Jan 29, 2015
The Extra Mile

As an athletic trainer or strength coach, helping others is what you do all day. Still, some in the profession have found the energy to do even more. Three of them tell their stories.

By Jason Cerkoney

Jason Cerkoney, ATC, LAT, is the Head Athletic Trainer at Portage (Wis.) High School and an Athletic Trainer at Divine Savior Healthcare Therapy Services. A specialist in Divine Savior’s weight loss and exercise enhancement programs, he can be reached at: [email protected].

As an athletic trainer who splits time between a hospital and a high school, I’ve seen too many injuries resulting from shoes that were worn out, poorly fitted, or simply ill-suited to the activity being performed. Whether it’s ankle sprains, shin splints, or knee pain, a host of sports-related injuries can be linked to a lack of shock absorption and support in shoes. Unfortunately, the problem sometimes stems from an athlete not being able to afford the shoes he or she needs.

About six months ago, I was discussing these concerns with one of my co-workers at the clinic where I work, Divine Savior Healthcare Therapy Services, in Portage, Wis. When I mentioned a track athlete I knew who was in need of better running shoes, but without the means to afford them, my co-worker offered to donate a gently used pair that had been collecting dust in her closet.

Inspiration struck. It’s common for people to have high-quality, seldom-used running or other athletic sneakers lying around. What if we were able to convince them to donate these shoes and create a system to distribute the shoes to athletes in need?

After a bit of strategizing, I decided to test the waters. I sent an e-mail to all employees at Divine Savior explaining my idea.

A co-worker came up to me a few minutes later and asked, “Are you sure you’re ready for this?” The truth is, I don’t think I was! I didn’t anticipate the outpouring of love and support that followed. I got a handful of responses right away, and within two days, I’d received a dozen pair of shoes.

I was, admittedly, a little overwhelmed at first, trying to figure out how to store and distribute the shoes. Initially, the front desk staff at the clinic placed them behind their desk. When we were told they were a fire hazard, we moved them to the athletic training room at Portage (Wis.) High School, where I’m the Head Athletic Trainer.

Unbeknownst to me, word about the program got out and spread quickly through social media. A colleague from Divine Savior posted my original e-mail on her Facebook account, which generated more shoes. Soon, lots of people I didn’t even know were contacting me about donating, and it became commonplace to find a pair of shoes on my desk in the morning.

The collection continued to grow, and I had to come up with a plan to dole out the shoes. I discussed the matter with faculty at Portage and other local schools and requested to be made aware of any athletes in need. I did the same with coaches, parents, and patients I knew to be involved with local sports organizations.

Initially, I was getting mostly running shoes, so I started talking to track coaches in the area to find recipients. One of these coaches is also the Dean of Students at Portage and he began actively looking for candidates. He announced the program at various practices, and several shoes were delivered after athletes approached him in private.

One of the most challenging aspects of the program has been getting the right shoes to the right athletes. When shoes come in, I sort them according to gender, sport, and size, and contact a group of coaches and athletic trainers to see if they have a need. The coaches have been instrumental in finding candidates because they know their players’ backgrounds. Athletic trainers have also been helpful, because they’re often most aware of the equipment used by the athletes and the injuries they endure.

When a good match is found, discretion is essential. We don’t want any athletes to feel embarrassed because they can’t afford new shoes. Fortunately, players trust their coaches and athletic trainers and are able to speak to them in confidence.

We’ve also had parents and church members bring candidates to our attention. For example, a father recently contacted me because he couldn’t afford gym sneakers for his sixth-grade daughter. Fortunately, we had two pairs of shoes in her size. They fit the girl almost perfectly, and her family was sincerely grateful. It was the type of response that’s more than enough to make my time and effort worthwhile.

This project was started to help prevent sports-related injuries due to improper footwear, but it has grown into something more. In the six months since that first e-mail, we’ve collected more than 75 pairs of shoes, including running shoes, basketball sneakers, football cleats, volleyball shoes, and even some non-athletic options.

At first, I was reluctant to do much advertising for fear the program would get too big for me to handle. But we’re now making plans to expand, and I have a number of ideas on how to go about it, including a shoe give-away day at Portage. We’ve also given the program a name, “Shoes for the Sole,” which was suggested by a local reporter.

Our current goal for Shoes for the Sole is to ensure that no local athlete enters a season without the proper footwear, and that no one is prevented from playing a sport because they can’t afford the right shoes. The more we can get the word out to families, friends, teachers, and the rest of the community, the more kids we’ll be able to help. I’m proud of the program’s success thus far, even if it’s still a work in progress. We may not always have the right shoe in stock, but we’re trying.

Sharing Ideas

By Andrea Hudy

Andrea Hudy, MA, USAW-1, CSCS, is the Assistant Athletics Director for Sports Performance and the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the men’s basketball team at the University of Kansas. Named the 2012-13 College Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year by the NSCA, she can be reached at: [email protected].

