Mentor Becomes Mentee

August 26, 2016

This article first appeared in the September 2016 issue of Training & Conditioning.


The athletic training world has a way of bringing things full circle. Few know this better than Mike Macejko, ATC, Assistant Athletic Trainer for the Hazleton (Pa.) Area School District, and Eric Sugarman, MS, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer for the Minnesota Vikings.

Back in 1982, Macejko, a Hazleton Area Sports Hall of Famer, was in the early stages of his career at Hazleton High School, while Sugarman was a determined seventh-grader. “He came to me and said, ‘I want to do what you do,’” says Macejko. “I was honored that someone his age was so interested in athletic training, so I took Eric on as my first-ever athletic training student aide.”

Over the next six years, Sugarman assisted Macejko with various tasks in the athletic training room. But in addition to getting a helping hand, Macejko got a lifelong friend in Sugarman. The relationship lasted so long that when Sugarman got his job with the Vikings in 2006, he called Macejko and asked if his former mentor would like to help out at the team’s preseason training camp.

“I immediately said yes,” Macejko says. “Not only because Eric is my best friend, but also because the NFL is on the cutting edge of medicine. From a professional development perspective, I knew that working at an NFL team’s training camp would be a great opportunity to learn and grow.”

Macejko has only missed one Vikings training camp since then. When he’s there, the roles from 35 years ago are reversed. “It used to be that I was Eric’s boss, and whatever I asked him to do, he would do it. Now, I do whatever he tells me to,” Macejko laughs.

Usually, his tasks are taping ankles, taking injured players to the local hospital for MRIs, and reporting the results back to Sugarman. Yet Macejko’s also gleaned some valuable insights to take back to his coaches and athletes at Hazleton.

“The Vikings are major proponents of proper hydration,” Macejko says. “Obviously, I can’t buy 750 cases of Gatorade for our athletes like they can, but what I can do is tell my coaches and players, ‘Hey, we need to take a water break every 15 to 20 minutes.’ It’s hard to get athletes to buy into hydrating that consistently, but when I tell them it’s what an NFL team does, they listen.”

Overall, the experience with the Vikings has taught Macejko that you’re never too old to learn something new. And it’s reminded him of the tight-knit nature of the athletic training community. “There’s probably 1,000 people Eric could have invited out to training camp to give him a hand,” Macejko says. “But he told me, ‘You got me my start in this business, and now I want to repay the favor.’ It’s incredibly special to me that he did that.”

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