Whitworth Communications

For Immediate Release

May 11, 2005

Athletic-Training Alumni Share Insights, Experiences

Following are interviews with Whitworth Athletic Training Education Program alumni Mark Gallegos, '97; Melinda Larson, '92; Daren Nystrom, '02; and Chika Hirai, '96, who were profiled in the spring 2005 issue of Whitworth Today, the college's biannual alumni magazine.

Mark Gallegos, '97
Physician assistant at the Southwest Medical Associates Urgent Care Clinic, Las Vegas, Nev. Graduated from the Duke University Physician Assistant Program in 2002.

Q. Why did you major in athletic training? What aspects of Whitworth's Athletic Training Education Program and the field of athletic training appealed to you?

A. I actually transferred to Whitworth specifically for the athletic-training program. I spent 2-and-a-half years at Whitman College prior to transferring. While at Whitman, I took an athletic training course from Julia Duffus (now Julia Dunn), who had graduated from the Whitworth Athletic Training Education Program. I really enjoyed the introductory courses that I took from her, but at that time, the athletic-training program at Whitman had not been fully developed. She suggested I look into transferring to the program at Whitworth, which is how I ended up there.

Q. What are two or three ways in which the Whitworth ATEP prepared you to succeed in your career?

A. Working as a physician assistant in a busy urgent care clinic, I see a large number of orthopedic/musculoskeletal injuries, and my previous athletic-training experience has given me a great deal of confidence treating these patients. I've been able to build on the solid musculoskeletal examination skills I learned at Whitworth by learning other techniques of advanced care, such as reduction of dislocated joints, splinting, joint injections/aspirations and wound care.

Q. Please provide a brief summary of your education/positions since graduating from Whitworth in 1997:

A. After graduating from Whitworth, I spent a year working as a high-school athletic trainer, eight months working for an orthopedic surgeon, and another year and a half working in a physical-therapy clinic. During that time, I took prerequisite classes needed for physician assistant graduate programs. I also volunteered with The Christian Medical Response Team, which is a medical team that provides care at large events as well as medical mission trips. I graduated from the physician assistant program at Duke University in 2002 and currently work as a physician assistant at an urgent-care clinic in Las Vegas, Nev.

Q. What type of work did you conduct on medical mission trips in Honduras and Kosovo?

A. My first trip was to Honduras as a member of the Christian Medical Response Team in November 1998. I was part of a 10-person medical team that was among the first to arrive in the capital city of Tegucigalpa following Hurricane Mitch, which killed over 11,000 people and left thousands of others sick and homeless. The hurricane was devastating to the entire country, and left the infrastructure of the region in ruins. Hundreds of roads and bridges were washed away, and many rural areas were left without food, clean water or medical supplies. Worldvision International sponsored our group, and we were sent to some of the most remote parts of the country. We would set up clinics in these villages and treat a variety of illnesses such as fungal skin infections, gastrointestinal illnesses, respiratory illnesses, and a few cases of malaria and Dengue Fever. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to help the people of Honduras during their time of crisis. This was a truly a life-changing experience that I will never forget.

In the spring of 2000 I traveled to Gjakova, Kosovo, following the war that had taken place there the year before. I spent two months Gjakova, working at the local hospital in their physical therapy and rehabilitation department. We also started a program teaching CPR skills to the hospital staff at this hospital. It is hard to believe that the hospital staff, including many of the physicians, had limited training in basic life support. Every day from 1-4 p.m. we would teach CPR, and we also trained several of the local staff to continue teaching CPR classes after we left.

Q. From your personal experience and the work you've done since graduating from Whitworth, what is the importance and value of having a service-oriented attitude as a professional in the field of athletic training?

A. I feel that to be an effective health-care professional, it is important to express an empathetic and caring attitude toward others and be willing to serve. We all possess a certain knowledge base that allows us to do our jobs. However, those who possess a spirit of servanthood are most effective in touching the hearts of those whom we strive to help. I feel that the athletic-training program at Whitworth emphasizes this in the education of its students.

Melinda Larson, '92
Associate professor and head athletic trainer, Whitworth ATEP. Earned a master's degree in exercise physiology from Florida International University in 1994.

Q. What factors about Whitworth, your experience as an undergraduate in the ATEP, and your career goals led you to return to the college to teach and serve as head athletic trainer?

A. The same factors that brought me to Whitworth as a student were attractive to me as a professor: strong community and a Christian mission. I've always felt a strong need and willingness to be a part of the academic preparation of athletic trainers as a way to be involved in my profession. Athletic training has undergone tremendous academic reform in the past decade and I've enjoyed being a part of that at the on-campus level.

Q. What has been the most challenging aspect of teaching in the ATEP and working as head athletic trainer? What has been most gratifying?

A. Filling the two roles of teaching and providing health care is extremely challenging. Both require major time commitments and physical, mental and emotional effort. The best part about it is that I teach the academic content of athletic training in the classroom and then interact with students in the clinical setting as we experience live instances of what we've just covered in class.

