Jun 23, 2021Ashley Labrador: 2021’s Most Valuable HS Athletic Trainer of the Year
Four years into her athletic training career, Ashley Labrador and her skills were put to the ultimate test. She had taped ankles, dealt with helmet-to-helmet collisions, and administered preventative and rehabilitative care to student-athletes, but she never had to perform CPR in a potentially life-or-death situation.
During a weekend junior varsity game featuring her Brien McMahon High School, in Norwalk, CT, a parent in the stands suffered a seizure. And, without hesitation, Labrador rose to the occasion. The parent was turning gray and foaming at the mouth by the time Labrador arrived, and, according to a report from The Hour, the parent stopped breathing shortly thereafter.
Midway through Labrador’s second set of chest compressions, the parent was revived and sent to a nearby hospital for observation.
“Being in the field there’s a level of unpredictability,” Labrador said, adding she was aided by another parent in the process. “You have a day where there’s no injury in sight and you can just enjoy the game. Then there’s a possibility of something happening, whether it’s a mild sprain or a concussion or something like this. I think it comes down to preparation.”
Her preparation, which she said includes, but is not limited to, mental, physical, and emotional self-care, allows her to believe in herself and be confident that she can do the job, whatever it may be moment from moment.
“The [Emergency Action Plan] protocol happened so far, it almost was like second nature even though I’ve never done it before,” she said. “You practice it, but living it out is another experience completely. I’ve heard stories where people freeze in those situations. Luckily, I didn’t. I did what I was taught to do.”
Brien McMahon’s athletic director, John Cross, agreed, saying Labrador acts “without hesitation during extremely demanding and frightening situations.”
Trust in her training, studies, and experiences in times of trauma is just one of many reasons why Labrador was chosen as Training & Conditioning’s 2021 Most Valuable Athletic Trainer of the Year. Among a crowded and competitive field of nominees, Labrador rose to the top — much like she rose to the occasion in the stands back in 2018 — for her ability to motivate and educate not just her student-athletes, but the Brien McMahon staff as well. And her selfless dedication, perhaps on no bigger display during the COVID-19 pandemic, has impacted a positive influence on the student-athletes and families of her high school community.
“This was all a surprise,” Labrador said about receiving the news. “I didn’t even know I was up for the award. But it’s reaffirming to know that even though I may not strive for the recognition, people recognize that as an ATC, I am making a difference.”
Her difference-making at Brien McMahon begins on the casual level, developing relationships with both students and staff to where they feel comfortable opening up to her. That level of comfort, Labrador said, is important to establish when working with the students in the field.
“You’re building the relationship with the student-athletes no matter what level they’re at,” she said. “With that level of trust, you can help them athletically, but also physically and emotionally. When you can sympathize and empathize with them you can make even more of a difference. It’s just one step in keeping the student-athlete healthy. It’s not just high school, we’re building them for life.”
Those means of communication were not cut off during the COVID-19 pandemic when the in-school learning process was dramatically altered for schools across the country. Labrador, outsourced to Brien McMahon through the Norwalk-based Innovative Health & Rehabilitation, a privately-owned physical therapy clinic that provides athletic training services in the area, was furloughed for two months. While adjusting to the shifts herself, Labrador made use of the SportsYou platform the school utilizes to send motivational messages and at-home workouts to keep the students engaged.
“These workouts helped to keep our athletes fit throughout the absent spring season, but it also prepared them for the fall and winter seasons as well,” Cross said.
The motivation extended to the school’s staff and coaches. Cross outlined that she’s been instrumental in keeping her peers in shape with monthly motivating challenges, where she’s leading from the front lines rather than directing from the back. Though a three-sport athlete during her high school days Labrador isn’t a runner, yet she challenged herself and others to complete a 100-mile monthly total goal followed up by another 150-mile monthly challenge.
“It was great seeing our football coach trying to keep up with her. Her monthly challenges show our student-athletes the power of goal setting, the gruel of the grind, and the benefits of the outcome,” Cross said.
Labrador added, “The monthly challenges were to not only challenge others but also myself. Trying to set the example and see it through, so that the student-athletes, or anyone for that matter, are encouraged and motivated to make changes for themselves.”
Equipped with a life philosophy and approach of enjoying the moment and doing what she can to make a difference, Labrador said her inspiration for the profession stemmed from the strong relationship she had with her high school athletic trainer, Janine.
“The connection and relationship with her intrigued my interest in the athletic trainer industry,” she said. “It wasn’t just watching sports, but helping young athletes get back to what they enjoy and what they have a passion for.”
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And, whether it’s having a simple conversation about their day, posting online daily workouts, or rushing to the aid of a parent convulsing in the stands, Labrador has brought that passion for helping others to the forefront of her work at Brien McMahon High School.
“As ATCs, whether it’s in a traditional setting or an industrial setting, the field is beginning to be recognized that we’re out here to make a difference,” Labrador said. “I wake up every day and I’m going to be happy, and, in the meantime, if I can make a difference that’s a success to me.”