Athletic trainer sees rewards in profession

January 20, 2015 — by Caitlin Ju and Nupur Maheshwari

SHS athletic trainer Liz Alves, who has been working in the position for seven years, helps provide diagnosis, treatments and emergency care year-round to all the school’s athletes.  

His entire foot was going numb, twisted 45 degrees to the right. As he lay in the middle of the football field in a game against Sacred Heart Cathedral on Sept. 19, Varsity football player Vincent Kung knew something had gone horribly wrong.

After being rushed to the nearby University of San Francisco Hospital, Kung later found out he had broken his ankle, snapped his fibula in half and torn two ligaments in his knee as a result of an ill-timed dive by his teammate after a missed tackle.

Fortunately, SHS athletic trainer Liz Alves, who travels with the football team to away games, was prepared for the situation, immediately calling for an ambulance and doctor while stabilizing the injury and assessing what had to be done next.

Alves, who has been working in the position for seven years, helps provide diagnosis, treatments and emergency care year-round to all the school’s athletes.  

“We’re lucky to have [Alves], and we’re lucky just to have someone as good as she is,” said athletic director Tim Lugo. “Some schools . . .  only have a trainer during football season.”

Lugo stressed the importance of having an athletic trainer on campus, since coaches don’t always have medical expertise.

“A lot of schools are at the point where the district can’t even afford a trainer,” Lugo said. “ I think [that’s] ludicrous because they put all that responsibility on the coach to diagnose injuries and that’s not what I went to school for.”

Trainers at many other high schools often have not gone through a certification program and are only there for the football season.

By contrast, Alves is a certified trainer, who received her undergraduate degree from University of the Pacific and her graduate degree from San Jose State. The difference lies in this certification, which Alves and Lugo both stress as important.

“If you’re specifically looking at athletic training, make sure to go to an accredited college,” Alves said. “It’s much easier to pursue a career in athletic training if you go to a college that offers a bachelor’s degree in an accredited athletic training program.”

Alves said she chose athletic training over physical therapy for many reasons, though she shadowed both professions.

“I thought about doing traditional physical therapy, but I chose athletic training, because I like being outside,” Alves said. “I like working with high school and college kids.”

On a day to day basis Alves works anywhere from 6 to 11 hours, depending on the games and practices set for that day.

“No day is ever the same for me, and everyday is slightly different,” Alves said. “I’m responsible for the Prevention Emergency Assessment, Treatment, and Long Term Rehabilitation of injuries. That involves everything from stretching and taping to nutritional and psychological issues associated with injuries.”

Alves said athletic training adds variety and excitement to her profession, as therapy clinic patients often have similar injuries, such as torn ACLs, rotator cuffs and back pain problems.

Another reason she chose high school was the long-term relationships she could build with students, since physical therapy is more temporary than athletic training.

One such strong relationship Alves has built is with junior Stephanie Ouchida, who has worked for two years as Alves’ assistant athletic trainer. Ouchida was inspired to become Alves’ assistant because of her own history of injuries.

“I’ve always been injured. Because [Alves] is really busy, she taught me how to take care of mine and others’ injuries, and I got really close to her,” Ouchida said. “I can’t run cross country anymore because of my injury, but I still wanted to be in [the trainer’s office], so I decided to help with the football team.”

Alves herself was inspired in high school when she dislocated her shoulder three times and spent a lot of time in the athletic trainer’s office. She realized how interesting treating athletic injuries was and got her inspiration to become an trainer herself.

Alves works long hours, often helping students such as senior football player Alvin Kim recover after their injuries. Kim injured his knee during in the middle of the season and explained that Alves provided him with a strong support system.

“[Alves] usually gave me some exercises to help [my knee] out,” Kim said “She’d skim it, ultrasound it, scrape it and she’d tape it up before games.”

Aside from working with students, Alves used in-depth research to write the school’s protocol on concussions, which she describes as “the most conservative route we could while also making sure it was a feasible route.”

In response as to how to best prevent the many injuries she sees, Alves said that injuries need different treatments and recovery times, whether it be common sprained ankle or a long-term concussion.  

“The most common injury I see is sprained ankles, but if it’s a concussion, [the athlete] needs to leave adequate time to heal,” Alves said. “If they’re getting a lot of muscle strains, they need to make sure they’re rolling out, stretching, and eating a healthy diet so as not to get muscle imbalances.”

In the end Alves believes she has chosen the right profession and the right place.

“It’s very rewarding,” Alves said. “There’s a lot more appreciation and gratitude in the high school world than in the college and professional sports world.”

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