Back in the Game: Athletic trainers keep athletes in play

Publication Date

Athletic training and the related strength and conditioning programs are to athletics what, say, Health Services and Dining are to academics. Not just necessary, they are the keys to success.

Almost 30 percent of Union students participate in one or more of the College’s 26 varsity programs. In most years, Union will have more than 600 student athletes, many of whom will spend some time in the training room. A distance runner may drop in to ice a sore shin. Or a lacrosse player may spend months in recovery from ACL reconstruction.

Trainer Cheryl Rockwood high fives a student in the pool.

A high five ends the pool session

Regardless, he or she will know Head Trainer Cheryl Rockwood and her colleagues—Jill Crary-Gracz, Brandon Perry and Erik Ackerman—for their compassion, encouragement, knowledge and motivation. Their mission goes well beyond injury prevention and rehabilitation. “Our larger goal is to have student athletes understand how to take care of themselves,” said Rockwood, who is also director of student athlete programming. “Exercise, nutrition, rest and discipline are not only important while they’re here at Union. They are essential to lifelong wellness.”

"Union's athletic training and strength and conditioning programs are key to the success of our student athletes," said Jim McLaughlin '93, no stranger to the training room during his days as an offensive lineman for the Dutchmen. "But it's about more than their time at Union. We're teaching skills for lifelong wellness."

Athletic development at Union also includes the Travis J. Clark ’00 Varsity Strength and Training Room, where athletes and teams do their lifting and conditioning. For athletes recovering from injury, the facility is an important step from rehabilitation to performance. “I talk with Cheryl and the other trainers daily about each athlete,” said Dan Gabelman, strength and conditioning coach. “When an athlete is cleared to work out here, we will start training them toward long-term performance.”

Like a coffee shop

At 10:30 on a Wednesday morning in January, about 8 hours before most teams will be practicing, a handful of groggy but dedicated student-athletes have made their way to the training room in the basement of Achilles Center. Afternoons, when athletes are racing to and from practice, can be a hectic time in the training room. So, many of the regulars with long-term recoveries favor the mornings. Like any coffee shop, the training room has a familiar clientele and a regular routine. Students can relax on a table, chat with the trainers, study for classes, watch ESPN or contribute to the friendly banter.
“If you want the real story about the training room, talk to this guy,” says senior Daniel Carr, a hockey forward. As he ices a sore shoulder, Carr waves a hand toward another senior, Tosin Kazeem ’14, a football receiver and track sprinter. Kazeem, who spends an average of five days per week with the trainers to strengthen his sprain-prone ankles, laughs it off. “You don’t necessarily want to be here, but the competition and camaraderie can be a good thing,” he says.

Junior lacrosse goalie Kim Grinhaus, fresh from ACL surgery, is pedaling backwards on a stationary bike to regain her range of motion. Her cheerfulness belies the fact that she has spent two-thirds of her Union career recovering from torn ACLs, first her right, then her left. But her optimism abounds, in large part from the spirit of the training room. “It’s a nice little community,” she says. “You get to know everyone and we’re all in the same boat.”

Footballers Dylan Schuck ’14 and Ricardo Fonseca ’16 are in a race. Both had their torn ACLs repaired on Sept. 13, and they have been competing for bragging rights ever since. Neither misses a day in the training room. Most mornings, after ice treatments and stretching, Rockwood takes the pair to the track in Memorial Fieldhouse, where a series of breathless sprints and drills ends in the requisite fist bump.

Olivier Truquet, an 800-meter runner on the track team, is fighting off shin splints with an agonizing soak in ice water. He testifies that a dunk in the ice bucket is one of the more painful treatments, at least until his leg goes numb.

Adam Rosenthal ’15, a lacrosse midfielder, has been hoping to avoid surgery for a possible meniscus tear. Since surgery three years ago, he has been considering the bigger picture. “I’m excited about my junior year, but it seems like I can’t go 100 percent. I want to be OK later in life, so I have to do what’s best for the long term.”

Alissa Bonesteel, a first-year student on the volleyball team, is in the training room with a strained calf muscle. She also prefers the training room in the less hectic mornings. Today, she gets some advice on lifestyle and nutrition: “Cheryl told me, ‘stretch, hydrate, don’t jump and eat more bananas.’”


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