Through the school year, the Cobber community gets the opportunity to enjoy the variety of sports that Concordia has to offer. The audience get to see countless athletes participating in sports that they have partaken in their whole lives. While the audience gets to sit back and watch these athletes in action, those audience members should know that these athletes wouldn’t be there if they did not have their athletic trainers sitting on the sidelines. No athletic trainer, no athlete.
“Athletic trainers are super important,” Junior women’s basketball player Jenna Januschka said. “They help keep us healthy and get us back to 100% if we do get injured.”
Currently, Concordia has three full-time athletic trainers — Don Bruenjes and Kathleen Vesta; both have a Masters degree of Science and Matt McManus who has a Masters degree of Art. Along with Bruenjes and Vesta, there are also two graduate program athletic trainers, Heather Bates and Kristin Jaskolski, gaining experience in the training room while working toward their Masters. Jaskolski and Bates are employed under NDSU, where they are pursuing their secondary degree and working at Concordia as a type of two-year internship.
Bruenjes, Vesta, Jaskolski and Bates all have designated sports that they work with through the seasons, but they also have help from undergraduate-student athletic trainers from MSUM, NDSU and Concordia as well. With 22 sports, hundreds of athletes and multiple-month-long seasons, it is the athletic trainers’ jobs to make sure the athletes are at their best to compete during the season.
In the training room during the early afternoon, right before practice or game times, one can see a well-oiled machine: athletes stretching, getting taped up, rehabbing a variety of injuries and a lot more, and alongside these athletes are their athletic trainers.
“The day-to-day job is prevention, care and rehab of athlete’s injuries,” Bates said.
While their athletes put in long hours of practice and training, the trainers put in just as much time and some days, that’s the worst part of the job.
“It’s long hours,” Vesta said. “I’m an adjunct professor as well teaching CPR, prevention and care so the hours I’m here vary depending on the day. If we have events going on or just practices going on.”
Being a full-time athletic trainer along with being a full-time student, Bates and Jaskolski put in double the hours.
“Last month I average 60 hours a week just at Concordia,” Bates said. “So, I suppose I put in about 80 hours a week.”
While athletes get some time to recover in the off-season, the athletic trainers rotate from one season to the next, working to keep all athletes at their best.
“It is like being in season from August until May,” Bates said. “Because you feel the pressure to get athletes back in the game all year long instead of during just one season.”
With some professions, people are able to leave their work at work and use their off-time to focus on other things. For Concordia’s athletic trainers that isn’t always the case.
“It is definitely not a nine to five job that you don’t go home and think about,” Bates said. “Kristen and I both go home and are like ‘oh we should do this with so-and-so and we could work on this with somebody.”
According to both Bates and Jaskolski they make their job somewhat of a 24/7 job.
“Your phone goes off and you are like ‘oh that’s an athlete — I need to go back to them right away,” Bates said. “You have to be 100 percent committed otherwise you’re not an athletic trainer. You’re not a good athletic trainer.”
Although they put in countless hours, according to Bates, Jaskolski and Vesta, it’s worth it.
“I love what I do. It’s probably the best part of my day,” Jaskolski said. “Every single day I know that I come in here and my athletes can make me feel better.”
Some athletic trainers may prefer to work at a Division I college, but for Bates, Jaskolski and Vesta, Division III or Division II is where the heart lies.
“I like the Division III level,” Vesta said. “I like Concordia athletes as a whole. They are just really good athletes to work with.”
While Jaskolski has not worked with Division I or Division II athletes, she knows that Division III athletes are the best to work with.
“They are more grounded,” Jaskolski said. “As in like ‘okay I’m not going to go pro. I’m not going to continue this sport after college.’ They are more willing to take care of the injury and get it looked at.”
Since athletes are more willing to come in and get their injuries looked at, the athletic trainers get the privilege of creating relationships with them and get to see the athletes recover, which is one of the best parts of the job.
“The most rewarding part is establishing relationships with the athletes,” Vesta said. “Seeing them get better and returning to their sports and do well.”
Sometimes, the simplest of things make the long hours in the training room worth it.
“Seeing that smile on my athlete’s face when they can finally compete without pain or a long injury that has taken time to heal,” Bates said. “They finally can go back on the field or court or whatever it is. That’s the most rewarding.”
While injuries and rehab are the main job, according to Jaskolski and Bates, their roles to the athletes are more than just the athlete’s trainer.
“You are there for everyone in every aspect,” Jaskolski said. “Yeah you deal with mainly injuries, but you get to know a lot about your athlete’s life and what is going on in their life and all their fun and exciting adventures.”
In some ways, they are the comfort the athlete needs to get through a season.
“We are mental, emotional and physical support no matter what,” Bates said. I think we become a little bit of a mom or dad away from home kind of. You never just deal with the injury, you deal with the whole athlete.”
According to Januschka, the athletic trainers at Concordia really do care about the athletes.
“I think the athletic trainers are great,” Januschka said. “They are super helpful and truly care about our wellbeing.”
So the next time you sit and watch Cobber athletes participate in the sports they love — remember, behind every good athlete, there is an even better athletic trainer.