As the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the University of Kansas’s men’s basketball team, I’m used to being surrounded by excellence and spotlights. Our coaches and players are some of the best in the country and are repeatedly recognized for it. However, last July, I participated in a program with the U.S. Marine Corps reminding me that, sometimes, the best among us aren’t in national headlines being celebrated for their accomplishments.

Coordinated by Kansas’s Department of Health, Sport, and Exercise Sciences, the program was developed as part of a continuing goodwill relationship between the university and the Fort Leonard Wood (Mo.) Military Base, loosely focused on athletics in this instance. My role was to give several talks on coaching and leadership at the base, and then host a Marine from the military’s Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), Sergeant Michael Pride, who would visit the university to study our sports performance programs. The WWP cares for veterans and service members who’ve incurred a physical or mental injury or illness while serving in the armed forces, and Pride is the Head Coach of the Wounded Warrior’s All-Marine track and field team at Fort Leonard Wood.

I didn’t think twice before agreeing to speak to the Marines. Leadership is one of my passions, and I work very hard at Kansas to instill leadership qualities into the student-athletes I coach. I always welcome the chance to share my thoughts on the topic with others, and this program would afford me the opportunity to address both an audience of around 200 up-and-coming female Marines and a small group of high-ranking officers. I relished the chance to inspire women striving to be successful in a male-dominated environment, like myself, and I was eager to hear the officers’ thoughts on the topic.

I began each talk with a brief summary of my personal story and how I’ve persevered though many hard times to get to where I am today. I also shared what I believe are the secrets to my success–having a real passion for my work, being true to who I am at all times, and having the courage and persistence to follow my dreams.

The group of officers was very interested in discussing core values and authenticity. My father was a Marine, and he instilled in me many of the values that I still hold true today. Not surprisingly, they’re very much in line with the core values of the Corps: honor, courage, and commitment.

The more I spoke with Marines during my time at the base, the more I came to appreciate how similar the leadership principles are between Kansas’s athletics and the Corps. Both institutions strongly encourage service to others and believe that leadership without it is lacking. Both also hold the sharing of knowledge, experience, talents, and time in high regard.

Next up was my hosting of Sgt. Pride, which was just as rewarding. Before I even met him, I was inspired by his story. In 2008, he was nearly killed in Afghanistan when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb. One of his arms was badly crushed, and the doctors wanted to amputate. He refused to allow it, and after 25 surgeries and nearly three years of intensive rehab, he eventually passed a test deeming him fit enough to serve on active duty.

While recovering, Sgt. Pride became involved with the WWP and what would be the organization’s inaugural Wounded Warrior Games–an Olympic-style competition for injured or ill service members. He won several silver and bronze medals in track and field at the Games and stayed involved with the program, becoming head coach for the track and field athletes. His goal in visiting us at Kansas was to get an in-depth look at our sports performance program and use that information to further his coaching skills.

When he arrived at the university’s Department of Health, Sport, and Exercise Science, we kept him busy with 12-hour days. He attended the morning basketball workouts and observed the training sessions, met with coaches from different sports, sat in on exercise science classes and met with the professors, and ended his day at our afternoon basketball sessions.

I also spent a lot of one-on-one time with Sgt. Pride, showing him exactly how I train my athletes. I went over techniques on a number of things, including weightlifting and conditioning. And since I’m a firm believer that experience is the best teacher, I took him through the same workouts that we put our athletes through. For the weightlifting, we did clean and jerks, variations of Olympic snatches, squats, bench presses, and pull-ups. The conditioning exercises included distance running and sprinting. This hands-on experience will undoubtedly help him teach some of the exercises to his WWP athletes more effectively.

Sgt. Pride was fascinated with how we tailor our workouts to each athlete’s needs. He had a number of questions regarding these individualized routines, and we were able to show him the technologies we use to create and test our athletes. Hopefully our time together will help him implement similar training practices at the base.

During his visit, he also spoke to our athletes about his experiences in the Marines. The stories he shared about his struggles and the importance of leadership made a big impact. He believes everyone has the choice to lead, follow, or simply get out of the way, and he talked about how he’s made the decision to take on leadership roles.

Being able to work with Marines at Fort Leonard Wood was a thought-provoking and wonderful experience. There was a synergy throughout the program as we shared ideas and inspired each other.

Crusade Against Cancer

By Brian Zettler

Brian Zettler, MS, MEd, ATC, CSCS, CES, is an Assistant Athletic Trainer and Equipment Manager for the Utah Jazz, having previously worked in similar roles for the Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Cowboys. He is also the founder and president of the National Basketball Athletic Equipment Managers Association. He can be reached at: [email protected].

