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Getting them back in the game

What do Cobbers think of when the month of March comes to mind? The beginning of fourth block and flood season, surely, but National Athletic Training Month? Not generally on the radar. This March,  Concordia athletes and non-athletes alike may want to remember the hard work athletic trainers do, and especially the impact Concordia’s very own full-time athletic trainers have on Cobber sports.

“I think my impact is helping provide quality health care for the athletes of Concordia,” head athletic trainer Don Bruenjes said.

Bruenjes and fellow Concordia athletic trainer Anne Bratsch are both board-certified athletic trainers, which, according to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, means that they have undergone rigorous education and examinations that have allowed them to operate as licensed health care workers.

But for Bruenjes and Bratsch, the exciting part of their career is not the academia, but rather the work they do to improve Concordia’s athletic program and the relationships they form with student-athletes along the way.

“You work with them from the time that they get injured until they get back on the field, so you get to know them quite well,” Bruenjes said.

Bratsch and Bruenjes are responsible for 21 athletic teams and over 700 athletes, so one would think that many athletes would get lost in the shuffle. However, as student athletes attest, the athletic trainers have no problem maintaining the personal connections they form with the students who come to their facility.

“Anne and Don are both really nice,” senior and track runner Kierstin Nygaard said. “If you’re in here a lot, they know you by name.”

Nygaard appreciates what the athletic trainers bring to the sports programs at Concordia, and how their work complements what the student athletes do in practice and games.

“Having the training staff around has made the athletic experience a lot safer,” Nygaard said.

Bruenjes said that part of keeping athletes safe is putting a strong emphasis on preventive medicine.

“It’s important to look at your health as a year round thing,” Bruenjes said, adding that he encourages the athletes to maintain their conditioning beyond the season.

Bratsch and Bruenjes also consider it important to maintain their own professional training throughout the year, and as a part of that continuing education, they teach exercise science courses, as well as mentoring undergraduate students from NDSU and MSUM.

“[Teaching] keeps me sharp because teaching makes you learn something twice,” Bruenjes said. He also appreciates teaching for the fact that it gives him interaction with students who are not involved in the sports teams.

Bratsch is also glad for the extra interaction she gets with students by doubling as an instructor, and likes working with the MSUM and NDSU undergraduate students studying athletic training who come over to Concordia for volunteer experience in the training facility.

“The skills that they learn in class are applied here and supervised by us,” Bratsch said, adding that the extra experience will come in handy for the students when they take their certification exams.

Bratsch and Bruenjes also partner with a graduate assistant program through NDSU, and currently have two master’s students, Scott Allen and Sarah Thon, working alongside them.

“They’re hard workers, and they’re smart,” Bratsch said. “They’re really dedicated to the profession.”

Clearly, Bratsch and Bruenjes are dedicated to their profession as well, and students appreciate their work. Nygaard said that her favorite thing about coming to the training center was playing Wii with Bratsch. The trainers say they use the interactive video game as a rehabilitation tool for injured athletes.

“It’s just a fun, creative way to help out athletes with their rehab,” Bratsch said.

She added that playing the Wii gives athletes a sense of accomplishment that they don’t get from plain stretching, balancing, and holding poses.

The trainers said they received the Wii as part of a budget request that was fulfilled by the college.

“We’ve been fortunate to get a lot of the funds that we need,” Bratsch said. She is especially happy about the funding that is going to go to building a new athletic training facility for football and soccer. The new facility is part of the Jake Christiansen Stadium renovations, and will be housed out at the football field.

But for now, Bratsch and Bruenjes are satisfied with the facility and program that they have.

“It’s really busy, it’s really time demanding, it’s really mentally straining sometimes, but I love it,” Bratsch said. “I get as excited about the start of the season now as I did when I was an athlete.”

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