116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS – Perhaps the toughest part of this has been intentionally limiting their time around those they treat.
Athletics trainers love the kids at their respective high schools. It’s a big part of why they do what they do.
Just conversing with them about their daily lives. Seeing a freshman gradually mature in front of their eyes. Following graduates as they progress to college athletics. Having those graduates come back and say hello to them.
All that stuff is rewarding.
“You build those relationships over their four years,” said Suzi Guider, athletics trainer at Cedar Rapids Jefferson. “Those kids are in your room often enough that they become family. Then they’ll have siblings come along, so you get to know them, their parents as well. Building relationships with the kids and seeing how they progress over four years is (the best).”
“People always ask me ‘Don’t you want to go and work at a college somewhere? Go D-I? Go work at Iowa?’” said Lynn Groth, athletics trainer at Cedar Rapids Kennedy.
Her answer is no way. Because of the kids.
That has made this year so much more difficult for Guider, Groth and the other full-time athletics trainers at schools in the Metro and Iowa City. In multiple ways.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added significantly to their already full plates. It also has taken away some of the time they spend with the kids they treat and love.
“The big thing, obviously, is trying to limit contact,” Guider said. “Doing evaluations and rehab, I try to make sure and get through things a little bit quicker just to reduce that contact time … I’ve also played a contact tracer role, versus doing as many evaluations and as many rehabs as I have in the past.”
If you’re not aware, the trainers at schools like Jefferson, Kennedy, Cedar Rapids Washington, Cedar Rapids Prairie, Linn-Mar, Iowa City High, Iowa City West and Iowa City Liberty are at their schools each day.
They generally arrive sometime in the afternoon to tape ankles, treat the injured and help prepare everyone for practice. They stay into the evening, sometimes later into the evening, until practices are done or games played.
They are around for athletes of every sport: from wrestling to basketball to soccer to baseball and softball. It’s not a Monday-through-Friday, 9-to-5 job, by any means.
“It’s a different schedule than anybody else’s,” Groth said.
“We’re here for injury prevention, we’re here for treatment, and we’re here for teaching kids to take care of their bodies,” said Linn-Mar athletics trainer Marissa Yorgey.
This year, teaching kids to take care of their bodies has meant trying to keep as many of them from getting COVID as possible. If someone was unfortunate enough to get the virus, it has meant safely returning them to their sport.
On top of their normal duties, trainers have sent out daily COVID screenings for athletes and monitored those screenings. Then it was following up with someone if they said they didn’t feel well.
Other duties have included helping out with contact tracing if an athlete tested positive. They also have included constantly reminding students of preventative measures, like wearing masks.
“Kind of a different role,” Guider said. “But the emphasis of what I do every day hasn’t really shifted. It’s about just making sure the kids are safe, making sure they are following protocols.”
“There are a lot more preventative things and a lot more behind-the-scenes things that are going on,” said Yorgey, who shares athletics training at her school with Vince Klopfenstein. “Between identifying when kids get sick, who they have been around, what is happening with the teams, checking with people. We’ve been helping kids get back to athletics after they have had COVID.
“Having them go through a return-to-play protocol, similar to what we do with concussions. To make sure that they return to play safely, because we really have no idea how this virus affects the athletic body, yet.”
Doctors have learned the virus can cause permanent heart damage in even young and healthy people. Athletes at the Division I college level who test positive must undergo a heart scan before being allowed to compete again.
That’s obviously not feasible at the high school level, thus, the return-to-play protocols Yorgey mentioned and monitors.
“It’s over the course of seven days,” Guider said. “Day one and day two are 15 minutes of exercise (allowed). Then day three would be 30 minutes of exercise, day four is 45 minutes … Days five and six are an hour in practice, with day seven a full practice prior to any competition being allowed.”
If there are any issues during those seven days, trainers refer their athletes to a doctor.
Activities directors and school nurses at each school also take big roles in contact tracing after a positive case, as do coaches in each sport. And naturally the Linn County Health Department.
“Coaches following protocols is definitely a big one,” Guider said. “Just a lot of communication between our coaches, our school nurse and even Chris Deam, our AD, and Charlie (Goetzinger), our assistant AD. We have shared a lot of phone conversations, a lot of emails back and forth, just reporting ‘Hey, this person tested positive,’ doing our contact tracing, just making sure our kids are staying safe.”
“I am aware of pretty much all of the athletes,” Groth said. “If they were a (close) contact, if they got tested, if they are sick. Then we go from there.”
Yorgey said Linn-Mar has now put much more of the onus for the daily symptoms and temperature checks on athletes and their parents. Yorgey, Groth and Guider all said they feel their schools have done a good job of minimizing COVID outbreaks overall.
But in saying that, there have been athletics teams at each of the schools that have had to go on pause.
“Our winter sports season, November was kind of a bad month for COVID,” Guider said. “We had quite a few teams that started their seasons either with somebody positive or somebody else quarantined. It hit about every single team, I feel like, this year kind of between fall and winter sports.
“I’m hoping the spring is as (calm) as possible. There were no crazy outbreaks, just cases here and there that popped up.”
“There are those kids that have paid attention to the guidelines really well,” Groth said. “There are kids that I have to remind them still, ‘Hey, put your mask on. It’s still the rule in here.’ But for the most part, we’ve been pretty healthy. I don’t know the exact percentages, but we have made it through most of our seasons without (disruption). If you look at every level of every sport, I feel like we’ve been pretty minimal compared to other places.”
The women said their individual health and the health of their families has been good during the pandemic, despite them being in contact with so many kids. Groth’s sons, Brenden and Caden, are athletes at Kennedy.
Trainers were some of the first people to be offered COVID vaccinations, which has helped.
They demur when told they are unsung heroes considering what they normally do and the added COVID responsibilities. It comes back to doing what they love, taking care of kids.
Yorgey mentioned how Iowa has one of the lowest rates in the country when it comes to number of high schools with athletics trainers. Generally, the smaller the school, the less likely it has a trainer.
March was National Athletic Training Month, a time of increased awareness of the importance of what trainers do. Especially right now.
“It’s not just sports and injuries. It’s a lot more than that now,” Guider said. “There are always injuries, always crazy scenarios with injuries, but dealing with a worldwide pandemic was not even (fathomable). Things definitely have changed.
“It showed, too, the importance of having a health-care provider like myself at our schools. I think Chris and I talked that, hey, this could have been way worse if you didn’t have somebody that was kind of the front-line help and if he had to control everything alone. It would have been a completely different scenario.”
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