Jun 22, 2022
Michael Chesterfield — Running Towards the Problem
Wesley Sykes, managing editor

Michael Chesterfield was on a boat during his honeymoon when a woman in attendance collapsed from a seizure. 

“What do you do? You run to it. That’s what I did. It was the way I was brought up,” Chesterfield said. 

As a third-generation firefighter and the athletic trainer for the Clarion (PA) University football team, he knows he was born to help people. 

chesterfield“There are always stressful times and bad ones. Times that linger around in your head. At the end of the day, you’re helping someone that’s in their worst time and making a difference,” he said. “That’s what really matters.” 

He grew up in a firehouse — his father and paternal grandfather being firefighters — and worked as a certified lifeguard in his youth. Running towards the problem is in his blood. It was his genetic makeup and passion for helping others that drew him to a career in athletic training — a journey that has brought him back to his alma mater where he uses both titles to impact his community. 

“When it comes to promotion of the profession, ethical practice and education, and a commitment to the community, I donʼt know if there is a man I know that satisfies that criteria more so than Mike Chesterfield,” said Jim Thornton, head athletic trainer at Clarion University. 

After reviewing more than 180 nominations, Chesterfield has been selected as Training & Conditioning’s first-ever Most Valuable Collegiate Athletic Trainer of the Year. 

“I’ve never been one to sit there and advocate for votes. I’m more of a ‘let the hard work lead to the accolades’ guy,” he said.

Burning Desire to Help Others

When it came time to choose a career path, Chesterfield knew he didn’t want to be behind a desk punching a keyboard all day. And though he enjoy the labor fields, it just wasn’t for him. 

But when he thought about it, his whole life had revolved around helping others — joining the local fire department at 18 and watching his family do the same, as well as being a lifeguard. He was introduced to athletic training after sustaining an injury during his swimming season and it clicked. 

chesterfield“It all fell into place by constantly wanting to help people, having that desire to be a civil servant in a way,” he said. “Whether it’s been running on the field as an athletic trainer or responding to a call in an ambulance or having a desire to be a lifeguard, it takes a certain type of person who will act and not react and run away from it. It’s natural, I guess, for me.”

That passion was further fueled by the developing relationship with his mentor, Jim Thornton, whom Chesterfield credits for not only his knowledge in the athletic industry but how to deal with others in times of stress, and build relationships. 

“When dealing with your athletes and evaluations, yeah, you need to get the evaluations done,” he said. “But if you don’t take the time to get to know your athletes because if they’re not calm and comfortable with you then you’re not getting the answers you need. The ability to be a people person and friend first goes a long way in breaking down those barriers.”

While he stressed the importance of having a mentor on your athletic training path, Chesterfield was also adamant about learning from fellow peers and keeping a frame of mind that you’re always the student — even if you are the teacher. 

“It’s very beneficial to have those mentors in all walks of life, and it’s not just Jim. It’s my co-workers,” he said. “They have skills I may not be good at. So there’s a balance. Just because someone is a student of mine doesn’t mean they can’t teach me things too. I learn things from them just like they do from me. It boils down to a willingness to regularly learn and observe, really.”

Big Reach in a Small Town

Upon returning to Clarion for his athletic training position, Chesterfield also joined the local firehouse and quickly rose the ranks to assistant fire chief in his 11 years in the department. 

In that time he grew the department from 27 to 48 and has expanded what the department is all about — a harbor for those who run to the problem.

He recruited a number of his athletic training students from Clarion to join the department, while also inspiring his mentor Thornton to rejoin the department after being away from the industry for a number of years. But more than bolstering the ranks, he’s advocated for new supplies through grant writing and fundraising. 

“We have been able to purchase new bunker gear, new SCBA equipment, a blow-up firehouse for fire safety education in our local schools, and most recently a new $700,000 heavy rescue truck that was delivered in April,” Thornton said.

Chesterfield added, “we’re just expanding upon what has already existed within the department. We’re not done yet. We can always do things better.”

But it’s no small feat what Chesterfield has helped to accomplish in the small-town Clarion community. With a population of roughly 6,000 in the town and a student population of roughly 3,500 at Clarion University — about 500 of whom are student-athletes — his desire to help others and to inspire others to do the same has had a rather large imprint, thanks to his unique dual-role as athletic trainer and firefighter.

» ALSO SEE: April Johnson — Making a Difference at Every Stop

“We have more college kids joining, eight students from the university have joined the fire department,” Chesterfield said. “A lot of them are in the ROTC program as well. So getting those Type A personalities. Getting to know the people within the university and borough and having the fire department expand beyond that has helped to bridge a lot of gaps in our community.” 

He added, “by no means am I a coach, but I do love the recruiting process in the fire department.”

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