Beyond the ACCtion: A Look Inside Athletic Training

March 27, 2013

Beyond the ACCtion

March has been designated "National Athletic Training Month." In terms of showcasing the importance of those professionals to athletic programs throughout the Atlantic Coast Conference, the timing could not be better.

ACC basketball fans marveled at the talents of individuals such as Duke athletic trainer Jose Fonseca, who was instrumental in overseeing senior Ryan Kelly's rehab from a January foot injury and his return to the starting lineup before the end of the regular season. They held their collective breath as North Carolina athletic trainer Chris Hirth led North Carolina sophomore P.J. Hairston, with his left hand bleeding profusely, off the court during the ACC Tournament quarterfinals. But Hairston was back in action less than 24 hours later, his hand heavily bandaged but otherwise seemingly not missing a beat.

Those were high-profile examples of athletic trainers in action. But those attending any ACC event consistently witness firsthand the craft of the league's athletic trainers, whose knowledge, hard work and dedication literally keep the teams and their student athletes up and running.

During practice day at the recent ACC Wrestling Championship at College Park, Md., ACC staff member Steve Phillips spoke briefly with Virginia athletic trainer John Goetschius, a native of Essex Junction, Vt. and a University of Vermont undergraduate. Goetschius worked with the Cavaliers throughout the 2012-13 season, which concluded with last weekend's NCAA Wrestling Championship at Des Moines, Iowa.

What prompted you to get into this field - a love of sports? A love of medicine? A little bit of both?

I'd say it was pretty much a mixture of both - an interest in athletics and an interest in the body anatomy and how the body works biomechanically, and also through the stresses of exercise and physical activity. I also enjoy the medical field and being able to help people in kind of an interesting health-care setting.

How early on did you develop an interest in pursuing a healthcare-related field?

Probably my senior year in high school, when I was kind of looking at what I was going to go into when I got to college. I ended up majoring in it as an undergrad.

Did you play sports in high school, and if so did you have any injuries yourself?

Yes, I had a couple my junior year, and then I had a concussion that caused me to miss a good chunk of my senior football season.  I ended up working a lot with my athletic trainer then, and that kind of sparked my interest in it.

How long have you been at UVA?

Two years. I am a graduate assistant. I was a master's (degree) student last year, and I worked with the Virginia swimming and diving team.  I am a Ph.D. student now, and I work with wrestling.

Are their sport-specific things you have to learn when you move from one to another, or is sports medicine a pretty universal field in that regard?

There are definitely certain injuries that will be involved with specific sports. Wrestling has more acute injuries versus swimming and diving, or cross country, where you might have more chronic injuries. Some athletic trainers have specific sports that they have more experience with, but really, based on the training, any athletic trainer can work with any sport. You are trained to work in athletics in general; you are trained for acute and for chronic - all types of injuries. There really is no specialization.

We hear stories about student-athletes being injured but still wanting to play, pleading their case to an athletic trainer. Is that one of the tougher parts of your job, convincing them that they must abide by your final call, even if  it is one they might not want to hear?

Certainly, that's an aspect of it. But we're health care professionals first, so it is always about what is best for the athlete and what is best for his or her overall health.

Are you allowed to be a fan much, or do you have to keep total focus on what is going on on the court or the field?

You're focused, because it is mainly about making sure people are healthy and safe, and you want to make sure you are attentive and make sure you are ready to go in case there is an emergency situation.  But typically, you enjoy athletics if you are in this position.

And you probably can't work this closely with a team without become somewhat attached to the team members and wanting them to do well, correct?

Oh, yeah - you always want them to do well. We work with these guys every single day, so we get to know them on a personal level. That is one of the great parts about this job. In some other areas of the health care profession, you may only see a person once or twice a week, or even a month. You don't have that personal connection. Here, you get to truly get to know the "patients," which in this case are the student-athletes.

What are your long-range goals?

I really would like to get into sports medicine research and look at ways to improve the overall profession of athletic training and sports medicine in general.