Q. What factors have shaped your philosophy on and approach to teaching and working in the field of athletic training?

A. I have a passion for sports, performance and health care, which makes athletic training the perfect career for me. This love for my profession makes me want to learn as much as I can and share my passion and knowledge with my students. I'm also a very independent and self-motivated person by nature, so I have similar expectations of students and athletes. However, I've learned to relax a bit and appreciate that everyone learns differently, and that's made me a much better teacher as well as health-care provider.

Q. In your experience, what have been the results of challenging your students to learn and accomplish more than they dream is possible?

A. I've seen the results of my high standards in our graduates, usually within one or two years of graduation. Once they finish our athletic-training program and are out in the "real world" and exposed to a different environment, they are able to appreciate how hard they've worked and the value of what they know and their ability to learn. It's rewarding for me to see my students go on to succeed in their post-college lives and careers. I know that I'm a part of their accomplishments and I'm very excited for and deeply proud of them.

Daren Nystrom, '02
Athletic-training intern for the Miami Dolphins pro-football team. Earned a master's degree in kinesiology from Fresno State University in 2004.

Q. Why did you major in athletic-training? What about Whitworth's program and the field of athletic training appealed to you when you were a student at Whitworth?

A. Being a former athlete, I knew I loved sports and I wanted to be around sports, but I knew that I probably wasn't going to come close to making a career out of being a professional athlete. I figured being an athletic trainer was the next best thing because you get to watch sports for a living and help people. Whitworth's program appealed to me because of the reputation it has as being one of the top athletic training education programs in the West, and because of its Christian-based mission.

Q. What are some ways in which the Whitworth ATEP prepared you to succeed in your graduate program?

A. The Whitworth ATEP provided me a professional discipline that I believe was a huge factor in my being able to successfully earn a master's degree. The rigorous program at Whitworth prepared me for the demands of being a graduate assistant at the Division I level, so that when I got to Fresno, the graduate program did not seem difficult at all. Also, at Whitworth I was introduced to working with a diverse student-athlete population, and a one-month study tour to Nishinomiya, Japan, in 2002, really helped to prepare me to work with and relate to the diversity I found at Fresno State.

Q. What was the most challenging aspect of Whitworth's program?

A. For me, the most challenging aspect of Whitworth's program was learning to manage my time. At first, it was difficult to balance my responsibilities as an athletic-training student in the clinical setting and in the classroom. Also, it was frustrating being a student early on and not having the foundation of experience to have answers to the questions my athletes are asking. But as I progressed through the program, those answers and that experience slowly developed and that frustration turned to satisfaction.

Q. What do you like best about working in the field of athletic training?

A. The field of athletic training is fulfilling in so many ways. You are often the only one there with the athlete from the point of injury and you stay with him or her all the way until he or she is able to regain competitive play. No two days are the same; the variety is what keeps me fresh and excited about my work. I am always learning something new, either from the people I work with, the books I read, or the cases I study. The challenge of the job is that the information we as Certified Athletic Trainers use daily is constantly in flux, and we need to keep up on new theories, techniques and research to provide our athletes with the highest level of care.

Q. Please describe your experience working for the Miami Dolphins football team as an intern athletic trainer:

A. Working with the Miami Dolphins, especially this past year, has been a very educational experience. My responsibilities included collecting injury data from each practice/game, along with environmental data and submitting it daily to the National Football League, preparing the field and athletic training room for each practice, helping the staff tape the team prior to each practice and game, providing treatment to the players as needed, implementing rehabilitation protocols established for our injured and post-surgical athletes, traveling with the team to all away games, and setting up the locker room, training room, hotel, and field at each away site. I also maintain the inventory of medical supplies and have the responsibility for logistical preparation and accumulation of medical records for the 2005 NFL Draft and Combine as well as on-field coverage of all pre-, in-, and post-season conditioning and training.

Working with such elite athletes is the most exciting part of the job, along with the relationships I was able to form with them. After awhile, the novelty wears off and you are no longer intimidated by their celebrity. That's when you can really get to know the guys for who they are. I chose to pursue this internship for several reasons, but I think the main reason had to be that I had doubts about whether I would be able to handle the pressure and responsibilities that come with the NFL. I wanted to prove to myself that this was something I could not only get through, but be successful at, and to eliminate any self doubt that I may have had. In that way I feel like my time here has been a success.

Q. What are your long-term career goals?

A. My internship with the Dolphins will end June 1. My wife and I are currently looking for jobs in the collegiate setting in the Pacific Northwest so we can be closer to family and friends. In the long term, working as a full-time certified athletic trainer for a four-year college would be ideal.

Chika Hirai, '96
Athletic-training instructor at Fuji Athletic and Business College in Tokyo, Japan; part-time trainer for R-Body Project, a new fitness club.

