Sophomore T. Lucas Willson and senior Erick Hennessy volunteered as athletic trainers at the Dew Action Sports event in September in Salt Lake City, where they helped athletes prepare for competition, and aided those who suffered injuries.
Later this month, Willson and senior Brittnie Holmgren will staff the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Junior Championships in Salt Lake City and Murray (Nov. 26-Dec. 1).
Under the supervision of certified athletic trainers, the student volunteers help athletes with stretching and taping, as well as assist with the evaluation of musculoskeletal injuries. At the Dew Sports events, the students responded to athletes who suffered a ruptured spleen, head laceration, fractured ankle and a major concussion during the competition.
Experiences like these are part of the service-learning component of the athletic training major at WSU. Students in the program are required to perform between five and 20 hours of service learning per semester in various medical and athletic fields, depending on their year of study. By senior year, students are performing 20 hours of volunteer work each semester.
Volunteer experiences augment classroom and clinical training. During clinical rotations, students learn in a variety of settings on and off campus, including WSU varsity sports, high school athletics, physical therapy clinics, chiropractic clinics and physicians’ offices. The volunteer work allows students to focus on specific areas of emphasis.
“We encourage students to choose volunteer opportunities that fit their interests or future career goals,” said Valerie Herzog, director of WSU’s athletic training program. “If a student wants to work with special needs kids, we’ll encourage them to volunteer with Special Olympics. If they are uncertain about their future career path, volunteering helps them discover which fields are a good fit.”
For Willson, a former baseball player who walked away from a career in engineering to pursue athletic training, the Dew Tour experience introduced him to a whole new area of interest.
“I fell in love with the extreme sports lifestyle, the athletes and the medical staff who take care of them,” Willson said. “I had a backstage pass to work side by side with these medical providers who treat world-class athletes, and I was amazed that they were willing to help increase my knowledge base by sharing all these pointers and tips with me.”
Willson hopes to have a similar learning experience at the figure skating championships.
Hennessy, who graduates in December, plans to become a physician’s assistant. He’s had clinical assignments with WSU football and track and field, and volunteered at an intramural volleyball tournament in Salt Lake City. Hennessy said the clinical and volunteer experiences have given him the opportunity to meet many people and to learn and practice different techniques.
“You learn about different injuries depending on the sport,” said Hennessy. “In track and field it’s recurring, chronic injuries like shin splints and arch injuries, while in football it’s mostly acute injuries like fractures or sprains.”
Herzog said volunteer opportunities extend beyond the realm of athletics. Students work with a variety of health care practitioners (nurses, EMTs, paramedics, doctors, physical therapists, specialty practices, etc.), gaining insights on relating to patients from across the spectrum.
“We have students who volunteer at the Ogden Rescue Mission,” Herzog said. “They treat patient populations and medical issues that are radically different than working with an Olympic gold medal snowboarder at an extreme sports competition.”
In addition to learning and growing, service learning provides an opportunity for students to network and build a resume.
“Our graduates say employers look at their resumes and say ‘Wow, you’ve had a lot of diverse experiences,’” Herzog said.
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