Long before “Enter Sandman” echoes through Lane Stadium and football players huddle up for their first play, James Kiefer of Baltimore, a senior majoring in human nutrition, foods and exercise, in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is hard at work.
Kiefer is busy taping injured ankles, molding mouth guards, and doing whatever else it takes to help get the Hokies ready for a big game.
He is one of more than 50 student athletic trainers from the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences who help Virginia Tech sports teams excel while gaining valuable experience for their own careers. Kiefer, for example, is headed to dental school after he gradates in May. Human nutrition, foods and exercise majors make up the bulk of Virginia Tech’s student athletic trainers.
With the spring football game coming up and sports ranging from baseball to track in full swing, the athletic trainers are busy keeping Virginia Tech athletes on the move.
“Students love this program because it gives them hands-on experience that they can’t gain anywhere else,” said Renee Selberg-Eaton, the undergraduate program director for human nutrition, foods and exercise. “Many of our students go on to be doctors, physician assistants, physical therapists, and professional athletic trainers, and they say that their experience here was invaluable.”
Mike Goforth, associate director of athletics for sports medicine, teaches a course during the program, which is coordinated by Katie Baer, a certified athletic trainer. Though students can receive up to three credits for their work as athletic trainers, some continue to work with the teams long after they have earned their credits because they like it so much.
Many, like Colleen Bannigan of Herndon, Va., a junior majoring in human nutrition, foods and exercise, were high school athletes who know what it was like to suffer injuries while playing sports. Bannigan, a former basketball and soccer player, broke 10 bones during her childhood.
“I was always the one in the training room, so I can relate to the athletes really well,” said Bannigan, a student athletic trainer for the women’s soccer team.
Bannigan says 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 surgery firsthand. Her goal is to get an internship in the athletic department of a National Football League team.
“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 of Fairfax, Va., a junior majoring in human nutrition, foods and exercise, works with the swim team, which means being in the locker rooms before most students are awake. But for Cosgrove, who wants to go into physical therapy or athletic training, the experience is priceless.
“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."