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December 27, 2010 6:57 pm

Flom helps keep Trapper teams moving

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With training room tables filled with student-athletes behind her, Northwest College head athletic trainer Liz Flom tapes an ankle. Flom and the other members of the NWC athletic training office handle the needs of roughly 150 student-athletes throughout the school year. With training room tables filled with student-athletes behind her, Northwest College head athletic trainer Liz Flom tapes an ankle. Flom and the other members of the NWC athletic training office handle the needs of roughly 150 student-athletes throughout the school year. Courtesy photo/David Vaughan

Athletic trainer sees a little bit of everything during the year

Behind every good race car is a skilled mechanic laboring behind the scenes to ensure the engine operates at peak performance. For Northwest College athletic teams, the “mechanic” tasked with keeping the teams performing is athletic trainer Liz Flom.

While she can often be seen on or near the Trappers’ sidelines during athletic contests, much of Flom’s true work takes place behind the scenes and out of the public eye.

 

 

“As an athletic trainer, my primary duty is the prevention, recovery and care of injuries,” Flom said. “That can be anything from the treatment of simple injuries like sprains and cuts to post-op rehabilitation.”

Flom oversees an athletic training staff that includes one part-time trainer and, this season, three regular second-year students at NWC. Collectively, the group can see more than 30 student-athletes per day in the Trappers’ training room during the fall. Fourteen-hour workdays are not uncommon for Flom during that time of the year.

“The fall is the craziest, because that’s when a lot of the athletic activities are going on at the college,” Flom said.

“The volleyball and soccer teams are all competing, and then you have the basketball and wrestling teams that will start practicing. Pretty much everything we have at NWC is in action during those months.”

Altogether, those Trapper athletic programs are comprised of more than 100 student-athletes. Add the Northwest College rodeo team into the calculation and the figure rises to more than 150.

From year to year, it varies which one of those programs provides Flom with the most business. This year, for instance, she’s handled a number of volleyball and wrestling team members pass through her door. One year ago, she was on personal terms with a number of Trapper women’s basketball players. Each sport also provides its own unique set of injuries.

“With soccer this year, there were a lot of ankle injuries and lacerations that you needed to keep closed,” Flom said. “Those are the fun ones, because they make you think sometimes about how to bandage or tape something so that it keeps the injury closed, but doesn’t impede the player’s ability to compete.”

Dislocations are common among wrestlers. Knee and ankle sprains can spring up during basketball or rodeo season. Rodeo can provide just about anything.

“Rodeo is usually one of two extremes,” Flom said. “They’re either not injured and I never see them, or they’re really banged up. You just don’t see those kids with minor sprains. If a rodeo kid comes through the door, it’s usually because he got stepped on by a bull or something. There’s no such thing as a minor injury with rodeo.”

Occasionally, it isn’t even Northwest College student-athletes in need of Flom’s attention. During a recent men’s basketball game against Casper, she found herself suddenly pressed into need when a member of the visiting team suffered a freak broken leg while planting to jump. Flom was one of the first to the victim and helped to stabilize him while waiting for the ambulance crew to arrive.

“Just another day at the office,” Flom said of the incident. “You don’t hear of something like that happening. You certainly don’t expect it to happen. I’ve gone through the vide in slow motion trying to figure out what happened, but that’s one of the things about this job. On any day, pretty much anything can happen.”

Flom describes her route into athletic training as “a series of events.” Growing up in Oregon, Flom always possessed a love for sports, as well as an interest in medicine. By the time she graduated high school, she knew she wanted to get into athletics, somehow.

It was the “how” part of the equation that needed answered.

“I wasn’t too keen about teaching,” Flom said. “And I really didn’t know about coaching. Finally when I was in community college, I heard about athletic training and sports medicine.”

From there, a career was born.

“When I got to my four-year school at Eastern Oregon, I really jumped into it,” said Flom. “They were great. They set up an internship program for me and really walked me through stuff even though I didn’t have much of a background. My first day, I showed up at the start of football practice. I had a lot of enthusiasm, but I’d never taped an ankle in my life. They just walked me through it.”

As athletic trainer for Northwest College, Flom’s duties now range to far more than just taping ankles. For students rehabbing from surgery, she finds herself communicating with physical therapists in planning and executing a recovery and rehab plan.

“It saves money in a lot of cases,” said Flom. “Obviously, we’re limited in some instances by the space and equipment that we have available, but a lot of times we’re able to keep in touch with the PT or set things up where the student meets one or two times a week with the rest of the PT and then spends the other days here doing rehab work with us.”

The result of such collaboration, she notes, is a reduced cost to both the student-athletes and to Northwest College.

During her career, Flom has handled a wide variety of injuries. From routine bruises, scrapes and turf burns to dislocated shoulders. By far though, the injury that leaps to mind when thinking of her job is the dreaded ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury to the knee.

“There’s still such a stigma associated with it,” Flom said, referring to a period of time not so long ago where an ACL injury was viewed as a career-ending injury. “It’s probably the scariest injury, but people need to know that you can make a full recovery now. The medicines and treatments have come a long way. There’s just so much attention and research being given to it.”

Concussions are also gaining more attention as a point of focus in athletic circles.

“They happen more frequently than people think,” Flom said, noting that she actually saw quite a few during the Trappers’ soccer season. “People think of a concussion as a kid blacks out and doesn’t remember something happening, but that’s really just a small part of the picture. A kid can be dizzy, and that’s still a concussion. It really is amazing how many you find when you look for it, and we’re still in a situation where for every one we know about, there’s probably one or two that we don’t know of.”

But, with any injury, diagnosis is just the first step in the process. Flom also frequently finds herself playing motivator while overseeing the rehab process with student-athletes.

“I joke sometimes that a degree in psychology would come in handy,” Flom said. “You’ve got 150 kids, and they’re all different, so you have to try to figure out the best way to motivate and push each one because, even though we’re more the medical side, we work with the kids so much.”

Ultimately though, Flom says it takes a collaborative effort between the student-athlete, the training staff, the team and the coaches. When it all comes together in a successful rehab — a process that can take six to nine months or longer in some cases — it is the most rewarding part of her job.

“Seeing the kids get back out there and helping athletes stay in the game or get back in the game and be successful, that’s what it’s all about,” said Flom. “It’s really been an interesting job. At each stage, there’s been something that’s come along and that makes me appreciate the field even more. It was a smart decision by Northwest College to add a full-time athletic trainer and it’s something nationally that you see more and more schools doing it this way.”

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