I am a Certified Athletic Trainer. Many people don’t understand my job. They think all I do is give kids ice and tape their ankles. In the spirit of National Athletic Training Month, let me explain what I do. 

I am a health professional licensed by the Virginia Board of Medicine. My days consist of evaluating, diagnosing, rehabbing, and supporting over 1000 athletes at Centreville High School. I often tell people that I am a hybrid of a paramedic and a physical therapist — ATs are trained in all aspects of emergency care — from the most basic cuts and bruises, to broken bones, neck and head injuries, ligament injuries, and practically everything else in between. When something happens during a practice or a game, or sometimes even during the school day, we are trained to respond. Once we’ve evaluated the situation, we make a plan for continued care. Do we need to call 911? Can we transport with a parent? Can we handle the situation in-house? (Most of the time we can!)

We have a comprehensive concussion program. I rehabilitate and return to play everything from ankle sprains to ACL tears. We have a full service facility with every modality I need to keep our student-athletes healthy. But my job isn’t just focused on the physical side — I also support each student in their journey through high school and beyond. Being a high school athletic trainer is so much more than the definition of my profession. So many times my job has simply been to be a willing ear, a friendly face — my room is a safe place for kids to gather, where they are not judged or pressured or asked to be anything but themselves. 

And this year, with COVID, we have been at the forefront of the battle of finding some sort of normalcy for these students. After a long hiatus away from campus, I started going back to the building full time in the fall, covering workouts, practices, and starting in December, games. It’s been a long uphill slog to try and keep everyone safe. We’ve had cases that have shut down teams for two weeks, we’ve had exposures, we’ve had A LOT of stressful days, but we get through it one day and one situation at a time. 

Our boy’s basketball team even won the 6A Virginia State Championship this year, an incredible accomplishment considering all of the adversity they faced this season. Last year, they would have played in the State Championship, but the game was canceled due to COVID. It was the first blow in a fight that didn’t stop throwing punches, and still hasn’t. So for those kids to come back from that, and battle through injuries and a whirlwind season to win back to back championships? Well, it was really, really special, and something I won’t forget for a long time. 

I absolutely love my job. It is rewarding on so many levels, but this year has been tough, and sometimes I feel that stress more than I should. You know that expression, “don’t worry about the things you can’t control”? I preach it all the time. But I’m really, really bad at following my own advice.

Solo and I have a great jump school — he feels confident and bold!

It’s Saturday morning. My daughter Ryann wakes me up with her cute little morning noises as she plays with her stuffed animals, and reads one of the books that she inevitably stuck in her crib before she went to sleep last night. It’s about 8:30, a little later than normal for her but I’ll take the extra half an hour of sleep. I didn’t go to bed until after 1:00 AM — I was too worked up after a rough football game. 

I have a weekend off finally, but that doesn’t mean I stop working. 

My phone goes off. I have an email from a parent concerned about his kid. I want to respond but decided to call them instead. It’s just easier. I send a flurry of texts to various parents and students checking in after the game. It was a tough loss. Some of my players are banged up — I always try to touch base the next day, just to make sure they’re okay. 

I’ve been doing this job for long enough that I have been on every side of victory. I’ve been part of the big wins, and the equally big losses, but for some reason last night’s loss stung a little bit more. Maybe it’s the shortened season. Maybe it’s COVID. Or, maybe it’s just that I care that much. 

My daughter Ryann loves coming to the barn for Solo time.

I cuddle with Ryann for an hour or so before I get ready to go to the barn. She’s in her highchair eating breakfast when I leave and I have to ignore her crying for ‘Mama’, as I walk out the door. There’s definitely some mom guilt going on. But I need my couple hours at the barn to de-stress. Solo was happy to see me today. He comes running up to me in the field and frisks me for treats. He knows I’m rarely without. He’s happy, and well, and it makes me smile to see him so relaxed. 

I still answer calls and emails and texts while I am tacking up. I feel like my shoulders are in my ears as I go to get on, but as soon as I settle in the saddle the stress just starts to melt away.

I don’t realize I am crying until the wind freezes my tears to my cheeks. It’s cathartic, and it doesn’t last long. The last few weeks have been intense — I’m thankful for an incredible group of co-workers and colleagues, and a wonderfully supportive community. We’re all just trying to do the right thing for these student-athletes, and at times it feels as if we are barely treading water. But, my students always find a way to make me laugh. I’m grateful for them, too. People always talk about finding your ‘why’ — my why has always been my students. To be a part of their journeys is an incredible privilege, and I am so humbled to play a role in their lives, however large or small that role may be. 

 It’s still so darn cold in the morning, and the wind has a bite to it as we start to warm up. I take a few breaths and stop thinking. When I ride Solo I don’t think about anything else. I think about him, the feel of the reins in between my fingers, the weight of his mouth in my hands. As we warm up, I feel the tension in my shoulders relax and I feel myself molding to his gait. I gently move his shoulders left and right, I flex the reins inside and out. I feel his back rise to meet my seat as we both take a huge breath and let go. He’s so relaxed at his new farm that he canters with his nose practically on the ground as we warm up on a loose rein. His step feels free and open and for however long I work on our skills I don’t think about work. I don’t think about being a mom. I don’t think about my dirty house or the things that need to be done or the work I need to catch up on. I just ride.

Solo feels ready for an outing. I’m still not sure what my goals are for 2021. I competed a lot last year, and I think I’m still trying to figure out how to balance my competitive nature with my responsibilities. The only reason I was able to do the Novice Three Day last fall was because I wasn’t working a normal schedule.  I was still going in daily, but the hours were so different because our sports didn’t start until December. Without football in the fall, I was able to take a few days off to achieve my own dream. That’s not a reality this year, so I’m still trying to figure out what I want, and what’s important. There’s part of me that wants to start competing ASAP. But there’s also a part of me that just wants to wing it. To go cross country schooling. To hit some jumper shows. Go for my second level scores for my bronze. To take the pressure off and just do what I want to do, not do what I think I need to do. 

For now, though,  my few precious hours at the barn each week still feel like a sanctuary. They are a breath of fresh air and a safe place in all of this chaos. There are days when I drop Ryann off early at my parents that I wonder if I’m doing the right thing. I question if I am too selfish. I worry I don’t spend enough time with Ryann. 

But at the end of the day I know that I am a better mom, a better wife, a better Athletic Trainer, a better role model, if I take care of myself. And sometimes that means I need those hours at the barn. Just me and my horse. Where I don’t have to be anything but myself for a little while. I can just be Coree. And perhaps that is the greatest gift that Solo gives me every day. That he makes no demands, and has no expectations of me other than to love him, and be fair to him, and give him candy canes.

Pretty sure it’s mostly about the candy canes.

Hacks with friends with these views is the best medicine during these crazy times. We are so lucky to be a part of this incredible farm.