Healing their broken wings
Published: Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, June 6, 2012 01:06
Walk through the double doors on the north side of the basketball court and continue south. Go through the next blue door. Then the next set of double doors. Then another.
Continue 10 paces through a dark, shaded corridor adjacent to the perpetually empty swimming pool and through yet another set of double doors. Then follow the dimly lit hallway to the end and turn right.
If you don’t get lost along the way, you’ll find yourself in a room filled with bright lights, boisterous conversation and athletes—PE 139, the Athletic Training Room. Here, head trainer Steve Handy has been healing bruised and broken Citrus Owls over the past 29 years. He estimates that he’s treated more than 10,000 athletes since he began the job in August 1983.
To put that figure in perspective, that’s about the number of 2011-12 full-time equivalent Citrus College students.
Steve is an accomplished trainer in his own right, having worked with the likes of track and field legends Carl Lewis and Florence “Flo-Jo” Griffith-Joyner at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. After the American men set a world record in the 4x100 relay, Lewis even gave him his number bib as a thank-you gift, complete with a set of autographs from the entire relay team.
“It was surreal. I didn’t grasp how fortunate I was to be able to do this until later,” Steve said of his Olympic experience. “I couldn’t believe I was standing there in the Coliseum with 100,000 people. It was incredible.”
If Steve’s surname sounds familiar, that’s because the Ross L. Handy Campus Center was named after his father, who served as the college’s vice president from 1951 to 1984. Steve’s roots with the Owls’ athletic department can be traced as far back as 1956, when the elder Handy served as coach for the men’s cross country team—Steve himself would play for the Owls’ football team in the late ‘70s.
However, even a trainer with a golden pedigree can’t treat more than 10,000 athletes by his lonesome. Assistant athletic trainers Scott Norman and Traci Rodriguez share an office with Handy—not to be overlooked, as the entire facility is about the size of a classroom—and he says the two are critical to his success.
“I bring the old school stuff, they bring the new school,” said a chuckling Steve. “A common thing I would say when I first started
[as a trainer] was ‘rub a little dirt on it.”
“But I see things that we’re doing now that I wouldn’t have even thought of doing 25 years ago. I can’t say enough about Scott and Traci developing the program to where it’s at today.”
Scott and Traci are both board-certified by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, which represents more than 82 percent of all athletic trainers practicing within the United States. In 1981, NATA became the primary U.S. membership association for athletic trainers, but veteran trainers like Steve were allowed to keep their old certifications.
The Handy connection to Citrus College would also indirectly spark Scott’s career.
In 1988, Scott was playing center for the Owl football team when he tore his meniscus. His recovery was supervised by none other than Steve Handy, and the experience is something Scott carries with him this very day.
“That incident probably had a big influence on my career choices,” Scott said.
It’s an interesting transition for him, as he found that the mental stresses of 16-hour days could be just as tough to navigate as the physical stresses of two-a-days.
“We had one football game where we had four injuries,” said Scott. “We had a kid go down who we thought had a fractured neck, there was a broken leg, a possible choking situation where the athlete had lost consciousness, and someone in the stands who overheated.”
When the days aren’t as busy, the trio of trainers’ personalities helps them empathize with the personality types of the athletes seeking treatment. An athlete likes jokes? They go to Steve. If a player needs a hardnosed approach, Scott’s the man. Want a little bit of both? Find Traci.
“You’ll see different teams and different athletes migrate towards different trainers,” said Traci. “Scott is very straightforward with his answers, so [he gets] a lot of football players. Steve likes to get to know a person, so we see a lot of female athletes that like to develop an interpersonal relationship work with him.”
What types of athletes gravitate to Traci?
“I’m kind of the mom,” she said, beaming. “So people who look for an in-between come to me.”
No matter which athlete goes to which trainer, seeing an injured player return to health is the greatest reward for Steve, Traci and Scott.
“A genuine concern for the well-being of the athlete is number one,” Scott said. “When they’re hurt, I’m hurt. It may sound like a cliché, but I don’t like telling an athlete they’re not ready to [play] yet. I want them to go back out, but not until they’re ready.”
Until then, the athletes know their way around the laybryinth of double doors.