Q. Why did you choose to attend Whitworth?

A. At first, I was looking for a small college. Even though I had high enough TOEEL to get into college, I didn't have confidence in my English. I thought that being a part of a small college would make it easier for me to get extra attention when I needed it. I looked for a small college where I could ski nearby and do a pre-physical-training major or sports medicine/athletic-training major. I carefully screened a long list of schools down to five colleges. I decided to attend Whitworth because it was a small Christian college. I wasn't really a Christian, but I knew enough about Christianity and I felt comfortable and safe at a Christian college in the U.S.

Q. Why did you major in athletic training? What about Whitworth's program and the field of athletic training appeal to you?

A. At first, I was interested in physical therapy; however, the teacher at my high school told me there was a field that is like physical therapy but in the field of athletics. Since I was playing many sports in high school, the teacher advised me to look into that. That's the simple reason why I picked the athletic-training major. Actually I didn't know much about Whitworth's program before I enrolled. When I was a senior in high school, we didn't have Internet access and didn't have much information about schools overseas. After arriving at Whitworth, I found out about the ATEP.

After arriving on campus, I visited Russ Richardson to ask about the program, and he was so nice to me. He explained the program to me and what I needed to do to enroll in it. Russ was one of the most appealing aspects of the program to me; he likes Japan, and that made me feel comfortable.

Q. What are someways in which the Whitworth ATEP prepared you to succeed in your career?

A. Russ told me that a good teacher can be a good trainer, and a good trainer can be a good teacher. A good trainer can talk and explain with words that athletes can understand, and a teacher can do the same as she teaches students with words they can understand. In order to ensure that everybody can understand, you need to understand the knowledge well to explain it in many ways. By trying to be a good trainer, I was getting ready to be a teacher at the same time. I am not a good teacher yet, but I kind of knew how to teach when I started to teach right after I graduated from Whitworth.

I was the first and only international student in the ATEP the year I entered the program. However, Whitworth ATEP has an international study program in Japan, and student trainers in the program had been to Japan already. The student trainers knew how to deal with an international student, and they listened to my slow and Japanese-accented English. That helped me a lot to communicate in the training program, and they helped me a lot in the classes, too. Experience in foreign countries changes people's thinking and makes their point of view wider. That is why I think the study tour I lead in the U.S. is a great experience for my students. They can experience another culture and way of thinking that is different from where they grew up.

Since Russ majored in architecture during his undergraduate studies, he taught me about designing facilities. I know all athletic-training students study facility design in their programs, but I felt that I gained something special while I learned facility design from Russ. He loves the training room, and I do, too. When I started to teach in Fuji Athletic & Business College, I was given a blank class for which I could decide what I would teach. Since there are basic classes for athletic trainers already, I chose to teach facility design and modalities. At that time, and even now, there are not many schools that teach facility design in Japanese athletic-training schools. I wanted to share what I learned from Russ with my students. Since the Japanese athletic-training field is way behind the U.S., I know my students will face situations when they need to plan a new training room, and I want them to be prepared to be able to do that.

Q. What was the most challenging/difficult aspect of the program?

A. Speaking and studying in English! I felt if English was my first language, I could do much better. The language made it difficult for me to understand in classes and to communicate with athletes and colleagues.

Q. Which ATEP faculty member most influenced you and in what ways?

A. As you can guess at this point, Russ Richardson had the most influence on me, especially through his thinking and his philosophy. He cared about me so much and helped me so much. He taught me a lot.

Q. Please comment on the study tour you lead to Whitworth and the Pacific Northwest: In what ways is it most valuable to the students from Japan who participate in the tour? As tour leader, in what ways do you most benefit from the experience?

A. One of the objectives for the tour is to study different athletic-training facilities. My students know the facilities in the U.S. are great, but showing them the gorgeous facilities is not my intention. I want them to understand that an institution can make great facilities with a long-term plan, making appropriate presentations to appropriate people, and with ideas and effort, even though you have neither a facility nor money at the beginning. Most athletic trainers need to build up their programs and facilities with a small budget. This tour helps students to think about their ideal facilities by visiting a lot of different places. Whitworth's training room is very good size for Japan. It is not huge, but has everything athletes need. I wanted to show my students the Whitworth training room and let them know we can make this kind of training room in Japan.

Moreover, another objective of the tour is for my students to experience people's kindness. By living in a big city like Tokyo, they forget to be nice to people and to serve athletes. By meeting with athletic trainers in the U.S. who spend their precious time for us to tour around their experiencing another culture gives them a new way of thinking and widens their point of view. I think the tour helps them to grow up as a people.

Q. What do you like best about working/teaching in the field of athletic training?

A. The most fulfilling part of teaching athletic training is when my former students tell me that I have helped them succeed in their careers. At R-Body Project, I really enjoy doing fitness evaluations and planning clients' training programs. It makes me happy when clients benefit from the training.


Russ Richardson, director of the Whitworth Athletic Training Education Program, Whitworth College, (509) 777-3244 or rrichardson@whitworth.edu.

Julie Riddle, public information specialist, Whitworth College, (509) 777-3729 or jriddle@whitworth.edu.

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