Aug 18, 2019

Student training demands time, focus

Student athletic trainer Shannon Murphy (center) and athletic trainer
Sarah Tackett (right) carefully watch a student-athlete performs
rehabilitation exercises Tuesday.
Esteban Cortez / The Collegian

On an early March morning, the Duncan Athletic Training Room remains desolate except for a few drop-bys from a student-athlete or two and members of the lacrosse team. Empty rows of tables and the faint whirring of an ice machine in the background contribute to the relaxed ambience of the room.

As part of a standard procedure, athletic trainer Sarah Tackett and senior Shannon Murphy arrive at 6 a.m. to prepare for an offseason soccer practice slated to start in an hour and a half. For Murphy, assisting Tackett with morning practices is a rigid schedule to follow, but never disappoints.

“Every time we’re out at practice it’s always a good time – always something different to look forward to,” Murphy said.

“Every day may follow a schedule, but no two days are the same because every day something hurts someone new,” added Tackett.

For athletic trainers, a lot of the learning takes place on a team’s practice field. During soccer practice, as the team engages in an assortment of drills, Tackett and Murphy keep a watchful eye on players’ knees and ankles, along with how they plant their feet after kicking the ball.

“All it takes is one funny ligament,” Tackett said. “It may sound a bit morbid, but as an athletic trainer you’re waiting around for people to get hurt.”

And the “hurry-up-and-wait” approach (as Tackett puts it) means that oftentimes, lengthy periods of constant alertness are in preparation for incidents that take a fraction of a second.

It can mean an offensive lineman executing a down block and jamming his fingers inside the shoulder pads of another lineman. It can be an inconspicuous, surmounting soreness in a pitcher’s throwing shoulder as he exhausts a pitch count.

“Although it may seem calm that we’re just standing around, the things you have to think about and be prepared for are really kind of astonishing,” Tackett said.

For a student athletic trainer whose assigned team is in season, the learning environment sometimes transitions to other facilities and venues well outside the Fresno city limits.

Murphy is a senior sports medicine major in her final year in the sports medicine program. She was assigned to the volleyball team last semester and recounts the day she traveled with the team for an exhibition match at CSU Bakersfield.

“You start early in the morning, go to class, come out of class and you pretty much get everything ready that you need on the road in the visiting training room,” she said. “Sometimes you’ll have stuff that they give you. Sometimes you have a table and a chair. It’s definitely a busy day but it’s a really great experience.”

On this morning, however, the pace seems a lot less hectic than Murphy’s game day recollection. The destination was not a 120-mile bus ride to Kern County, but rather a short golf cart trip through a dirt road circling the fences of Bulldog Stadium.



In the afternoons, the traffic that inhabits the athletic training room is quite different from the morning’s tranquility.

As the day progresses, student-athletes stop by both the Duncan Building and North Gym facilities sporadically or in groups, after a class or before a practice or workout, as part of an offseason regimen or in the aftermath of a home game. For them, the athletic training facilities offer a safe haven of rehabilitation and pre-practice preparation.

But for aspiring certified athletic trainers like Murphy and fellow senior Minda McCullough, the facilities have an equally pivotal, yet different, significance. For them, the facilities are utilized as their own unique practice field where they log in as many as 35 hours a week into a sports medicine program that only requires 20.

McCullough views the athletic training rooms as the one place where she can bridge the gap between classroom learning and professional experience.

“I think I learn the most when I’m able to apply what I’ve already learned in the classroom and actually apply it to this setting – into rehabs or evaluations with my student-athletes,” McCullough said.

“That’s when I actually learn the most because it clicks into your brain that that’s actually what you learned in the classroom and now you’re able to witness it firsthand.”

For Murphy and McCullough, balancing school and their commitment to the sports medicine program carry similar challenges to that of a full-time student juggling a full-time job, but with added twists.

“I’m probably starting school at 7 or 8 every morning and going until 8 at night, and on game days, more like 10 … And I’ve had class conflicts both semesters with football and baseball during practice times where I’ll leave pre-practice, go to class for an hour, and then come straight back to practice,” McCullough said.


Despite the demanding schedule, the different methods of learning and all the other intricacies related with being an athletic trainer, the profession falls is often confused with personal training.

“We’re constantly trying to explain to people what we do,” Tackett said. “We’re not water girls. We’re not personal trainers. We’re not horse trainers [or], dog trainers. We’re athletic trainers and we don’t really do much training at all, but we fix the broken.”

The misperception can come from athletic training being a fairly young profession. It has only been an organized effort since 1950, when the National Athletic Trainers’ Association was founded. According to Tackett, the career is currently battling for licensure to increase recognition in the profession and ensure a standard of care.

Regardless of the misperceptions, Tackett said that it does not take away from one of the sports medicine program’s major goal: helping student athletic trainers obtain a quality, sufficient amount of hands-on experience that is necessary for graduate school and certification.

“I think we’re really fortunate that students are getting real-world experience and an education out of this because not every major gets that,” Tackett said. “Sometimes the first time you’ve ever done your job is your first day on it.”

McCullough, who will graduate this semester, is going to attend the University of Kentucky and serve as a graduate assistant.

However, she advises that the journey through the field of sports medicine is not for the faint of heart.

“You have to have a real passion for it to put in the hours this program requires and you have to really like what you are doing, otherwise it’s going to take a toll on you and you’re not going to want to do it anymore,” McCullough said.

And while student athletic trainers like Murphy, who fight through the everlasting grind of school and sports medicine, find the experience tough, she would not have it any other way.

“It’s been an interesting two years,” Murphy said. “It’s a lot of work but it’s been a lot fun. I’ve learned a tremendous amount of experience and I would not trade it for the world.”

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