Sports injuries becoming scary reality for more college athletes

April 26, 2012


News Reporter


An athlete’s worst nightmare is to become injured. Not knowing whether you’ll be as good as you ever were or, in some extreme cases, if you will ever be able to compete again.


Nataliya Panova, a senior accounting major and volleyball player, said troubles with her injury started in her freshman season at the University of Houston.


“It was the very beginning of spring season, sometime in January,” Panova said. “We were lifting weights in the gym, and while pushing up the weights, my shoulder started burning a lot.”


Two months later she transferred to Tech where she played one season, but she said the pain in her shoulder became too unbearable. As a result she was administered a regular MRI, then a MRI with ink, which revealed she had a torn rotator cuff. Within a couple days she had a surgery.


“I never fully recovered after that surgery,” Panova said. “I didn’t start hitting the ball again until about 12-14 months later.”


During the rehabilitation phase, she said she didn’t get the kind of support she was expecting from her teammates. However, she said she remained positive with the support of her coach and kept hoping the future things would be better. She said she soon had to accept the dreaded defeat.


“The worst for me was two years ago when I realized I could not be as good as I used to be,” she said. “It’s still hard even today, three to four months since my last season. Every day I think about it, wishing I could have one more season.”


Panova’s disappointment of being injured is something Kevin Sherry, the head coach of the Tech women’s soccer team, said he shares with his athletes when they get hurt.


“It’s frustrating and it is something you have to live with,” Sherry said. “The coach is like a player; we feel almost the same emotions that the players feel.”


Sherry said it is really disheartening and difficult when star players get injured. He further explained that if an athlete can’t overcome injury problems at the college level, it’s simply time to move on.


“We had five strikers, and all five were injured last year,” Sherry said. “It’s like American football, if they have four quarterbacks and all four are injured, they are screwed.”


He said one of the first questions a coach asks the trainer when an athlete gets hurt is, “How long will it take for them to recover?”


Sherry said he is limited with the number of athletes on his squad, and every time a player is out, it hurts the team. He also said as a coach there isn’t much he can do to help an athlete recover from an injury.


“I help by having them involved in the practice so they can be in daily communication with the players so they won’t be looked on like strangers,” Sherry said. “And mentally it keeps them motivated to continue doing the rehab.”


Keith Bunch, head athletic trainer, agrees with Sherry and Panova that an athlete may recover physically, but there is usually a gap to be filled with mental rehabilitation. Bunch said his staff is not trained professionally to help athletes recover mentally but they do try to be as supportive as possible.


“I think the biggest thing in trying to deal with mental aspects is being encouraging to the student athlete and getting them to see the small things we see as progress,” Bunch said.


Another problem some athletes may face is cardiac-related illness. Bunch said each athlete at Tech is required to have a medical checkup at spring physicals before they can start the season. He said regular check-ups throughout the season would be great but the practice is not popular within the athletic community.


“I think if you haven’t had a heart condition in the past six months since you’ve had that physical, I don’t know if there is any research to support developing one within the last six months,” Bunch said.


Many people on the outside world of an athlete may never understand the life of an injured athlete. However, Bunch said he knows how an injured athlete feels from working with them.


“It is devastating mentally to an athlete to go from a state of being very physically active in a sport to being what they might consider completely debilitated and removed from that sport,” Bunch said.


Email comments to ahg007@latech.edu.



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