Sep 6, 2018
Weather the Storm: Part 1
Dr. Erin Hassler

As an athletic trainer, I have been taught to always be flexible and adapt, no matter the situation. Life is unpredictable, but the show — or the game — must go on. This lesson was especially relevant when Hurricane Harvey hit in late August 2017.

The storm path for Harvey was widespread. However, most of the Houston metropolitan area was not evacuated, including Texas Southern University, which is in south central Houston. The fall semester hadn’t started yet, so the only students on campus were the new freshmen and our football, women’s volleyball, and women’s soccer players. Still, TSU closed campus in preparation for the storm.

Fortunately, I didn’t have any athletes in the middle of a long-term rehab when Harvey hit, but I did have two injured soccer players. Both were scheduled to see the team physician first thing on Friday, Aug. 25 — the day Harvey was expected to make landfall. After practice on Thursday, I gave the athletes instructions for their appointments. But when the weather reports worsened on Friday morning, I cancelled the appointments. I knew there was a chance the athletes would leave town, and I didn’t want them to no-show with the doctor.

By Friday at 1 p.m., I had gone to the store for food, rain suits, and boots and hit the bank for cash. Then, I went into athletic trainer mode at my house and made emergency coolers of water and Gatorade, as well as large ice packs to keep food cold in the event of a power outage. I also charged up every communication device I could find.

Before I left work on Friday, I made sure the main athletic training room was clean and securely locked. All the athletes had my number and knew to call or text me if they needed anything.

For me personally, I have lived in Houston for 18 years, and I have experienced several tropical storms and two hurricanes. So, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect.

I had just moved into a new home in May 2017, and, like most, was not evacuated for Harvey. But I knew that preparation was necessary, so I moved important documents and mementos to a higher level in my house to keep them safe should flooding occur. I purchased enough water for drinking and sanitation in case sewage systems backed-up.

By Friday at 1 p.m., I had gone to the store for food, rain suits, and boots and hit the bank for cash. Then, I went into athletic trainer mode at my house and made emergency coolers of water and Gatorade, as well as large ice packs to keep food cold in the event of a power outage. I also charged up every communication device I could find. As long as the water did not rise, I knew my family and I would be safe.

Every hurricane presents itself differently. Some carry heavy winds, while others bring never-ending rains. Harvey hit us with both. Friday night into Saturday, so many tornadoes touched down that I didn’t sleep for more than 10 minutes at a time. By 7 a.m. Saturday, I noticed that the roaring outside had stopped and the weather alerts on my cell phone had slowed down.

When I checked around my house for damage, I found water pouring out of the light fixtures in my bathroom ceiling and out of the air conditioning ventilation system. Although the power was out, we were able to stay in the house.

While waiting for the storm to pass over the next few days, I texted and called around, checking on my family members, athletic training students, and athletes. The two injured soccer players were doing fine and benefiting from the physical rest. In addition, I updated friends and family members of our status.

The rain did not slow up until Tuesday. At this point, I left the house to assess the damage around me. My neighborhood was surrounded by high water, but I tried to venture out a little further each day, looking for someone to help.

Three weeks after the storm, an examiner came to survey the damage at my house and found mold — the place that I had just settled into was uninhabitable. For the next three weeks, my family and I bounced from hotel to hotel until we could find a more permanent living arrangement.

Once back at work on Aug. 30, my focus turned to helping TSU faculty members, students, and athletes find a sense of normalcy. Despite the news about my house, I was fortunate to still have most of my belongings, so I wanted to play a part in our community’s recovery. My family and I donated clothes, furniture, and money to organizations that were helping people get back to a new normal.

In addition, my athletic training colleagues and I banded together to support one of our athletic training students who lost everything. We helped her replace some of the items that were destroyed and find temporary housing. Despite the rocky start to the school year, she made the Dean’s List in the spring and had the highest grade point average in the program.

Within athletics, we had to move or cancel a lot of events. For instance, the fall preparticipation exams (PPEs) for incoming freshmen, transfers, and offseason sports were rescheduled and split up over a period of two weeks. This better accommodated our team physicians and the student-athletes’ classes. Coaches were notified of the available time slots for their teams, and they relayed this information to the players.

To decrease the amount of traffic in the athletic training room during the PPEs, we had athletes complete necessary forms ahead of time and had them stop in on different days to get their vitals checked. Along with our department’s other certified athletic trainer, I coordinated the flow of the exams, ensured that documentation was completed, and scheduled any follow-up care or screenings.

Although things started to get back to normal in the weeks after the storm, returning to a routine was hard. Many grocery stores and restaurants were out of commission, and several roadways remained under water, which caused re-routing and extended drive times.

The issues with my house compounded things further. I was driving around with half of my belongings in my car, constantly going back and forth between the old house, the hotel, and two different storage units. It seemed as if someone was always looking for me. If I was at work, the insurance person was looking for me at my house. If I was at the house, someone at work needed my attention.

Outside of work, the stresses piled up. Since 2015, I have been pursuing a doctorate in athletic training from A.T. Still University. Working full time as a certified athletic trainer and being a full-time student was already challenging. When Harvey hit, I almost reached my breaking point. I would come home from an already long day of practice, treatment, and teaching and try to do my homework, but I had a hard time completing the simplest assignments.

Fortunately, my supervisors understood the responsibility my job entails, as well as the pressures I was under. They knew it would be nearly impossible for me to keep a 40-hour workweek as a dual-appointed athletic trainer, and they allowed me to get some things done outside of the office. With their support, I was able to complete my doctorate in June 2018, as scheduled.

The entire Harvey ordeal reinforced many of the skills I use regularly as an athletic trainer, such as the importance of preparation and communication. However, I also picked up a few new traits — most significantly, humility and grace. I found more compassion for others, especially homeless and displaced people, and learned the importance of patience. Sometimes systems put in place to provide aid take longer than anticipated to deliver, but patience can result in a favorable outcome.

In addition, I recognized how crucial it is to stay hopeful and keep a positive outlook during a crisis. As athletic trainers, people are always watching us to see how we handle adversity, and they may be able to draw strength from our response.

When you walk in humility and extend grace toward others, it will always come back to you. In the year since the storm, my life has grown richer personally and professionally. More than before, I realize I have been blessed beyond measure, and I’m aware of my responsibility to give back to others. I think that is truly what being an athletic trainer is all about.

This article appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of Training & Conditioning.

Image by U.S. Army.

Erin Hassler, DAT, MS, LAT, ATC, PES, is the former Director of Sports Medicine and Director of the Athletic Training Program at Texas Southern University. She is currently a Sports Medicine Consultant and Owner of the Sportz Factory in Houston. She can be reached at [email protected] or via her website:

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