About 15 students already had made their way to Columbus North’s training room just five minutes after the school day was dismissed Monday afternoon.

North trainer Steve Souder consulted with an athlete about a potentially broken wrist, while some athletes took care of their minor issues on their own before heading to practice. Others needed assistance from Souder to help them nurse whatever nagging injuries were giving them trouble.

This is a typical day for Souder, who has been at North for four decades. His fellow trainer, Ashley Martin, is in her second year.

Souder and Martin arrive at North around 1:30 p.m. each day to get work done during what Souder calls their quiet time. A few athletes come through the training room during the final two periods of the school day to get worked on, but the busiest part of the day is after the final bell rings.

“Come 3:15 p.m., it all breaks loose,” Souder said. “We’ve got them lined up around getting ankles taped and treating some other kids that can’t get in seventh or eighth period. I call it ‘organized chaos.’ Ashley and I work with them, and some of it they can do on their own. Every table is is full with somebody doing something in here. I wish we had about two more tables, and they would be full, too.”

Columbus East trainers McKensie Vanosdol and Michaela Dilling have a schedule similar to the trainers at North. They usually arrive at East between 2 and 2:30 p.m.

A couple students usually are in the training room during that time getting treatment or doing rehab before the end of the school day. Senior baseball catcher and football linebacker Charlie Burton is one those athletes.

Helping athletes return

Burton is recovering from a lateral ankle sprain that happened two weeks before the first day of school when he slid into second base during a baseball game. His foot got caught under the base, and the momentum forced the rest of his body to continue to move. Burton remembers hearing a loud pop and visited the hospital to get an X-ray two days later.

The X-ray showed lots of swelling but confirmed that nothing was broken. Burton has been dealing with his ankle injury all football season, but still has managed to tally 62 tackles in 11 games so far.

Burton’s time spent in the training room has a lot to do with him being able to stay on the field. Vanosdol and Dilling help nurse Burton’s ankles with a number of different treatments and exercises from taping and rubber band exercises to using the ultrasound and milking process.

The ultrasound is a machine-based treatment that sends ultrasounds to the targeted area to help eliminate any fluid or unwanted scar tissue. Milking is a massage technique that has the same affects without the electronic sound waves.

Burton stops in the training room every day at the end of school before heading to practice and before going home to ice at night. Burton has a lot of trust in the two East trainers knowing what steps to take with his ankle.

“Really, I leave it up to them,” Burton said. “They ask me how I feel, if I can handle (milking) because it can be painful sometimes or ultrasound to kind of see what I feel like doing.”

Souder and Martin also have a couple of athletes whom they are helping get through a reoccurring injury, including sophomore volleyball player Lauren Opalka. Opalka still is in the process of figuring out what her exact injury is, but she’s been dealing with shin splints, stress fractures and plantar fasciitis for two years.

Opalka’s health issues began to surface when she started running track in the seventh grade. She missed a few volleyball games this year because of her nagging injury and was only able to practice between 30 to 40 minutes on her good days.

She, like Burton, spends a significant amount of time in the training room. Opalka spends one to two hours each day in the training room receiving treatment from ultrasounds to scrapping. Souder and Martin use plastic tools to scrap up all of the tissue in her leg that’s been clumped together.

“They have been such a tremendous part of my life,” Opalka said. “Ever since I was a freshman, they’ve been helping me out a lot. I can’t thank them enough for that. They do so much.”

Diagnosing and rehabbing

The first step for a trainer when dealing with a new injury is the evaluation. Souder’s first concern with an athlete who just sprained an ankle is to decide the severity of the sprain.

Souder uses three degrees to evaluate the seriousness of an injury. The first degree is the least serious, and the third is the most serious. Then he decides if the athlete needs to go see Dr. Cary Guse, who is the team doctor for both East and North.

The first thing Souder tells the athlete to do is ice the ankle. Icing often is most important for any injury, he said. Souder starts with working on the range of motion if it is a first degree sprain. Then, the athlete is given a rehab paper with different stretches to do at home to help heal the ankle.

“Every injury, let’s say ankle, everybody heals at a different rate,” Souder said. “First degree is one to two weeks, maybe. Second degree could be up to three to four weeks. It just depends. That’s probably our most common (injury).”

Vanosdol said there needs to be a full range of motion before there can be any type of strengthening process of the injury. The steps that she and Dilling follow before putting an athlete back into competition are range of motion, strengthening, endurance and power. Although the trainers may have a set order of stages they follow, the actual rehab process is specific to each individual athlete’s needs.

“Everybody’s process is different because somebody could get hurt, but still have total range of motion and still have lots of swelling,” Vanosdol said. “Then you could have somebody who has no range of motion, but no swelling. It’s just all in the athlete and the injury itself.”

Psychologically recovering

There is a psychological piece of recovery that trainers help athletes overcome for those who suffered more severe injuries like a broken bone or torn ACL.

Some athletes may second guess their ability once they are thrown back into competition after physically recovering from a significant injury. Souder said it could take up to a year before an athlete is truly mentally comfortable with playing on a recovered knee.

“They’re afraid they’re going to hear that noise they heard when they heard the popping sound,” Souder said. “People fail to realize there is a big psychological factor, too, so we have to kind of bring that into it. Ashley does a real good job with that.”

Souder said it is important not to let an athlete favor their injured knee during the physical rehab and sometimes will have to reeducate an athlete on how to run properly. He said athletes can forget how their knee functioned before the injury and helping them remember the functionality of their recovered knee is just as important as strengthening the knee. Souder also said in most cases, the knee is actually better after the injury then it was before the injury.

Vanosdol, who experienced injuries as a high school softball player at Jennings County, said the first game back could be the make-or-break outing for an athlete’s psyche.

“If they have a good game back, and they feel good, they’re strong and they play well, they’re not afraid they’re going to get hurt again,” Vanosdol said. “If they go back too soon and they’re not strong enough, or their injury isn’t ready to return, they have a bad game or they’re fearful to make a tackle because they think, ‘I’m going to hurt myself even more, or that injury is going to happen again.’ It’s all a mindset.”

Positive reinforcement and reassuring the athlete that the injury is completely healed helps ease the mental anxiety of getting back into competition. Dilling often has an athlete close their eyes and picture themselves playing in their respective sport to help give confidence. She said there are studies that show the mental imagery helps give them the confidence to physically go out and compete at a high level again.

Trust between the trainers and athletes play a major role in helping them get over the mental hurdle.

“A good portion of our job is creating relationships with these kids and gaining their trust,” Vanosdol said. “If they trust us, then they trust the system, and then everything is just a smooth working well-oiled machine. But if they don’t trust us, and they’re hesitant about what we do and why we’re doing it, then it just causes mayhem through the whole process.”

Athletic trainers

Name: Steve Souder

School: Columbus North

Time with school: 39 years


Name: Ashley Martin

School: Columbus North

Time with school: One year


Name: McKensie Vanosdol

School: Columbus East

Time with school: Two years


Name: Michaela Dilling

School: Columbus East

Time with school: Two months

Author photo
Frank Bonner is a sports writer for The Republic. He can be reached at fbonner@therepublic.com or 812-379-5632.