Athletic trainer shares passion for sports

By Martha Marteney - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Mon., Jun. 13, 2011
South Windsor High School's athletic trainer, Elizabeth Callahan (right), wraps Danielle Benito's hand. Benito, a junior, plays volleyball and softball. Photos by Martha Marteney.
South Windsor High School's athletic trainer, Elizabeth Callahan (right), wraps Danielle Benito's hand. Benito, a junior, plays volleyball and softball. Photos by Martha Marteney.

“I’ve always had a passion for sports,” said South Windsor High School’s athletic trainer, Elizabeth Callahan, “but helping someone with that same passion is why I do what I do.” Callahan played high school soccer and track, both indoor and outdoor, but her high school did not have an athletic trainer.

“I had a couple small injuries, and a serious injury in my back,” said Callahan, who said she had to utilize the trainer at another high school for those issues.

To become a certified athletic trainer, Callahan attended the accredited athletic training program at the University of Connecticut, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in athletic training. The program is very competitive, with only 12 students admitted per semester. After completing the basic science prerequisites, such as biology and chemistry, the student applies to the program in the fall of sophomore year in order to begin with the training program in the spring. The student is paired with a certified instructor to observe the athletic trainer in the field.

“It’s a very hands-on learning experience,” said Callahan, whose observation period took her to Rockville High School for spring sports, to UConn for women’s soccer and women’s track, to Loomis Chaffee School for football season and to Eastern Connecticut State University for baseball and lacrosse. Callahan minored in sports nutrition.

The next step toward becoming a certified athletic trainer is to pass the state’s exam. Callahan’s first placement was at South Windsor High School, starting in December 2008. She is contracted through Eastern Rehabilitation Network and serves the athletes at SWHS 25 hours a week, including all home games and practice times. She also covers away football games.

“I get hurt really easily,” confided freshman Jackie Kenny, who plays field hockey and lacrosse. “I’m accident-prone, and she’s helped me with that.”

“I deal with anything from a sprained ankle to dislocated joints,” said Callahan. She follows the basic pillars of athletic training, which include prevention and rehabilitation. Prevention might include providing sufficient water on hot days, bracing or taping past injuries, icing after a game or stretching to prevent a pulled muscle. Rehabilitation focuses on strengthening exercises. “It’s been a god-send,” Callahan said about the renovated cardio-weight room at the high school.

“I had a lot of shoulder problems,” explained senior Amy Bellone, “and she taped me for every [basketball] game and gave emotional support for my surgery.”

Upon arriving at SWHS, Callahan implemented Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing for concussions. ImPACT utilizes a computer-based cognitive testing program both for baseline assessment and post-injury analysis.

Freshmen Maxine Offiaeli, who plays basketball and also joined the track team this spring, said Callahan helped when she recently suffered a concussion and also when she injured her hip during the winter season.

Callahan has had a couple of students approach her about the career path to become an athletic trainer. The students have been able to set up an independent study program to shadow her. “I just give them a feel of what to expect,” she explained. Callahan encourages anyone who is an athlete or enjoys watching sports and likes sciences to look into the field. “We need more people passionate about the career,” she said.

“There’s a lot of memorization involved,” said Callahan of the schooling to become an athletic trainer. Anatomy, physiology, biomechanics and kinesiology are all required courses. The student must learn the body mechanics, potential injuries to specific muscles or joints, for example, and the sports-appropriate prevention and rehabilitation techniques. “A lot of the basics are the same as physical therapy,” said Callahan, adding that athletic trainers learn more sports-specific information and are trained for on-field injuries, as well as catastrophic injuries. Callahan said she went into her field more because of her interest in the athlete, rather than medicine.

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