Athletic trainers have record turnout at Convention Center

Adam Annaccone works out before attending the National Athletic Trainers' Association meeting at the Convention Center. He maintains athletes' bodies - starting with his own.
Adam Annaccone works out before attending the National Athletic Trainers' Association meeting at the Convention Center. He maintains athletes' bodies - starting with his own.
Posted: June 25, 2010

Adam Annaccone is a sturdy man with broad shoulders, a deep chest, a tapered torso, a cinematic smile, and a firm handshake.

He is a certified athletic trainer, and his job is the care and maintenance of the body - a job he believes begins with himself.

And so, Thursday morning, as the climbing sun began baking the town, he ran up the Parkway to the Art Museum, where he celebrated his defiance of the heat by scaling the steps Rocky-style.

Afterward, back at his hotel, he went to the fitness center, where he tuned up the muscles of his upper body with dumbbells. After pumping out a set of chest presses on a stability ball, 40 pounds in each hand, he beamed.

"You can't beat it," he crowed. "It hits your pecs and glutes and activates your core."

Annaccone, 28, an assistant athletic trainer at Clarion University, in Western Pennsylvania, was in town for the annual meeting of the National Athletic Trainers' Association, which ends today. The event has drawn a record turnout - 7,200 trainers, or ATCs, from all over, including schools, colleges and universities, hospitals, the armed forces, pro sports teams, cultural organizations (ballet corps, the Rockettes, to name a few), private industry, and orthopedic practices.

If you were unlucky enough to sprain an ankle or throw out a shoulder, the Convention Center was the place to be.

But while Annaccone runs five days a week and lifts weights on alternate days, many of his colleagues didn't sport a chiseled look. After all, this was not a convention of personal trainers, the cut and buff Adonises and Valkyries whose vocation is to help their clients beautify and perfect their bodies.

Athletic trainers take pains to draw that distinction. To call one of them merely "a trainer" is to cast an insult and poke a sore.

Athletic trainers are bachelor's- and master's-degreed providers of sports medicine who try to prevent, diagnose, treat, and rehabilitate injuries. They must pass a rigorous examination before winning the ATC credential.

"A personal trainer handles conditioning and nutrition," said convention attendee Al Green, 59, an athletic trainer at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Fla. "An athletic trainer takes care of the total health of an athlete."

The nature of modern athletic training is suggested by some of the topics of the convention sessions: "Ulnar Collateral Rehab in the Throwing Athlete"; "ACL Repair: One Bundle vs. Two Bundle Technique"; "Is It the Hip or Athletic Pubalgia."

Or the one Annaccone attended on Wednesday: "Preventing Sudden Death During Sport and Physical Activity." In a huge assembly hall, a panel of ATCs explained the latest findings about sudden death from cardiac failure, head injury, and heat stroke. "The Big Three," Annaccone said afterward.

Gone are the days when an athletic trainer mainly wrapped wobbly joints with elastic bandages and kneaded aching limbs with wintergreen liniment. As sports became more popular - and in many places, big business - the focus has shifted to treating injuries.

"Athletes are bigger, stronger, and faster," said Green, who led calisthenics before practice when he began 30 years ago. "And they're playing their sport nonstop, all year round."

The result: an epidemic of overuse injuries. "People are breaking down more often," Green said.

Especially among youth, whose bodies are too young and unprepared for the stress. An orthopedic surgeon Green knows recently rebuilt the knee of a 10-year-old.

And yet, less than half of high schools have full-time athletic trainers who visit for more than an hour a week, Annaccone said.

"If a school has a library, it has a librarian. If it offers math, it has a math teacher. If a school has sports, it makes sense to have a certified athletic trainer on staff," he said. "Otherwise, we're taking big risks with the lives of athletes."

At Clarion, Annaccone is one of three athletic trainers who minister to 425 athletes engaged in 15 sports.

An ATC is part detective, Annaccone said, deducing a diagnosis from a cluster of symptoms, then crafting a recovery and reconditioning plan. But the essential joy is the relationship with athletes, as the ATC shepherds them from injury to health.

"When an athlete goes down and has a season-ending injury, we feel it as well," Annaccone said.

More complicated is the relationship between ATCs and coaches, which can sometimes be "love-hate." Coaches want athletes on the field; ATCs want athletes to heal and to play when their bodies are ready. This can sometimes cause friction and tension.

"As the old-school coaches retire and die, that's changing," Annaccone said. "Now most coaches and their athletic trainers are interested in the same goal - the success and well-being of the athlete."


Contact staff writer Art Carey at 215-854-5606

or acarey@phillynews.com.

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