Jan 29, 2015
Gone Fishing

How do you know when it’s time to retire? We asked three athletic trainers to share why they decided to say goodbye to the athletic training room.

By Anthony Ortolano

Anthony Ortolano, MS, ATC, was the Head Athletic Trainer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for 26 years. Prior to that, he was an athletic trainer at Union College and athletic trainer and professor at SUNY Plattsburgh. He is a winner of the Tom Sheehan Award, which is given annually to the athletic trainer who has done the most for the advancement of the profession in New York. He can be reached at: [email protected].

After 26 years as the Head Athletic Trainer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, I retired last spring. When you’ve spent more than a quarter of a century at one place, moving on is not a simple decision. Many factors come into play.

First, can you actually afford to retire? The majority of athletic trainers I know did not go into the profession to make money, so this is an important piece to figure out. I met with a financial services company, RPI’s retirement planner, and our family’s personal financial consultant to make sure that we’d still be able to live comfortably after my retirement.

Everyone talks about how retirement gives you time to do the things you want to do, but you need to make sure you have things you truly want to do. I am fairly confident that my so-called idle time will not be idle.

I am a new grandfather and an enthusiastic hunter and fisherman. I would like to become good at all three of those things. My wife and I live on a beautiful 118-acre tree farm that could use more work than I would be able to do in three lifetimes. And for the first time in a long time, I was able to spend the summer providing a service to student-athletes without having to maintain an administrative posture when I worked the North Star and Nike Blue Chip lacrosse camps at the Lake Placid Summit tournament.

The decision to retire is truly personal. I recently read Colin Powell’s book on leadership and the last few chapters were about him retiring. A lot of what he said really resonated with me, including: “You need to get out before your expiration date” and “When you’re done pumping, let go of the handle.”

I had something left in my tank, but I also wanted to leave before my expiration date. I had been grooming an assistant athletic trainer for seven years to take over as the Head Athletic Trainer and it was time for him to do that.

I also sought advice from others. My most important advisor in this decision was my best friend: my wife. We talked about the financial aspects and her biggest worry–that I’d be underfoot once I left RPI. But I’m paying her back for the past 27 years she spent raising our four kids. They are all successful professionals and I’m sure that if she weren’t there, I would have screwed that up. Now, I cook dinner every night and have a glass of wine ready for her when she walks in the door. I’m trying to make up for at least some of those years.

Another factor to consider is whether retiring means stepping away completely or simply cutting back. Although I was ready for retirement, it is not yet time for me to stop working completely. I have a new job close by at Siena College, which offered me a per diem position covering the men’s lacrosse team during the fall. Schools are beginning to recognize that with a collision sport like men’s lacrosse, an athletic trainer is needed even during the nontraditional season.

When I decided to retire, I called Siena and another nearby school because I knew they both offered per diem positions. Once the fall season is over, I will continue to work a few days a week and maybe in the spring as well. Working at Siena also gives me the opportunity to work with Head Athletic Trainer Greg Dashnaw, LAT, who was one of my first athletic training students in the 70s when I worked at SUNY Plattsburgh.

Has it been hard to let go of the handle completely? Sometimes, yes. I don’t go to RPI football games because I know if I were there, the players would ask me why their shoulder or back still hurts. So I just check the scores online for now.

My identity is not fully based on my profession. I am a husband, dad, grandfather, volunteer, someone who cares about personal fitness, an outdoorsman, and a friend. And I will continue to be all of those things long after athletic training is in the rearview mirror.

Yes, I miss the camaraderie of my staff, mentoring new athletic trainers, and interacting with 600 athletes every year. But for the first time since 1973, I did not spend August working a preseason camp. And when I was asked to contribute to Training & Conditioning, I was actually in Alaska preparing to go fly fishing. I wholeheartedly consider retirement not an end, but a beginning.

By Kim Blackburn

Kim Blackburn, MSEd, ATC, was the Head Athletic Trainer at Strongsvile (Ohio) High School for 27 years. She received the Ohio Athletic Trainers’ Association Service Award in 2010 and can be reached at: [email protected].

If anyone had asked me 20, or even 10, years ago when I was going to retire, I would have answered, “Are you crazy? I will be here forever.” But life changes, sometimes quickly, and we can be forced to think about retirement much earlier than we ever thought we would.

I had a couple of reasons for retiring. The biggest was my health. I was not able to give my job my best performance because my knees couldn’t sustain me being on my feet day after day. Second, my mother is getting older and I want to be able to spend some quality time with her. We all know that athletic trainers work ridiculous schedules sometimes, and our families often suffer as a result.

In the end, my health issues made the decision to retire easy. I was not recovering quickly enough from long days on my feet. And my knees were so painful at night that I wasn’t getting good, restful sleep. My assistant athletic trainers had to pick up the slack on tasks I could no longer physically perform. I want our athletes to get the best care possible and when I asked myself if I was still doing that for our athletes, the honest answer was no.

Though this made the decision simple, it was not easy to accept. To my colleagues who are having a difficult time figuring out when to retire, I believe that, above all, you need to be honest with yourself. I have a “type A” personality–I need to control things around me. But the fact that I could not control my health made me take a hard look at myself.

Although my retirement so far has included two surgeries, including one knee replacement (the other is scheduled for next year), it hasn’t all been negative–not by a long shot. Even with the time in the hospital, I’ve still kept busy. I have continued teaching CPR at our local hospital part-time and increased my hours there by adding classes and filling in for other instructors when needed.

I also do pharmaceutical audits and closeouts for an out-of-town company I have been involved with since 2000. I am a field inventory specialist, a third party who goes to a pharmaceutical representative’s storage site and performs an inventory count, or “audit” of their pharmaceutical samples. Most of the time, this also involves an additional inspection of the storage site.

