Behind the scenes: the life of a North Texas athletic trainer
Jaz’man Hampton | Staff Writer
The field of sports medicine is often a wild one. Since college and professional sports are played at such a fast pace, many injuries occur in the blink of an eye.
When an athlete goes down, the athletic trainers are always the first ones on the field or court, tending to the injured, and it’s no different at UNT.
The North Texas sports medicine staff consists of four full-time athletic trainers, four graduate assistants and more than a dozen student athletic trainers. The department also has medical consultants on staff in optometry, neurology and cardiology. Athletic trainers are at every game and practice and are there not only to treat injuries but to prevent them as well.
“The easiest way of describing [an athletic trainer] is a health professional dealing with people who are athletic in some way,” assistant athletic trainer Elizabeth Winland said. “Even if that’s just Grandma Sue walking for thirty minutes.”
Sports medicine is a large, diverse field many students want to pursue during college. Unfortunately, many jobs within the field often get confused with other positions.
Athletic trainers, for instance, are often misconstrued for physical therapists. Although the two may have a similar knowledge of the body – as it pertains to movement in athletics – they come from two totally different educational backgrounds.
Winland has been a certified athletic trainer since 2009 and began her career as a volunteer student athletic trainer in high school.
In this never-panic career, Winland tries to keep a poker face, no matter what injury she is dealing with. From a small sprain to a broken finger to even a football player going into shock after realizing he just tore his ACL, Winland has seen almost everything.
But there is one injury so violent she will never forget it.
“I had a football player who landed on the end of a football,” Winland said. “Once the game was over he came to me and said that he was peeing blood. [We went to the hospital] and found out that he had actually lacerated his kidney by falling on the ball. He spent several days in the hospital but he’s fine now, and his kidney healed on its own.”
Better known as Liza to Mean Green athletes, Winland joined the North Texas sports medicine staff in 2015 and is the main trainer for the women’s basketball team. On occasion, she assists other teams as well.
Receiving the opportunity to work as a collegiate athletic trainer at a Division I university like North Texas was always the goal for Winland.
“I kind of worked my way up,” Winland said. “I went to a DIII private liberal arts school, worked for a high school, a DI junior college, then came here. I knew I wanted to work for a DI [college] in some capacity.” Winland said.
As an athletic trainer, Winland often has to multi-task. At one point in her career, Windland oversaw 250 athletes at once, which required her to get organized and learn time management skills. Now at North Texas, Winland only oversees the graduate assistants, specifically track and field trainer Jazmine Wilson and swimming/tennis trainer Francesaca Lavezzoli-Nelson.
Lavezzoli-Nelson is new to North Texas and is in a graduate program for reaction events and sports management. Although she has been in the program since August 2016, this is her first time working with and treating collegiate athletes.
“It’s pretty difficult having two teams,” Lavezzoli-Nelson said. “The most stressful part of it is never being out of season. Swim is a fall sport, which goes into the spring, and tennis starts in January and goes until May.”
While she is still learning the ropes, Lavezzoli-Nelson said there is one thing in particular she has noticed treating athletes.
“They’re normal students,” Lavezzoli-Nelson said. “They just have this extra stress – sports – so when you approach them you have to be careful because sometimes they can be on edge.”
Along with being a graduate assistant student trainer, Lavezzoli-Nelson attends classes three days a week in addition to working. She said that she learns both in the classroom and on the job at games and during practice. Because they are always around, many players, like women’s basketball freshman forward Jada Poland, have developed close relationships with the trainers.
Poland regularly sees Winland for treatment for her Achilles and has gotten close with Winland.
“Usually in practice when my Achilles starts hurting really bad I go to the side and Liza stretches them or gives me some [medicine] and that helps,” Poland said.
While athletic trainers are rarely the stars of the show, they are almost always there behind the scenes waiting and watching. In a moment’s notice, they could be called into action — no matter the circumstance.
“Athletic trainers are employed at Disney World, NASCAR, the rodeo, in professional sports, in Hollywood and on Broadway,” Winland said. “Athletic trainers are everywhere.”
Featured Image: North Texas senior guard Candice Adams (14) drives toward the basket before passing against Southern Mississippi. Adams finished 4-8 behind the arc with 16 points. Colin Mitchell
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