I have interacted with athletic trainers in quite a few capacities—athlete, parent of an athlete, sports fan, sportswriter—and I have seen them ply their trade in oppressive heat, in bitter cold and in driving rain.
I have seen them deal with everything from minor sunburns to compound fractures to life-threatening injuries, and I held my breath while watching two trainers carry my own daughter off a softball field after a full-speed outfield collision.
So, when Adrian Western said to me during our interview on Sunday, “We’re accustomed to going into the unknown,” I believed him.
Western, a Certified Athletic Trainer and the Director of Sports Medicine and School Health at the Cayuga Health Systems Sports Medicine Clinic, is one of many CATs who have been called into action to help Cayuga Health Systems address the community’s needs during the Covid-19 crisis. In Western’s case, he has been assigned to help facilitate the mass screening effort, managing patient flow and logistics.
I asked Adrian (who did his undergrad work at West Virginia University and got his Masters at Ithaca College) about his “regular” work life and how his experience had helped him in his new role. He said, “Normally, I oversee the program that provides Sports Medicine services and physical coverage to many area high schools, as well as Ithaca College, Wells, TC3 and SUNY Cortland. A lot of us (at Cayuga Health Systems) have been asked to fill roles that are not typical.” He added, “Fortunately, we are accustomed to being nimble, and to think on our feet.”
“A typical day now,” Western stated, “involves helping manage the mass testing sites, making sure we are efficient, that we are running smoothly and that we are getting results quickly.”
When asked about dealing with the anxiety that accompanies uncertainty, Western spoke of many different “transferable skills.” He said, “Athletic Trainers are well-equipped to step up and help in this kind of situation. We often see people who are not having their best day, and what they want to hear is, ‘I’ve got you, and I will take care of you.’ It all comes down to patient care, and that personal interaction makes a big difference.”
Wondering how the collective attitude surrounding the COVID-19 crisis has shifted over the weeks, I asked Western for his take on it and he offered, “The first 2 weeks were, frankly, very scary. Understandably, there was a very high level of uncertainty and concern, but as we have progressed, I am proud to say that we—thanks to a very coordinated effort from CMC staff from across many departments—have done a great job of flattening the curve, and you can tell that there is not the same level of anxiety.”
Asked to give a glimpse into what to expect, Western said, “There is a lot of discussion and planning for what’s next. We are doing our best to prepare for the reopening of schools and businesses, and we are addressing how we can keep the curve as flat as possible.”
I often use this column to say farewell to people, and while this “Adios” does not involve anyone’s passing, I am still sad to see Jeff Tilton pack it up and leave Ithaca. Jeff and his wife have retired (he was an Ithaca Housing Authority guy) and they have relocated to Florida.
Jeff has been an incredible resource for me over the years, as he has been involved in coaching youth sports in many different capacities. He coached football at Newfield, at Ithaca High, helped out with Sprint Football at Cornell, and he was a great advocate for kids facing challenges. Jeff knew that sports could be a valuable tool in teaching discipline and teamwork and dedication, and went many extra miles to help young people understand the importance of those traits while urging them to keep their grades up to the best of their ability.
I saw Jeff around town a few times per year, but the detail with which he gave me feedback about my articles made me realize that this column really does connect me to people. Some people actually read this stuff, and they really do “get it” that sports really do matter. The scores and stats and standings don’t necessarily matter, but sports can play a huge role in shaping young people into productive and well-adjusted citizens.
Thanks for helping me spread that message, Jeff. I’ll miss you, my friend.