Pacific athletic trainers on the frontlines fighting injuries and COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the focus and everyday work for University of the Pacific's athletic trainers—in significant ways.
In addition to taping ankles and treating injuries, they also find themselves administering coronavirus tests and being the keepers of the health and safety of the Tigers' student-athletes, coaches and staff.
“Our role traditionally has been to take care of injuries and illnesses and some mental health issues,” said Christopher Pond, Pacific's director of athletic training. “This past year-plus our world has been absolutely altered in an unbelievable fashion and our role has changed significantly.”
When the pandemic began in March 2020, Pond and his staff went through extensive online and in-person training for their new roles as health and safety officers for Pacific Athletics. When student-athletes returned to campus in fall 2020, they transformed the tennis facility into an outdoor training room to treat athletes.
Each day the training staff would arrive at 5 a.m. for temperature checks and health screenings for the 300-plus student athletes. They distributed wristbands for individuals to participate in various venues.
“Many of the amenities like the cold whirlpool, recovery boots or weight rooms were not available,” said Pond. “But, I was always taught that we don't treat injuries, we treat people. So, despite our limitations we still provided excellent treatment and facilities for our athletes.”
Throughout the 2020-21 academic year, the athletic trainers conducted more than 7,000 COVID-19 tests. For many Pacific teams the NCAA and West Coast Conference mandated the university conduct three tests per week on all "tier one individuals," which included the coaching staff, managers, film crew members, team media and players.
It was a robust process, but Pond said it was necessary to keep everyone safe, and move the season forward.
“Our focus was keeping each student-athlete as safe as possible in the landscape of trying to play athletics in the middle of a pandemic,” he said.
Pond and his staff served as supportive and trusted voices throughout the year.
“I have an immense amount of trust in our trainers, and truly appreciate everything they do for our program,” said Bradley Davis, Pacific women's head basketball coach. “We could not ask for a better group of trainers or better people to help us through all of this.”
Heading into the fall 2021 season, the focus for Pond and his staff has shifted with the addition of vaccines. Much of their effort has transitioned to preparing Pacific student athletes for their seasons after many have not played live games for 17 months.
“I think our coaches have done an excellent job of preparing our athletes to be ready to compete after having such a long layoff,” said Pond. “They are requiring conditioning tests before anyone can compete and if you don't pass the conditioning tests you're not allowed to practice until you do. This strategy is absolutely wise and I think it's kept our injury rate pretty consistent so far in the fall.”
Another challenge has been having a full student body on campus for the 2021-22 academic year.
“During the pandemic, one of the things that we were able to do was bring our athletes back to campus for conditioning and training,” said Pond. “It was a very safe and healthy environment because there were very few people on the campus and we were in a bubble. With a full campus, there will be some new challenges for us.”
Despite the added challenges, all Pacific student-athletes, coaches and staff are excited to return to competition.
“I'm looking forward to having more of a normal schedule this year and hoping everything turns out like we want it to,” said Josh Jones, Pacific cross country head coach.
Pacific men's head soccer coach Adam Reeves added, “Although 2020-21 was a tough year on everyone with the pandemic, were are excited to get back on the field. There is a process to achieving anything that is worthwhile and along the way you will probably hit some bumps, but the summit is that much more special when you finally get there.”