In addition to my paying jobs, I continue my volunteer work with our area Kiwanis Club. I am the secretary for the Foundation of the Kiwanis Club, and I chair the scholarship committee. I have assisted our club in various fundraising projects, like selling raffle tickets, working our golf outing, and helping with service projects like “Read around the World” and “Memory Bags,” a program for children who have had a parent, sibling, or grandparent pass on.

I also recently started volunteering with the service group Teammates for Life with my college teammates. The group raises money for former teammates who need financial help for a medical need, like cancer. Though all of my volunteering roles are rewarding, this one is at the top of the list. It’s helped me get back in touch with my former teammates, and the support and camaraderie we’ve rekindled with each other has been amazing. There’s nothing like having an old teammate call to ask if I want to go to an Indians game or a party.

And I’m staying involved with Strongsville High School by continuing my work with the athletic boosters. I recently became a member of the high school’s Athletic Hall of Fame Committee, too. This is my first year and I’ve been part of planning the induction dinner and surrounding festivities. I am enjoying seeing old faces and getting involved in our community in another way.

In terms of athletic training, I’m still active in the Ohio Athletic Trainers’ Association, continuing my service on the legislative committee. And I am preparing to teach in the Athletic Training Education Program at Baldwin Wallace University. I’ll be taking over temporarily for a colleague going on her maternity leave.

Strongsville has been a clinical site for Baldwin Wallace athletic training students since 1987. The college students get a chance to experience a rotation with high school athletic trainers through us. Teaching these students on a more individual level using real world application was wonderful. I have also taught at the University of Akron and at Strongsville, so when a friend there called and said that I was her choice to fill in, I felt honored. In all those years, I must have made a positive impact on some of those individuals in their learning journey. This opportunity and new adventure is really exciting. What I miss most about not being an athletic trainer at Strongsville is the athletes. I enjoyed being around them and helping them achieve their goals. We had some of the best athletes around, and it was a true pleasure to be a part of their success.

What I don’t miss are those days of unpredictable weather that plague Northeast Ohio. Standing outside in the elements and getting soaked through my rain jacket or not being able to feel my toes after a Friday night football game was never my idea of fun. I also don’t miss loading or carrying all those water and ice coolers. No matter what size–three, five, six, or 10 gallons–they were all heavy and I always ended up with a wet shirt, no matter what.

I’ve now been able to replace those not-so-great times with gardening, lawn care, fishing, working out, and just having fun when I want to. I thought I would miss my job more, but I don’t have time to. With no regrets about my decision to retire, I am looking forward to my next adventure.

By Sanford “Sandy” Miller

Sanford Miller, MSEd, LAT, ATC, was the Head Athletic Trainer at Stephen F. Austin State University for 31 years. He is a member of the NATA and Southwest Athletic Trainers’ Association Halls of Fame and an NATA Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer. He won the Gatorade Tim Kerin award in 2011 for outstanding service by an athletic trainer and can be reched at: [email protected].

I had been thinking about the big “R” word for several years before I decided to do it. I had always told myself that I would retire at age 62, but as that birthday approached, I really thought long and hard about whether it was truly time.

I spoke about it with some of my closest friends in the athletic training world who were already retired, other close friends not involved in the profession at all, and most of all, my wife. She understands this profession and what we do very well because she has lived it with me for 39 years.

I knew that I did not want to continue working if it meant that the job got stale and I was no longer challenged, and I could feel this beginning to happen. It would not have been fair to the student-athletes or our athletic training students if they couldn’t see my passion for our profession in my daily duties. In the end, my internal clock told me it was time to go on with the rest of my life, so I said goodbye to the athletic department at Stephen F. Austin State University at the end of the summer.

However, I knew that I couldn’t stop working completely. It would drive me–and my wife–crazy. So I looked at several part-time employment options. Since my SFA contract was a 50/50 split between teaching for the department of kinesiology and health sciences while serving as Associate Athletics Director for Sports Medicine, I asked about continuing my teaching duties. Our graduate entry-level athletic training curriculum director asked me to continue teaching six hours each semester.

I also work as a physician extender for our team orthopedist three days a week during clinic hours. He suggested this mutually beneficial option when he knew I was contemplating retirement, and I really enjoy doing it. It’s been neat to get a different picture of how athletic training services can be incorporated into a doctor’s office. And both jobs help keep me in touch with our students.

When you start thinking about retiring, the first thing you have to figure out is whether you can afford to do it. I cannot stress how important it is for young athletic trainers to make sure they plan for the future. Luckily, I got some good advice about my finances in my early years, and I’m glad I listened to it.

I have been asked what I will miss about athletic training and what I won’t. I do miss my job, especially the interactions with student-athletes, fellow staff, and the athletic training students.

What I don’t miss are the endless hours. As head athletic trainers, we tend to think that the athletic training room and athletic training education program cannot run without us, which makes us our own worst enemies when it comes to our hours on the job.

Both of my sons grew up without me in many aspects of their lives due to my job, although my wife brought them to the athletic training room and athletic events as often as possible so they could spend time with me. Their elementary school was just over the fence from our practice field so they often spent time after school at the fieldhouse until their mother picked them up after work.

I also don’t miss the year-round practice plans we are seeing in college athletics now. There is no time off for the athletes or the athletic trainers. The “powers that be” need to examine this issue because both athletes and athletic trainers need rest and recovery following a season.

I loved what I did as an athletic trainer, but I’m looking forward to living at a different pace. I will spend time fishing, playing golf, hunting, and most of all, enjoying my grandchildren. It just might be fun to be a fan as well, to see how the other half lives.

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