An Athletic Trainer's Story

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When we decided to profile an athletic trainer, one particular person came to mind immediately. Having spent time discussing the world of athletic training with him, his fresh perspective on the profession and forward thinking always leaves us impressed. Meet Kevin Robell, an athletic trainer for the highly competitive Stanford University Athletics Department, whose story we’re pleased to share with our readers.

 Like many student athletes, Kevin was first introduced to the world of athletic training by sustaining an injury. After playing baseball for all his life, he suffered a multi-ligament knee injury his senior year of high school. A born athlete, he needed to find a way to restore function, so he took the initiative and set up times to meet with the school’s athletic trainer. Working together, he was able to reach his goal of being back on the field for the post season without any long term residual effects, which sparked his interest in the healing process. What was initially seen as an untimely injury would eventually set the stage for both his academic and professional career.

“I always wanted to do something that helped people, whether it be as a doctor, a physical therapist, or an athletic trainer,” he says. “I wanted to help people reach their goals in the face of adversity. By being an athlete myself, athletic training seemed to be the perfect balance.”

Today, Kevin is an Associate Athletic Trainer at Stanford University, working with the women’s soccer team in the fall and men’s volleyball team in the spring. With 35 varsity sports and over 800 student athletes, the athletic training rooms at Stanford are never without action. The 14 resident athletic trainers can see up to 450 students a day.

In an unplanned turn of events, Kevin has also become the IT liaison for athletic training. While he never pursued IT academically or professionally, he has a keen sense of how to maximize technology and the creativity needed to put it in perspective. “I think the everyday occurrences that you take for granted with respect to computers and in terms of health information mobility definitely apply to athletic training,” says Kevin. “It was just a matter of putting two and two together and creating an opportunity for things to blossom.”

In fact, the relationship between sports medicine and IT and how to harmonize them better has become one of his greatest strengths and interests. “We’re so specialized and skilled and there is so much just sitting there, waiting to be explored by us,” he explains. “There’s still a big gap between IT and sports medicine and merging the two is really exciting. It’s unchartered territory for athletic training and I think it’s primed for a big explosion, especially with chronic illness and injuries at all time highs, it sets the stage for the profession of athletic training to fit in perfectly.”

So how did Kevin end up at one of the country’s most prominent athletic schools? After completing a bachelor degree in athletic training in his home state of California, he went on to have a healthy career as a pitcher in the minor leagues. Signed as a free agent with an independent organization, he put himself on the fast track, never spending more than one year in any given location. “Whether it was being traded or as a personal decision, to reach my goals in the sport I needed to expose myself,” he says. “Those five years took me to 80 to 90 percent of the country.” A journey that eventually led him to South Dakota where he finished his career playing in the prestigious Northern League. The successes he had experienced by that point, allowed him to walk away from the game on his own terms and into a graduate school program for athletic training.

While completing his master’s degree at San Jose State, he worked as a Graduate Assistant Athletic Trainer at Cal State Monterey Bay, which is where his professional sports medicine life began. With seven sports teams, there was only the head athletic trainer and himself. “It was really a great opportunity to learn about the business of college athletic training and exposed me to a lot of different aspects, rather than just the clinical side,” he recalls. “I was also exposed to the administrative side largely because there were just two of us and someone had to handle the injury tracking, secondary insurance billing, as well as medical direction for large community events.”

After completing his research, he accepted a position as an Assistant Athletic Trainer at Saint Mary’s College of California, where he worked with Scott Anderson, the Head Athletic Trainer at the time. “We really saw things similarly, as far as organizational management and what we saw as the utopic athletic training room, how it functions and how it works,” he says. Together the two were able to build what Kevin refers to a comprehensive and unique sports medicine program in respect to the resources that were provided to athletes and the relationship created with the school’s health center. Not surprisingly, when Scott left to accept the Head Athletic Trainer position at Stanford, it wasn’t long before he called Kevin to join him, with the plan to build a similar program. “I think at the time athletic training at Stanford was ripe for a makeover, it was ready to inject some new enthusiasm around athletic training and the role of an athletic trainer,” he says about his 2007 move. A key piece of this has been taking a more progressive approach towards sports medicine by implementing programs that for example identify athletes at risk of injury and analyze athletes’ health over their careers. Having met each other early in their careers and both still at Stanford today, Kevin has now been working with Scott for over 10 years.

From being healed in a “closet facility” with his own athletic trainer as a teenager, to a professional baseball career, to working in one of the most sought after athletic training rooms, Kevin has embraced the athletic world in all its forms and is still looking ahead. “There’s so much about athletic training that doesn’t involve taping an ankle. The best part of my job is I have the opportunity to help move the profession forward in a lot of unique and exciting ways.”

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