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Best of Both Worlds

June 25, 2012

Editor's note: Ashley Conrad, a rising senior soccer student-athlete who is majoring in athletic training at Bethany, provides an inside look at her life combining the best of both worlds-athletic training and the student-athlete experience at an NAIA institution.

By  Ashley Conrad, Bethany (Kan.) College, NAIA Virtual Intern, Class of 2013

Being a student-athlete in the NAIA takes dedication, hard work, and efficient time management skills to perform well in the classroom as well as on the field. Many athletes feel the pressure to succeed in both aspects and have a difficult time maintaining the expectations placed upon them. To some people, it's hard to fathom how these athletes manage.

If that's hard to imagine, then think of the stresses placed on student-athletes who are also athletic trainers. The student-athlete/athletic trainer has to put in the extra effort to go to practice, spend time working in the training room and squeeze in homework at night. I should know-that's my life too.

The day in the life of a student-athlete and athletic-trainer is not an easy one.

A typical day for me at Bethany College (Kan.) starts with a wake up time of 5:30 a.m. I get ready to go to 6 a.m. soccer practice. I don't have much time to eat more than a fruit cup for breakfast. I train with the team until 7 or 7:30 a.m. By then, the cafeteria is open for me to eat a proper breakfast.

Depending on the day, I might have time to shower before my first morning class. Sometimes I don't even have time to change into clothes that I didn't practice in. I go to my first class and occasionally struggle to stay awake. But I manage. I have a short hour break before I'm back in class again.

It is now time for lunch and a mid-afternoon break. I tend to relax and socialize during this period of the day. It is really my only down time. I get reenergized by lunch and am ready to tackle the afternoon. I attend my afternoon class on days that I have one.

Then I enter the training room around 3 or 3:30 p.m. to work a few hours in there. This winter I was assigned to the sport of basketball. I tape, stretch and do whatever else necessary to get athletes ready to go to practice. The afternoon slot is also the time other athletes come in to do rehab. I help with strengthening, stretching and applying therapeutic modalities to the injured student-athletes. There is the occasional slow period where athletes are few, but this is a rarity in the afternoon (especially during football season). I stay in the training room until 5:30 or 6 p.m., when I am ready to eat dinner.

After my final meal of the day, I have to motivate myself to complete the homework I have accumulated. Some nights require around three hours of homework time. With a 15 credit-hour class load, I have to stay on top of my studies to receive a good grade. I finally start to get ready for bed around 10:30 or 11 p.m. Some nights may be midnight or later. I need to get a good night's rest before soccer practice the next morning. It is often difficult to wind down at the end the day and get to sleep. I average 5-6 hours of sleep a night, which is not enough for the college-age, active student. I finally drift off to sleep, only to be awoken by my alarm clock at 5:30 a.m. the next morning.

Bethany has 12 student athletic trainers, and 10 of us also play a sport at the college. Each student is assigned to one of our two certified athletic trainers. The student then works the sport the ATC (Athletic Trainer Certified) is supervising. For some, it may be the sport the student plays. However, it can be a challenge for student trainers to get the hours needed when they are also playing a sport.

Being a student athletic trainer at an NAIA school is a unique experience that makes the transition into health care career easier. At Bethany College, student athletic trainers are allowed to interact with the athletes on a daily basis and allowed to apply the skills learned in class into real situations. As opposed to a bigger university, some of those students are not even allowed to touch the athletes. It is also unique that student athletic trainers can play the sport they love without having to compromise their studies. It creates an environment that supports the student-athlete in their endeavors. 

Jon Followill, a senior football player and student athletic trainer, explains one of the problems he encounters when he is busy playing football and also needs to get his hours earned in the training room.  "It's tough. It is hard work juggling everything with athletic training," he said, noting however, that he believes this experience has helped him mature faster and prepared him for the real world.

Nicole Waletzki, a sophomore soccer player, works to make the most of the challenge. "I try to get in two hours in the training room every day on days without a practice. Some days are better than others but I wonder sometimes how will I finish it all or how will I get enough hours," he said.

Tanya Garner, a junior women's basketball player, appreciates the help the student athletic trainers who are also student-athletes can give. "It's nice because they know what it's like to be an athlete. They know the strains of the sport and know how to help when you're hurting. It's nice when you can relate with the people helping you."

Although there are some arduous times being both a student-athlete and athletic trainer, there are a lot of rewards of participating in both. One such reward is gaining the athlete's trust and their confidence in your medical opinion. Both Followill and Waletzki mentioned that being able to help teammates with their medical knowledge was one of the positives to pursuing an athletic-training degree.

Student-athletes and athletic trainers are not only rewarded at Bethany, but they will gain qualities that will help them in their future careers in the medical field.

"It will help me later in life," Waletzki said. "I will be able to connect with the athletes better. I will be able to understand their frustrations because I went through it myself [as an athlete]."

Student-athletes are some of the prime students at the college with the pressure to maintain good grades and perform well in a sport. However, student-athletes who are athletic trainers, exhibit more dedication, hard work and time management skills in order to be successful. They are the ones responsible for getting their teammates back on the field while also playing alongside them. They don't receive extra scholarship money or compensation for their double duties. They do what they do because they love to help people.