Students learn cutting edge technology
By EARL WATT
• Leader & Times
When considering the positions on a team, whether it is a quarterback or point guard or sprinter, there is a position that is on every team, even though they never step onto the field of play when the clock is running.
The athletic trainers make sure that the athletes are operating at peak performance, and when an injury occurs, their job is to get that athlete back to game-ready condition as quickly as possible.
Nine years ago when certified athletic trainer Steve Zimmerman established a program at Liberal High School, he started with four student trainers and two exercise bikes that were still in the box.
Since then, Zimmerman used the bikes until they literally fell apart and replaced them with modern equipment that has helped get athletes back in the game. He also went from four student trainers to having to evaluate between 50 and 55 students who want to be a part of the program, but with space available Zimmerman has to choose about 16.
“When the school board hired me, they wanted me to grow the program,” Zimmerman said. “I want this for kids interested in any medical field. They can see something they wouldn’t see in the classroom.”
Zimmerman has had the support of the school as well as the Booster Club and other community organizations that have allowed him to stay on the cutting edge of equipment and technology in helping maintain the health of the student athletes and to reduce their recovery time.
Zimmerman has added equipment to help with rehab and also to test for concussions. He has ultrasound equipment to help with deep bruises, and also equipment to help make sure an athlete can maintain balance.
“We are learning in athletic training how to keep athletes involved,” he said. “Like a mild knee sprain, the best medicine is continued participation, we just have to back them off a little bit. In the past, sports medicine has garnered the persona of getting people back faster. When there isn’t a program, sometimes athletic trainers, therapists, doctors — they say rest is the best. In sports medicine, the more active you keep the person, the faster they can heal rather than sit there and do nothing.”
Because Zimmerman is dedicated to get the athletes back in the game, he and his student trainers have become more a part of the team rather than a separate program.
But the respect Zimmerman has earned from the athletes and coaches comes from a no-nonsense approach.
“He doesn’t put up with people faking an injury,” student trainer Riley Jones said. “He respects if they are actually injured. The training room is not a place to goof around, it is a place of rehabilitation. It is a serious place. We have fun, but there is confidentiality involved, and everyone respects Steve. He knows all the coaches and everyone in athletics knows Steve. He has a bubble of respect around him.”
Student trainer Alysha Espinoza agreed.
“Steve is a very strong guy,” she said. “Getting his respect is easy, it’s keeping it. Students respect him because he doesn’t take what other teachers take. He is someone you know will be there for you, first-aid wise. People respect him and I do, too.”
Zimmerman starts by building a relationship with his trainers, athletes and coaches.
“I like to come in and get on a personal level,” he said. “I get to know them, and they get to know me. I try to instill that in the student trainers — respect everybody, and the athletes, too. The trainers aren’t here to just give them a bottle of water, they are here to take care of them. Yes, they have water to make sure the athletes are hydrated, to help them participate fully and better. I’ve been lucky to have good groups of kids. My process is selective to get kids that participated at the junior high level. They can still be involved in football, soccer, basketball, baseball, they can be involved, just not pounding the pads or kicking the ball. That is where the relationship comes in. There’s not a stigma that they couldn’t handle it so they are trainers. There is respect, when they go out and tape an ankle or hydrate, the athletes relate with that.”
Espinoza said that the trainers are an accepted part of the team.
“We put in the same hours they are,” she said. “When it comes to an injury we are there for them, we travel and go to practice. I never thought when I started I would be doing this three hours after school every day, but I wouldn’t change it. I’m glad faith brought me to this class.”
Jones has also experienced additional benefits from the training program.
“I have grown as a person in the training program because the respect you get and being part of the team,” she said. “We go everywhere. When an athlete gets hurt you have to branch out to other trainers out of town. You become more confident in yourself having to branch out. I know so many more people because of athletic training.”