Kristi Kem is a diehard Virginia Tech football fan who had season tickets for the 2012 season and never missed a game.
But Kem, a junior from Arlington, Va., majoring in human nutrition, foods, and exercise, doesn't have tickets for the 2013 season. She doesn’t need them.
Instead of rooting the team from the stands, Kem will be on the Worsham Field sidelines, where she’ll wrap ankles, ice down injuries, and do whatever it takes to help keep Hokie athletes on the move.
Kem is one of about 55 student athletic trainers from the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise who help the university’s athletic teams excel while gaining experience for their own careers. Majors from that department make up the bulk of Virginia Tech’s student athletic trainers. They do everything from give massages and ultrasounds to monitor practices for injuries and fill water bottles. Students always are supervised by certified athletic trainers.
“Students love this program because it gives them hands-on experience that they can’t gain anywhere else,” said Renee Selberg-Eaton, the human nutrition, foods, and exercise undergraduate program director. “Many of our students go on to be physicians, physician assistants, physical therapists, and professional athletic trainers, and they say that their experience here was invaluable.”
When Kem is helping a player stretch out a hamstring, she thinks about her anatomy classes where she learned the muscle groups.
“This gives us a chance to figure things out on our own and lets us put what we learn in the classroom to work,” she said.
Though students can receive up to three credits for being trainers, many continue to work with the teams long after they have earned their credits because they like it so much. Mike Goforth, associate director of athletics for sports medicine, teaches the Athletic Injuries course. The student athletic trainer program is coordinated by Katie Baer, a certified athletic trainer.
The work is not easy, but it’s always rewarding, students say.
Stephanie Stewart of Winchester, Va., a junior majoring in psychology and human nutrition, foods, and exercise, is often at the football locker rooms at 7 a.m. for treatment and back again from 3 to 7 p.m. as she gets ready for practice and setting up.
“The value is that when I’m sitting in a class and the professors are throwing terms at me, they are talking about things that I’m doing on the football field,” she said.
While most of the student athletic trainers are former high school athletes, Kem has a unique distinction. She was the starting receiver on a boys’ middle school football team.
Colleen Bannigan, a senior majoring in human nutrition, foods, and exercise from Herndon, Va., is a former basketball and soccer player who broke 10 bones during her childhood.
“I was always the one in the athletic training room, so I can relate to the athletes really well,” said Bannigan, who works with the women’s soccer team.
Bannigan said she wants to be an orthopedic surgeon for a professional sports team and is already seeing the benefits of her experience. She’s been the first responder to athletes who have suffered knee injuries and was able to watch a number of surgeries firsthand.
“This isn’t just fun — it is a great experience that is paying off,” she said in between giving ultrasounds to athletes and stocking water bottles.
Michael Cosgrove, a senior human nutrition, foods, and exercise major from Fairfax, Va., works in 2013 with the women’s soccer team but spent the previous year with the swim team. That meant being in the locker rooms before most students were awake.
“I grew up playing sports,” he said. “So this is a great way to be involved with something I care about while helping further my academic career.”
Student athletic trainers say a big part of their jobs is being an "extra set of eyes" for the full-time staff trainers who work with Virginia Tech's athletic teams.
Chris Peduzzi spent more time in Lane Stadium than most students.
As an undergraduate majoring in human nutrition, foods, and exercise, he was a linebacker for the Hokies. After he graduated in 1994 and while he was getting his master’s degree in education at Virginia Tech, he became an athletic trainer for the football team.
Peduzzi is still mixing his passions of sports and sports medicine. He is now the head athletic trainer for the Philadelphia Eagles.
“Being both a football player and an athletic trainer gives me an edge because I know what it’s like to put your body through two-a-day practices and a tough game,” he said.
His experience at Virginia Tech helped him get a leg up on his competition in the job market, too.
“It prepares you for the professional world of athletic training,” he said of his experience here.
Athletic training is practiced by athletic trainers and health care professionals who collaborate with physicians to optimize activity and participation of patients and clients across the age and care continuum.
Athletic training encompasses the prevention, diagnosis, and intervention of emergency, acute, and chronic medical conditions involving impairment, functional limitations, and disabilities.
— From the National Athletic Trainers’ Association