What makes a mule? An athletic trainer’s perspective

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(left to right) Muhlenberg Athletic Trainers Sean Morse, Morgan Duggan, Lindsay Porembo, Chelsea Bortz, Jamie Scalise. Photo courtesy of Muhlenberg Athletic Department

Most of Muhlenberg’s fall athletic teams have finished their season or are facing regional opponents. Seldom does it feel natural for an athlete to suddenly quit their daily routines which include games, practices and lifts at the sound of a final whistle. For this reason, the transitions between in-season and off-season and/or the jump from one season to another, can be extremely ambiguous to navigate. 

So, what should athletes actually be doing after their season ends? From an athletic trainer’s perspective, the answers are pretty clear. 

Former Muhlenberg volleyball player and current Muhlenberg Assistant Athletic Trainer, Morgan Duggan ‘14 puts it best—“Rest is key.”

A Muhlenberg student-athlete tends to be exceptional at a lot of things—rest, not usually being one of them. 

Head Athletic Trainer Lindsay Porembo elaborates, “Active rest is very important in addition to proper hydration, nutrition and sleep. An athlete should perform a few days of light physical activity including rehab exercises in the weeks after a season ends. These physical activities should have nothing to do with the sport that they participate in so they can refresh and move their bodies differently. As for those athletes who have two seasons back to back, it is still in their best interest to take some down time to give their body some rest and avoid burnout.” 

Assistant Athletic Trainer Sean Morse adds, “I think we as athletic trainers understand, but it is hard to get athletes to buy into their sleep. This is when your body does all of its repair and recovery processes.”

While in season, many athletes suffer injuries that require specialized care and individual rehabilitation plans from the trainers. However, the necessary steps included in injury rehabilitation do not include a timestamp; they are aimed to be followed through until an injury is fully recovered.   

Duggan emphasizes, “Athletes will go through the rehab process in season and forget that it’s something they need to continue to build on once the season is over. A lot of athletes focus on the bigger picture stuff before they take care of the more important details such as: balance, mobility, core strength and isolation exercises on areas of weakness.”  

Assistant Athletic Trainer Chelsea Bortz adds, “Athletes should continue with weight training programs and continue recovering from chronic injuries and or rehabilitating them. More importantly, athletes don’t always prioritize their nutrition. I focus on an athlete’s nutrition. The better your nutrition the better your recovery is going to be overall. Your diet can control swelling, muscle growth, maintenance and your weight.

Make sure you’re eating enough protein. You should be eating 0.8-1.2 grams of protein per body pound of your weight, which may need to be worked up to. Do not restrict yourself or diet, you need carbs and fats to fuel your body. Stay hydrated, water plays a role in almost every part of your body, it is important in order to make you feel alert and impacts your mood which affects your performance inside and outside of athletics.”

While there are many aspects to a successful recovery journey which athletes can improve on, there are also mistakes that can be avoided before the recovery process even starts. 

Assistant Athletic Trainer Jamie Scalise notes, “I feel that it is very crucial for athletes to be transparent regarding their injuries with our staff.”

It may not seem like the most rewarding decision for athletes to approach an athletic trainer with symptoms of an injury, if it will hinder their playing time in season. However, there are several reasons as to why this thought process is counter productive. 

Morse offers an explanation, “The biggest trend that we see with concussions, specifically, is that athletes wait too long to see us. Rather than allowing us to evaluate their case right away, they wait, which actually sets back their recovery time and could put that athlete at the risk of suffering a more significant injury. Once we diagnose one, we are productive in taking care of it after the fact. The most important part is trying to encourage athletes to see us early.” 

Scalise continues, “As an athletic trainer, it is my job to properly evaluate and assess injuries. Then to bring the Athlete through injury rehabilitation. Finally, return the athlete to play. Sometimes athletes think that we just keep them out of participating, but that is not the case. My philosophy is to make sure that I keep the athletes participating in a safe manner, not keep them out.” 

Given that athletic trainers are surrounded by athletes 24/7, it is not surprising to hear that they have picked up on the habits of consistently healthy and high performing athletes. 

Bortz offers her insight, “High performing athletes are recovering properly, getting in and taking care of their bodies, taking time to let their bodies relax, prioritizing proper nutrition and sleep and having set schedules.” 

The physical aspects of taking care of yourself are imperative. Interestingly, the athletic trainers brought light to the mental hurdles of college athletics and how productive athletes handle themselves.

Porembo elaborates, “I have observed that these athletes tend to have a quiet self confidence about themselves [and] are mentally focused and optimistic; these qualities in addition to keeping themselves physically healthy are pretty good ingredients to mix together for success.”

The importance of focusing on your mental health when dealing with injuries, was also highlighted. Morse provides an example, “To an outside observer concussions may not always seem like a significant injury. This takes a toll on the mental health aspect of concussion recovery.”

Bortz continues, “There’s a huge mental aspect to injuries. Injuries big or small may have an impact on that individual. They need to take time to actually process their emotions surrounding the injury. Athletes that have productive attitudes tend to recover faster. I recommend that these athletes talk to someone, because it will help significantly on a performance level.” 

The athletic trainers are resources for a multitude of athletic and personal hurdles, not just injuries. 

Chelsea distilled the mission of her office saying, “Athletic trainers are here to listen to everything and anything.”

When Scalise was asked what he loves most about his job he replied, “I love the athletes and colleagues that I have been extremely lucky to have met throughout my 24-year career. The relationships are very special to me. I also enjoy watching my athletes achieve success when they return following an injury in which I worked with them.”  

The Muhlenberg Sports Medicine team passionately lays the groundwork for athletic success at both the individual and team levels. They are simply, always there. Porembo encapsulates this truth in a final comment about her team. “The fact that every single one of them brings something unique to the table that makes us whole and well rounded, leading us to provide the absolute best sports medicine care we can provide to our student-athletes. We are family. We would pretty much do anything for each other, and we do!” 

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