Athletics trainer Liz Alves heals injury after injury

May 18, 2017 — by Karen Chow and Alexandra Li

Alves has been working at the school for nine years now and is here at least seven hours a school day; she always has her equipment on hand and is ready for any injury.

Two hours before the opening of the school musical, “The Little House of Horror,” in 2008, a leading cast member tripped over a prop and gashed his forehead as he was practicing his lines one last time. Because the show was starting soon, there was no time to send him to the hospital. Instead, he went to Liz Alves, the newly hired athletics trainer, hoping she could quickly provide a solution. There, she promptly steri-stripped him, allowing him to perform and delaying his visit to the hospital for stitches. That day, Alves truly saved the day — and the show.

“He was so excited that he was able to perform,” Alves said. “That one will always stick in my memory because he was the first kid at Saratoga to ever give me a hug.”

Alves has been working at the school for nine years now and is here at least seven hours a school day. She always has her equipment on hand and is ready for any injury.

Her role as an athletic trainer includes preventing injuries by making sure athletes have the proper equipment and are warmed up, taking care of injuries and being at most home games to ensure athletes receive immediate care. She also manages the extended care and rehabilitation of injuries, which includes physical therapy.

Aside from the physical caretaking, she is responsible for keeping the administrative records of student athlete injuries and writing concussion policies.

“Because I played water polo and swam competitively when I was younger, I’ve had 10 concussions in total,” Alves said. “This has made me very cautious when students get concussions, so I felt the need to make the concussion policy more strict.”

Alves first discovered the role of an athletic trainer in high school. Because she was an active athlete, Alves frequented the trainer’s room for treatment for her knees, shoulders and hips. She found that the job of an athletic trainer was an ideal combination of teaching and practicing medicine — two fields she had always been interested in.

Alves chose to attend University of Pacific as an undergraduate, where the university’s athletic training program gave her the opportunity to work with the college sports teams and local high schools. She then completed graduate school at San Jose State, one of the 13 graduate programs in the country that offer an athletic training program.

During graduate school, Alves worked with Santa Clara University’s basketball team, traveling and working long hours while taking care of athletes that were playing at the college level. During that time, she realized that being a collegiate athletic trainer was not her ideal job.

“When you work with professional athletes and semi-professional athletes, even Division 1 college athletes, it’s not just a game [to them] anymore, it’s their job [that’s on the line],” Alves said. “I was never home and I realized that if I wanted to have a family and have my life be more than just my job, then I needed to step down from Division 1 athletic training.”

After realizing she wanted to have more time for herself and a less intense job, Alves chose to apply to high school athletic programs because she had enjoyed her experience working at a high school while in college. She found an infectious happiness in high school athletes that doesn’t exist in colleges and realized they were “just hilarious because you never know what they’re going to say.”

Alves first heard of an open athletic trainer position here from the head of the physical therapy clinic she had been working at because he coincidentally knew athletic director Tim Lugo. The spokesperson for the company who managed the trainers’ positions knew both Lugo and Alves, and thought Alves would be a good fit.

“We started talking, and right away I could tell she was caring about kids and knew about injuries and how to deal with them,” Lugo said. “She was my first and best hire in the history of my career in education.”

Lugo has also noticed how many of the coaches value her for her spot-on diagnoses of athletes’ injuries, usually giving them an honest opinion on the athlete’s condition.

Teacher Mike Davey, who has coached basketball for 25 years, has often relied on Alves to decide whether his athletes are physically able to continue playing.

“She cares so much about the students that at times, I think she puts her own personal life behind. She’s worth way more than she knows,” Davey said. “She’s so well respected by the kids and there’s no singular moment when you need Liz because you need her every day.”

With a steady stream of students entering the training room daily, many have become close with her and see her regularly, both to attend to injuries and also simply to talk.

Senior Nolan Chao, who plays on the football team, said he has relied on Alves throughout his four years on the team. Alves has patched him up more times than he can remember and has always made sure he stayed healthy.

“Without Liz, everyone on the team would be falling apart, literally. She is always there for us whether it’s for injuries or needing someone to talk to,” Chao said. “She’s the real MVP.”

Alves made a conscious choice to stay in the high school setting because she loves the job and does not see it as a stepping stone to get somewhere else, unlike many other trainers.

“Many other athletic trainers who work at the high school level view their job as inferior to college trainers,” Alves said. “They say they’re going to work at the high school until they find a better job, but working with high school students is the better job for me.”

In addition to her position as an athletic trainer, Alves also teaches one health class. She decided to teach health because it directly related to her job as an athletic training.

Sophomore Michelle Vu recalls her freshman health class with Alves and says it was her “favorite class so far” in high school.

“Mrs. Alves always made class fun,” Vu said. “She allowed us to be hands on and made jokes to keep us engaged.”

Because she enjoys teaching health and meeting students, Alves has found her job as an athletic trainer to be extremely rewarding because she is able to help students return to their sports after serious injuries.

“Seeing a kid that you’ve nursed back from a season ending injury go back on the field and succeed is definitely the most memorable part of the job,” Alves said.