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Beyond the Sidelines: Recognizing the Vital Role of Athletic Trainers 

Posted on March 27, 2024

By Justin Meyer, PT, DPT, Cert. DN.   

Justin serves as the physical therapist for the University of Denver Athletics, assisting in the evaluation, treatment, and management of injured athletes. In this role, he provides his expertise in orthopedics, rehabilitation, and preventative medicine, as well as the strong rapport he has cultivated with the Panorama physicians. This collaborative approach allows Justin to provide comprehensive support to the DU athletic training staff and the student-athletes under their care. 

When you think of March, what is the first thing that comes to mind? For most, St. Patrick’s Day is certainly at the top of the list. For others, it may be Easter (depending on the annual vernal equinox), Ramadan, National Pi Day, or for all the dog lovers out there – National Puppy Day. One annual recognition I want to highlight as a physical therapist is “National Athletic Training Month,” who are too often the unsung heroes on the sports medicine care team. 

Athletic Trainers: More Than Just Water Bottles and Tape 

Many may wonder, “What is an athletic trainer? Aren’t those the people in khakis that run the water out from the sidelines to help hydrate the athletes during competition? Don’t they sprint out onto the field when an injury happens?” While there is some truth to those statements, the role of an athletic trainer is significantly more involved than what is portrayed while watching sports.  In recent news, athletic trainers have been praised for their quick, precise, and effective management in the lifesaving measures administered to Buffalo Bills safety, Damar Hamlin, and the son of LeBron James – Bronny James.  

Athletic Trainers [Definition]: Athletic trainers are medical professionals specializing in the prevention, examination, diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of emergent, acute, and chronic injuries or medical conditions.  

Although I believe this is an accurate definition, it fails to highlight the breadth of knowledge and skills these professionals have or the immense amount of hard work and sacrifice they make daily. I know this firsthand, because I have had the pleasure of working alongside the amazing Athletic Training staff at the University of Denver for the past two years.  

Witnessing the Dedication Behind the Scenes at DU 

Initially, my knowledge of the “day-to-day” of an athletic trainer was somewhat limited. I knew they covered practice/games and were always ready should an injury or something emergent happen, taped ankles prior to practice, helped with rehab should a student athlete get injured, etc. 

 While those things are certainly a piece of the puzzle, there is so much more than meets the eye. I’ve witnessed these trainers go through demanding travel schedules where they must spend extended periods of time away from spouses, children, family, friends. There are often very early/late hours and their time on the weekends is often sacrificed for travel, games, practice and treatment for the student-athletes.  

In the collegiate setting, AT’s will often serve as a first line of defense for student athletes that feel ill and serve as an integral piece in the holistic medical care athletes receive including orthopedics, sports psychology, chiropractic, massage therapy, and primary care. They work hand-in-hand with strength and conditioning staff to tailor programs for athletes based on their condition, injury, or needs.  

Athletic Trainers are Integral to Student-Athlete Care and Success 

In my time at DU, I’ve heard stories of the training staff identifying signs of pulmonary embolism – a life threatening condition – and taking the immediate, appropriate actions to save the life of the athlete, treating lacerations experienced during hockey games,  managing serious head/neck injuries associated with collision sports. I’ve witnessed, firsthand, how the athletic training staff works diligently to keep a team from falling apart during a long, grueling season of competition.  

In the last two years alone, there has been a NCAA championship in Men’s Hockey, NCAA national semi-finals appearances in Women’s Gymnastics and Women’s Lacrosse, a #1 nationally ranked Men’s Lacrosse team, a first Summit League Tournament Final appearance for our Men’s Basketball program as well as the national leader in points per game in NCAA Division I.   

There are absolutely amazing things happening at The University of Denver and the Athletic Training staff is an integral part of why this is possible.  

Appreciating Our Nation’s Athletic Trainers 

The next time March rolls around, it is my hope that you also take a moment to appreciate all of the hard work and dedication our nation’s athletic trainers do on a daily basis.