Westosha Central’s Jenna Leslie (left) receives an explanation of her knee injury from Licensed Athletic Trainer Eliza Barter, an employee of Athletico, in the school’s training room (Jason Arndt/The Report).

Athletic trainers work with student athletes to keep them in play

By Jason Arndt

Whenever student-athletes experience an injury, either during a game or at practice, a licensed athletic trainer is most likely the first medical professional to respond.

Responding to an injury, however, is only one of many duties athletic trainers have.

According to the National Athletic Training Association, which recognizes March as National Athletic Training Month, athletic trainers play a critical role in helping athletes of all ages.

“Athletic training encompasses the prevention, examination, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of emergent, acute or chronic injuries and medical conditions,” NATA states.

Athletic trainers are recognized by the American Medical Association, Health Resources Services Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services as an allied health care profession, the national organization notes.

Locally, each high school employs an athletic trainer responsible for meeting the needs of student-athletes, including Westosha Central and Wilmot.

Bryce Sekey, a Westosha Central wrestler, performs stretches under observation from Licensed Athletic Trainer Eliza Barter (Jason Arndt/The Report).

Eliza Barter, an employee at Athletico, earned a degree at Carthage College in Kenosha before she became Westosha Central’s athletic trainer in 2017.

She, like other high school athletic trainers, mainly work home contests and meet the needs of visiting student-athletes.

Barter, who played sports herself, said she always wanted to enter the healthcare field.

“Because I played sports myself, my parents introduced me to their friend who was an athletic trainer for the Chicago Bulls at the time,” she said. “After I learned about the profession, I decided it was perfect for me, because I love sports myself.”

Nikolai Laitamaki, who works for Aurora Health Care and has served as Wilmot’s athletic trainer for 20 years, had an interest in biology and sports and believed athletic training was an ideal avenue.

“I always enjoyed biology and how the body works,” he said.

Laitamaki received his bachelor’s degree from Mt. Senario College in Ladysmith.

The two athletic trainers, meanwhile, spend most of their time helping student-athletes with injury prevention, such as taping up ankles before practices and games.

As for ankles, they agreed sprains are the most common injury.

“It is common because it is a repeated injury, where the ligament is stretched,” Barter said.

Of all sports, football is the most challenging, according to both athletic trainers.

“I would say football, just because of the volume of kids. You got 22 kids out there at once and the speed of play nowadays is much faster,” Laitamaki said.

“Football is generally the most challenging because of how many athletes there are. The volume of injury and severity can also be greater on the football field making it the busiest season, along with injuries that come with all of the other sports,” said Barter.

“I usually run across the field multiple times a game.”

Barter finds the spring season just as challenging because many sporting events are happening at the same time.

“Once there is a balance though, it is really fun,” she said.

Immediate response

Nikolai Laitamaki, who works for Aurora Health Care, has served as Wilmot Union High School’s licensed athletic trainer for about 20 years (Jason Arndt/The Report)

Last December, Westosha Central junior Jenna Leslie experienced her first career injury while playing in a girls basketball contest at Wilmot.

Leslie’s mother, Kris, remembered when Jenna injured her knee and seeing a quick response from Laitamaki.

“It was kind of shocking to see her down at middle court and I saw her being taken by Nikolai. I went right down there, of course, and he had her on the bench was assessing her,” Kris said. “I felt good because he knew what he was doing.”

Jenna, meanwhile, recalled Laitamaki’s initial assessment.

“He first made me walk, asking me how it felt, and then he told me what it could be and what I should look out for the next day,” Jenna said.

“It didn’t seem so bad at the time because I could walk on it right after it happened.”

Jenna, who reportedly has a high pain tolerance, missed a handful of games before returning to the court, but reinjured her knee during an invitational at Carthage College.

Doctors later learned she had a torn meniscus and required surgery.

“It was torn so bad that they removed the entire meniscus,” Kris said. “It is really a lifelong devastating injury that happened to her.”

Despite the injury, the Leslies credit Barter for her ongoing support, including referrals to specialists.

Barter referred Jenna to Comprehensive Orthopedics and Athletico Physical Therapy.

“Both of those connections she gave us were very helpful because we wouldn’t where to go otherwise,” Kris said.

Additionally, Barter continues to offer Jenna and Kris emotional support, like helping Jenna comprehend the injury.

“She has just been checking up on me every time I come into her office after school and asking me how it feels,” Jenna said. “Eliza has helped me out a lot explaining things.”

“Eliza has been good because she has come up to me and just reassuring me,” Kris said.

Barter acknowledged an injury not only affects players physically, but also mentally, especially if they are out for the season.

“They really connect with their sport and it can affect them emotionally as much as physically,” she said.

Although she missed the rest of basketball season, Jenna hopes to play next year, if she can tolerate the pain.

“Eventually I will have to get something put in my knee, so it is not bone on bone all of the time,” Jenna said.

Ongoing support
Laitamaki diligently responds to the needs of athletes who face a recovery process at Wilmot.

“I try to be involved as much as I can, a lot of times what they will end doing is if they need to be seen by a physician and take physical therapy, I show them where to go,” he said. “I help out in between when necessary.”

Laitamaki said it is important to monitor any sports injury regardless of how minor it could be at the time because conditions can change.

“Things change from game night to the next time you see the person, so you just basically redo an evaluation and come up with what is going on.”


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