Sports medicine staff — unsung heroes of UH Athletics

Graduate student of the Master of Athletic Training program Rachael Dickey operates the HIVAMAT device, which utilizes electrical stimulation to help ease pain for the student athlete. | Katrina Martinez/The Cougar

Graduate student of the Master of Athletic Training program Rachael Dickey operates the HIVAMAT device, which utilizes electrical stimulation to help ease pain for the student athlete. | Katrina Martinez/The Cougar

Brad Newton blindly chose the athletic training major in 2008 at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York when he noticed it on a list of potential career paths. There was no way he could predict that 11 years down the line he would find himself in Houston.

Newton, now one of 15 full-time athletic trainers, aids in servicing roughly 420 student athletes at UH. Houston athletic trainers do everything from first aid to stretching athletes to laser treatments and more.

They also treat around 150 to 200 athletes per day.

“We work a lot of hours, you know,” Newton, who is one of four football athletic trainers, said. “Our typical work week is 80 to 100 hours year-round. We’re always here.”

Daniel Monreal, a fellow trainer but for track and field and cross country, has been with the staff since 2016. The Houston native, UH alumnus and former graduate student can relate to Newton.

“The only rest time I have when I’m usually not seeing athletes is from 6 to 7 in the morning whenever I come in to start getting paperwork done,” he said.

The sports medicine facility on campus houses some of the best medical equipment available to college and professional sports teams alike, Newton said. 

They have an onsite medical lab, which allows the sports medicine staff to run tests and produce diagnoses quickly. Student athletes can even have flu shots administered yearly at the facility and can see a physician during clinics held on campus four times a week.

“In terms of capabilities within this room, it’s a fully operational healthcare facility,” Newton said. “So, similar to when you would go to a doctor’s office. Besides doing an X-ray and MRI, we could do just about anything else in-house.”

The athletic trainers are first responders for all athletes. Whether they are injured during games and practices or just need help stretching before a workout, athletes have access to athletic trainers most of the time.

“In terms of daily usage for student athletes, they all have our cell phone numbers,” Newton said. “So it’s 24/7 healthcare. They have the direct line to anything they might need at all times.”

While managing this department may seem like a daunting task, sports medicine head Michael O’Shea is mostly unfazed.

“First of all, you’ve got to love your job and love what you’re doing, which I’ve always done,” O’Shea said. “You’ve got to have a lot of desire to work with athletes, young student athletes, not only to help them out on the playing fields, but in the classroom, too.”

With all the treatment taking place, O’Shea said it is an all-day process that takes organizing to handle successfully.

“The biggest thing you have to do is train your staff before the fact so they can handle the kids when they come in,” O’Shea said. “It’s just a matter of organization and being able to organize the times. You can’t have everyone coming in for treatment at 7 in the morning.”

Much of the success of the sports medicine facility rests in the hands of students.

Undergraduates who are certified in CPR and first aid can work with the athletic trainers on a work-study or volunteer basis.

Additionally, 12 graduate students in the athletic training program work in the sports medicine facility, which helps ease the load for the full-time athletic trainers. 

“Without student help, our room doesn’t run,” Newton said. “I would say that’s probably true for a lot of college departments. The students are really what makes things tick around here.”

The department’s goal is to help students recover from injuries, and athletic trainers often see similar injuries over time.

For instance, football players commonly suffer knee and ankle injuries, but as a result of facility improvement, they have observed some major injuries decrease over the years.

“We’re very fortunate here,” Newton said. “We have a great weight room, so we’ve seen a very large down-tick in the last eight to 10 years in ACL injuries and those more severe injuries. Most of what we’re dealing with is sprains, strains and contusions.”

For Monreal, he sees issues in the calves of distance runners, hamstrings of sprinters, knees of jumpers and wrists of pole vaulters and throwers.

With the growing support of UH Athletics around campus, the department is able to thrive and continues to play a key role in student athlete success from behind the scenes.

“President (Renu) Khator herself has moved this University in such a great way that athletics here at the University of Houston, you take pride in it,” Monreal said. 

Monreal, who started working full-time at the sports medicine facility after graduating from the UH Master of Athletic Training program in 2018, doesn’t mind the long hours. He is living his dream come true at UH, and he helps others succeed in the process.

“In the end, I love what I do, and I love coming to work every day,” Monreal said. “I love this job. It’s truly a dream job, and a lot of people can’t say they get their dream job right after graduating.”

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