Hands Off: The Reality Of Athletic Training During A Pandemic

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Marist athletic trainers and athletic training students have faced much adversity while treating their Division I athletes to make sure they receive the best possible therapy.

It is a challenge on its own to make sure athletes playing at the highest collegiate level of sports are game ready and recovering properly. COVID-19 procedures, such as sanitizing treatment tables after every use cut into the treatment time of the athlete. Minor inconveniences that most individuals would not come across now have to be taken into consideration as the pandemic takes its toll.

COVID-19 has not only forced difficult adjustments to the athletes, but also for athletic training staff for collegiate teams. Because of the pandemic, there are now strict guidelines in place for the athletic trainers to follow, making it more challenging to properly care for the athletes.

Prior to the pandemic, an athlete would go into the athletic training room whenever they needed. Now, athletes can no longer go into an athletic trainer’s office without an electronic appointment that has to be scheduled days in advance following the CDC guidelines that were put in place. A seemingly safe space has now turned into a chore that has made some athletes turn away.

“Normally, we would have unlimited time and now we have to watch the clock for close contact,” said Jeffery Carter, the Coordinator of Sports Medicine for various sports at Marist. “Over 15 minutes puts them and us at risk. We also have a lot less space available since we have social distance. We have to keep our numbers down in the athletic training room.”

Carter has held his position as the Coordinator of Sports Medicine since July 2013. Carter has also served as the Head Athletic Trainer at Vassar College for 11 years as well as Bard College for two before coming to Marist.

The athletic training staff not only is required to physically take care of the athletes, but also to be there as a mental and emotional support system if need be. The trainers, as well as coaches, check in multiple times a week to make sure their athletes are healthy in all aspects of their life and well-being.

“We are always on the lookout for athletes that may be struggling with mental health stuff or just need to talk about something,” said Carter. “It’s just our role as an athletic trainer, it’s always been. The running joke is we aren’t just rehab and emergency care, it’s also therapists and all those little things that go into it.”

Marist has implemented COVID-19 precautions to make sure the athletes can be as safe and as healthy as possible. These precautions were also administered throughout the college to ensure that the Marist community is safe. This includes mask wearing, social distancing, and virtual learning.

In addition to the Marist athletics department, a unique perspective is looking at how the pandemic has altered the athletic training program that ultimately teaches and shows the athletic trainers of the future how to deal with emergent situations. This includes the circumstances that the students are living in currently and how to adapt to changes to better care for the athletes.

Although most of the skills the student trainers use in the clinical setting are taught in the classroom, the students have not been allowed to use these skills in real life situations, such as the various sites they rotate through to get optimal exposure to athletes of all sports. The pandemic has resulted in missed time at these sites for an entire year and still continues to present challenges as schools go on pause.

“This past year we were able to learn the skills we needed but were unable to practice them in a real clinical setting,” said junior athletic training student Julianna Mangano. “I think our current situation has provided us as students with a new appreciation for our mentors, and for the abilities we have to adapt and succeed in emergent situations. Although in our focused population COVID-19 is not always emergent, the new policies and procedures have taught us so much on how to better care for athletes in high intensity situations and be consciously aware of our habits with sanitization and proper cleanliness.”

Marist had been placed on a campus-wide pause on friday March 16, making all classes virtual. Clinical sites are still in session as the college has allowed off-campus travel to and from those sites. Without the hands-on activity practice from class, this made things challenging for the athletic training students as they have to use those skills learned virtually on real athletes in real time.

“It is a challenge trying to put hands on application material onto a digital platform and make do without being in person,” said Mangano. “Healthcare shouldn’t be taught online in my personal opinion and I am grateful I currently have the opportunity for some normalcy within my field and education as I continue to grow into a healthcare professional of today and the future.”

With COVID-19 vaccines being administered, and progress lowering the number of cases in the United States as well as on campus, there seems to be more positive outlooks going forward. Spring seasons for a handful of spring sports have resumed at Marist, and some are hopeful that there will be regular athletic seasons for the next academic year.

Edited by Ricardo Martinez and Mackenzie Meaney

Photo courtesy of Marist Athletics

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