket.
“My oldest is playing flag football and I’m fine with him doing that,” she said. “I have no problem with them playing football, if that’s what they want to do. However, my only rule is that I will not allow them to start playing tackle football until they are in eighth grade. Mainly, I want to make sure their bodies have more time to adequately develop without getting repetitive hits.”
So what happens when they suit up and begin playing tackle football?
“When they do start playing, I’ll have to retire,” laughed Vieira.
But until then, Vieira hopes to remain on the Bret Harte sidelines. And as long as she is there, win, lose or draw, the Bullfrogs will remain in good hands