Six years after graduation, Summit High alum Rob Courtney back as school’s athletic trainer
Two hours before the Summit Tigers varsity football team’s home opener versus Woodland Park on Friday, the only noticeable addition to Tiger Stadium is a white fold-up table.
The table will be in the same spot 120 minutes later, when hundreds of fans, players, coaches and officials transform this relatively-empty scene into raucous Friday night football under the lights. For first-year Summit High School sports athletic trainer Rob Courtney, this is the gameday office space where he not only helps injured and sore football players during the game action, but also where players from the school’s several teams — whether they be soccer players or football players — walk up to Courtney pregame or post-practice to receive treatment and consultation.
On a typical day, when Summit High School’s 2:55 end-of-day bell rings, Courtney is set to see 15 to 20 athletes either here or in the school’s training room. On busier days, aiding upwards of 30 athletes is not uncommon.
Whoever the athlete and whatever the situation — whether it be taping a half-dozen football players up before a game or darting around at a 16-team rugby tournament — the 24-year-old Summit Cove native has embraced his first month on the job as the athletic trainer, just six years after the former Tiger lacrosse player, football guard and defensive end graduated from the school — the place where he first found his passion for training.
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“It’s really exciting,” Courtney said. “Growing up here and kind of learning about athletic training in that athletic training room — it was kind of, like, the one I always pictured, going through college and stuff. And I never actually thought that I’d be back here, being the athletic trainer.”
The position is one employed through Vail-Summit Orthopaedics, as Courtney succeeds the school’s previous athletic trainer, Steve Sedlak.
Courtney found out about the open position this summer while working at the Keystone Science School. Last year, he worked as one of two athletic trainers at Mountain Vista High School in Highlands Ranch. But when he found out the position at his home school was available, the chance to succeed Sedlak and Drew Chambers — the man who was the athletic trainer while Courtney was still a Tiger athlete — was too good to pass up. It was in Chambers’ athletic training class where Courtney decided he wanted to give the profession a try.
“I just thought it was really cool how you got to see all of these injuries and know how to evaluate them and determine what they are and what’s going on with them without, like, an X-Ray machine, or MRIs, or any really fancy equipment,” Courtney recalled of his high school days. “I thought it was really cool to do it all hands-on. It’s kind of a profession that’s always changing. You never see the same thing every day. And you get to hang out around sports teams and work with athletic people.”
Now teaching Summit High’s athletic training class, Courtney instructs 18 students in the semester-long study on everything from the basics of taping an ankle to the specifics of how the training room functions. As part of the class, students also are required to assist Courtney at a Summit High School athletic game.
Friday night’s football game was the culmination for a long work day for Courtney. On most mornings, Courtney is off due to the requirements of working at the school through the afternoon and evening’s scheduled practices and games.
Prior to the 2:55 end-of-school-day bell, Courtney may receive intermittent contact from athletes or their parents. He said he typically interacts with about a half-dozen parents per week. Some athletes may require evaluation during the school day, but it’s at 2:55 p.m., when the 20-foot-by-20-foot training room he inherited from Sedlak and Chambers becomes inundated by dozens of student-athletes.
Whatever the athlete needs and whatever mood they enter his training room with, Courtney believes the most important part of his job is doing what’s individually necessary to gain the trust of each athlete while also doing what’s necessary to, as he put it, “trust their honesty.”
“The most important thing is knowing your athletes,” he said, “knowing their personalities, knowing when they are having a good day, a bad day, and being able to read them — especially when it comes to head injuries and things like that. It’s a lot easier to suspect a concussion and kind of go through that stuff if you know the athlete and you know he or she’s not acting quite right.”
Courtney said exuding confidence while also being sure to empathize — not sympathize — with athletes is at the core of his job. Courtney learned this athletic training style at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. There, he had the experience of working with a basketball team that advanced to the NCAA Tournament. It’s that kind of in-the-field education that the Summit alum feels prepared him to be ready for such a position at a young age.
During Friday night’s Summit football win versus Woodland Park, Courtney was busy on the sidelines attending to injuries. They ranged from something as small as a bleeding cut on an offensive lineman to something as potentially serious as apparent shoulder and leg injuries to two star offensive players.
Thus far this year, Courtney said injuries have been pretty even across the school’s teams — namely concussions — which he said can be just as common in soccer as in football or rugby. He said he’s also seen concussions in golf and cross-country.
It was at the school’s Sept. 8 rugby tournament when Courtney had his “Welcome to Athletic Training” moment at Summit High. The school’s revered girls rugby team hosted a 16-team tournament with dozens of games. Though sports medical personnel from Avalanche and Vail-Summit Orthopaedics were on hand to assist Courtney, the rookie trainer found himself busy as ever.
“There’s a lot of teams and not too many of us,” Courtney said. “I’d bring them off the field and halfway through (evaluation), someone else would get hurt and I’d have to run back on the field, bring them off, finish the evaluation on the first person and evaluate the next person.
“I kind of like those stressful situations,” he added. “That’s what I work well with.”
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