Whatever your discipline, sporting affiliation, or number of degrees, there are certain indisputable truths among healthcare professionals. And ranking high among them is that a cancer diagnosis is devastating, both for the patient and their loved ones.

Last year, my niece, Shadoh Campbell, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It was her second bout with the disease, and the family was heartbroken again. It was as if the hope we had felt since her recovery had been betrayed. I was confident Shadoh would win this battle, too, and I was determined to help her. However, since she lives in Texas, nearly 1,500 miles away, I wasn’t sure how.

A friend suggested we do so by participating in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) annual “Man & Woman of the Year” fundraising campaign, which is a competition to raise money for blood cancer research. The top male and female fundraisers in each state are honored by their respective LLS chapters. We joined immediately, feeling like it was a way to both support Shadoh and help fight this awful disease.

Those who know me are familiar with my competitive nature. Some might even put me in the “overly competitive” category. However, if ever there was ever an occasion that called for me to let my competitiveness run wild, I figured raising money for those with blood cancers was it.

As the campaign got underway, I was fortunate to have the support of the Utah Jazz organization. There’s always been a culture of philanthropy around the team, as summed up by the words of our former owner, Larry H. Miller: “Go out into the world and do good until there is too much good in the world.”

I was given the go-ahead to hold a fundraiser at the Jazz’s practice facility using its two basketball courts. One would feature a silent auction with a variety of donated items, and the second would be set up as an “open gym” where fans who purchased special tickets could spend time with Jazz players and local celebrities.

To appeal to adults, my wife came up with the idea to use an ’80s theme. The event featured music exclusively from that decade, and attendees were encouraged to wear ’80s clothing. But to avoid scuffing up the courts, we implemented a socks-only policy into the theme. Thus, the name “Rock ‘Em! Sock ‘Em!” was born.

The players we secured, including Slam Dunk Contest champion Jeremy Evans, were very supportive of the cause and generous with their time. The team’s mascot, the famous Jazz Bear, was also in attendance, along with a number of local celebrities. The emcee was our announcer, Craig Bolerjack.

For the silent auction, we received donations of autographed basketballs and game-worn shoes and jerseys from current and former players from around the league, including Jimmer Fredette, Kevin Durant, Karl Malone, Deron Williams, Jason Kidd, and reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Damian Lilliard. Additional auction items included gift certificates to local restaurants; a golf package consisting of golf clubs, lessons, and rounds; skiing packages; snowmobile tours; and tickets to various local events.

Three levels of tickets were established for the fundraiser. The first granted access to the silent auction only. The second level, dubbed the “Fan Experience,” allowed entry to both the silent auction and the open gym, where attendees could shoot hoops, get autographs, and take pictures with the players and local celebrities. Lastly, the “Ultimate Experience” tickets enabled a person to arrive early and enjoy additional one-on-one time with our special guests.

We also created tickets that people could buy and donate to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Available for advance purchase, they enabled children from the foundation to attend the fundraiser.

The event was advertised on local Utah radio, in newspapers, and on TV during Jazz games. Flyers were handed out at home contests and at a preseason baseball game at our local minor league park.

It took a great deal of effort to pull it off, but I believe the key to “Rock ‘Em! Sock ‘Em!” was having a solid group of volunteers. Whenever my work schedule pulled me away, others stepped up to the plate, particularly my wife. She was supportive and the voice of reason throughout the planning process. In addition, she was often the liaison to the LLS and was integral to securing the donated items for the auction.

The Utah chapter of the LLS was also instrumental in planning the fundraiser. Volunteers from the society set up the event Web site, helped create the plan for ticket purchases and payments, and worked with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to facilitate the donation process.

In the end, “Rock ‘Em! Sock ‘Em!” was a great success. We raised more than $50,000 for LLS, and several children from the Make-A-Wish Foundation were able to attend thanks to the donated tickets. We were also lucky enough to have Utah LLS Boy of the Year, Jeron Affleck, at the event, who is battling Non-Hodgkin’s T-Cell lymphoma. Jeron and I have since kept in touch, and I’ve developed a great relationship with him and his parents.

To round out the campaign, we held several smaller events in the Salt Lake City area, including a benefit luncheon at a local Texas Roadhouse. We also organized a private fundraising reception with live music and food catered and donated by a local Mexican restaurant.

In August, we received the wonderful news that Shadoh was in full remission. She beat it again and has since re-enrolled in school, keeping busy working towards her future and taking care of her beautiful baby boy.

I’m a firm believer that everyone can make a difference. Sometimes it’s just a matter of putting ourselves and our egos aside to focus on the needs of others. I encourage everyone to go the extra mile and get involved in contributing to a charity of interest.

For his work and efforts, Brian Zettler was named 2013 Man of the Year by the Utah Lymphoma and Leukemia Society.


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