Walking through the FSU Athletic Center this year, you may have noticed how much quieter the building has been throughout the 2020-21 school year.
In years past, student-athletes have entered the building for a variety of reasons, including medical treatment, physical training exercises, smoothies, and most notably – social interaction.
Normally upon entering the building, students cannot escape the familiar sound of athletic weights being slammed on the floor above the FSU Bookstore.
Pre-COVID-19, student-athletes could also often be seen huddled together, shivering, in a group ice-bath session, upon entering the athletic trainer’s room.
This year, things look and sound much different.
The FSU Athletic Center, located in Dwight Hall, has become a COVID-19 testing site for students and faculty during parts of the week. The occupancy of the upstairs weight room has been reduced dramatically in order to meet COVID-19 guidelines.
With athletic competitions at FSU being canceled, many would think there is very little athletic activity taking place on campus. While partly true, this lack of competition has provided a unique experience for athletes and the athletic training staff at FSU.
Head Athletic Trainer Laura Rusk said, “We have been very busy since the beginning of the pandemic, but it has been in a totally different way than ever before. I spend most of my days doing administrative work and spend less time doing hands-on care.
“Limitations on gathering size and changes to athletic seasons have led to many more practices throughout the day for each sport. We spent a lot more time at the field this fall covering these practices. We are busy and stressed, but just differently than usual,” said Rusk.
Raquelle Williams, a junior on the Women’s Lacrosse Team, said, “It’s been much different this year, but I am happy we were able to practice and have a season. There have been a lot of restrictions due to COVID-19, which has made it tough to stay positive at times.
“I feel like the adversity we’ve encountered this year has made us stronger and more connected as a team, especially due to all of the uncertainty. We are all just happy to be together and practicing again,” said Williams.
The absence of athletic competitions taking place at FSU will not guarantee a decline in injured athletes.
With most athletes having their seasons canceled, many student-athletes will go a full year or more without competition, aside from their limited group-training sessions and practices.
Rusk explained, “While we hope the athletes have all continued to exercise and stay healthy and in good shape, there is a big difference between being in shape and being in shape for collegiate athletics. There is also a difference between practice and game shape.
“In addition, so much time has elapsed since teams from various sports have been able to play with full contact, so there is a lot of pent-up energy. Everyone is antsy to get out and start playing their sport as soon as possible,” Rusk added.
It is difficult to go from doing almost no athletic activity to being in a competitive athletic environment. Doing so too quickly will likely lead to an increase in injury rates.
“With the practice and workout opportunities that Athletics have been able to provide, we hope the athletes take advantage of the chance to get back to exercise and into an athletic mindset again,” Rusk said.
Although FSU Athletics has provided teams with athletic training opportunities, athletes and trainers alike still miss the old ways of a normal athletic season.
Rusk said, “I miss getting to know the athletes better through social interactions on the field and in the athletic training room. And I miss getting to see the athletes be able to reap the rewards from all of their efforts, especially the seniors.”
Marissa Diaz, a senior on the Women’s Field Hockey Team, said, “I have a great relationship with the athletic trainers. They’ve been really supportive of myself and my teammates over the last four years, both with sports-related health as well as mental health.
“They always know how to both, help us recover from athletic strain and injuries, and give us encouragement during a tough workout. They’re always there as a motivation and an extra push,” she added.
Gina Crosby, a senior on the Women’s Field Hockey Team, said, “Something that the athletic training staff did for me that I won’t forget was, Kristine, one of the trainers, checked in on me constantly when I was sick with COVID-19. When I had an injury involving my hip, she was also constantly checking in on me. They always go beyond the field with everything.
“The training room was a big part of who I was. Every day, I got out of class and was in the trainer’s room for heating, stretching, and all that stuff. There were so many other sports players who also were in the trainer’s room which helped me build a lot of valuable friendships along the way. It was a really nice place to be able to escape to – away from class and the field,” Crosby added.
Matt Seigel, a senior on the Men’s Ice Hockey Team, said, “When you’re injured, you develop a really special bond with the training staff. They do everything that they can to help get you back to competition. Your success is their success. It’s weird not having that experience with them this year.”
Zach Bettmeng, a junior on the Men’s Ice Hockey Team, said, “During my sophomore year, I spent about four months in the training room. Over that time, I was given the utmost care and attention. I developed a really good relationship with Laura and the other training staff members.”
He explained, “One of my most memorable experiences with the training staff at FSU took place during my sophomore year. We were playing a Saturday afternoon game against Western New England at the Olympia Sports Center in Springfield, Massachusetts.
“We were trailing by a goal with a few minutes remaining in the game, and a puck was deflected out of play by one of my teammates,” said Bettmeng.
Unfortunately, that puck struck Rusk in the head, causing many players to come to her aid, according to Bettmeng.
Despite the danger of the situation, Rusk stayed calm.
Bettmeng said, “Laura finished the rest of the game on the bench with us in typical hockey fashion, with some battle scars and one or two black eyes. I remember cracking a few jokes with her afterward, too. It’s something I’ll never forget.
“I also remember Jake Garman got his first collegiate goal shortly after and tied it up with not a lot of time remaining in the game. We all joked that we did it for Laura and I think she was pretty amused by the whole scenario,” added Bettmeng.
This year’s fall, winter and spring sports seasons have certainly provided a different source of impact on the athletic training staff, one with fewer bumps and bruises.
According to Rusk, many of the other schools in the MASCAC have recruited the athletic training staff to do jobs, such as “working in the COVID-19 testing facility or serving as a contact tracer,” in addition to their regular duties.
“Looking across the MASCAC, we have been very fortunate to have three or more athletic trainers available to do their regular athletic training jobs throughout the pandemic,” said Rusk.
“We have been able to volunteer with the COVID-19 testing center, but only if it doesn’t interfere with our regular duties and practice coverage,” she added.
“Without games, our work weeks have been much more like a normal job schedule,” Rusk said. “We have been able to have most weekends off. It’s strange, but I think each of us has appreciated the time off that we usually don’t get to have.”