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'It's what I love doing': Athletic trainer a versatile role in high school sports
Diane King
South Forsyth High School athletic trainer Diane King, left, evaluates a player's injury during a football game. King started working with the school in 2009 and is the longest-tenured athletic trainer in the county. Photo submitted

Aubre True dealt with so many injuries while in high school that her athletic trainer ultimately offered her an internship.

She broke her nose and her thumb, she sprained her ankle more than once, and she currently has no meniscus in her left knee.

"He eventually told me, 'You know, you're in here a lot. You might as well take advantage of it,'" True remembers. "So, he offered me an internship and I worked during the fall sports, and then I had a winter sport and spring sport that I was actively in. I just found out, 'This is what you do,' and I was just like, 'Yes. This is really what I want to do.' I've loved it ever since."

March is National Athletic Training Month, an initiative to spread awareness about the work of athletic trainers, according to the National Athletic Trainers' Association.

True is part of a two-person team at North Forsyth High School, where she and Sydney Turner provide physical and mental health care for North's athletes.

"Even if it's not a big injury or a long-term injury, like an ankle sprain, just getting them in their last game and seeing that athlete return to something they love so much and be confident in it is one of the most rewarding things in our job," Turner said.

Each Forsyth County school is covered by an athletic trainer through three different networks: Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Northside Sports Medicine Network and Atlanta Rehab.

Diane King has worked with South Forsyth High School since 2009. 

Back then, she worked part-time and would stop by the school once a week for injury checks, then again to cover Friday night football games. 

"So, it basically left a couple of hours on a Tuesday to come by and check somebody out and make a recommendation or something like that, but we never really had a relationship," King said. "So, that is what we've all started to build at the schools and stuff, with all the athletic trainers. I feel like we all feel like we have a relationship with the school, with the kids and with the community."

Four years later, King became the school's first full-time athletic trainer.

Now, athletic trainers travel with the teams, cover summer practices, and are even available at some middle school events. 

"My phone starts ringing at 7:30 in the morning," King said. "A coach or a parent or somebody is asking me something about a kid. I'm trying to get doctor's appointments set up for people and stuff like that. It's what I love doing."

Availability has changed, and so have the types of care athletic trainers provide. 

In addition to providing preventative care and treating physical injuries, athletic trainers also address athletes' mental health.

"Mental health is the No. 1 priority, because they can be as strong as they want to be coming back, stronger than they were before they were injured, but if they're not mentally there, they're not going to be able to participate to the ability that they want to," West Forsyth High School athletic trainer Lena Davis said. "So, my main focus is making sure that they're talking to either me or someone they trust and getting it out and not holding it in. If they hold it in, they're not going to be able to accomplish anything."

Your worth is not based on what you do on the field. Your worth is not based on how many wins and losses you have.
Diane King, South Forsyth High School athletic trainer

Building relationships with those athletes is paramount to letting athletic trainers address the full scope of the injury.

"A lot of it has to do with just listening to them and just making sure that they feel like they can talk to me," Davis said. "I'll make sure that nobody else is in the room if they don't want anybody else in the room and it's just one-on-one, and I'll promise that I won't tell anybody unless it's imperative that I do. Then just them seeing me interact with other people who are injured. They kind of see that relationship that we've built, so they can then feel more comfortable relying on me."

Oftentimes, True said, she will have an athlete stand in the spot where they were injured as part of the rehabilitation.

Even outside of injuries, seniors come to the athletic training room to talk to her and Turner about their day. That leads to discussions about certain anxieties, such as not receiving a college scholarship or simply feeling overwhelmed with school and athletics. 

"At the end of the day, they know we're not going to sit here and make them feel like we're choosing sides," True said. "We're good ears for them to just bounce ideas off of and just feel relaxed in this space. That's a big thing we try to create here in the training room, is just a very safe environment for all of the athletes no matter what the issue is."

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Turner_True
North Forsyth athletic trainers Sydney Turner, left, and Aubre True. "We're here for more than just Band-Aids and ankle tape," True said. "We save them money at the end of the day, and we do care about the kids. We're the first line of defense in their healthcare." - photo by David Roberts

True and Turner are careful while having those discussions not to assume that athlete is going to play sports in college — or is even planning on going to college.

The point at which a person's athletic career ends can be especially daunting.

"That's another mental health issue that we deal with," King said. "Their only identity is with their sport, and when it's time to hang up the cleats or whatever, how do you transition safely — not getting into the wrong crowd and all that stuff? Because there's plenty of times when we've tried to hold on to kids, because we know if they don't stay in sports, they're probably going to get into drugs and go down the wrong path and stuff. 

"That's a big one at all levels. The senior who has an ACL tear and they're never going to finish their season and they're never going to finish their high school career and they probably won't even have a chance to play collegiately anymore because of this injury. How to help them get through to, your worth is not based on what you do on the field. Your worth is not based on how many wins and losses you have and stuff like that."

Davis ultimately faced that reality herself. She tore her ACL in high school while playing soccer and later chose to focus solely on academics in college.

Davis admits she had no clue what an athletic trainer does until she got to college — the county where she grew up had one athletic trainer for four high schools — but being able to guide athletes through their rehabilitation and see them back on the field is particularly fulfilling for her.

She served as a graduate assistant at West Forsyth while earning her master's degree, and the end of this school year will mark her sixth year at the school.

Davis was recognized in November by the Forsyth County Fire Department for administering life-saving treatment on West head football coach Dave Svehla in July 2020.

Svehla went into cardiac arrest in the field house near the stadium and Davis and her co-worker at the time, Paul Buurman, immediately called 911. Meanwhile, Davis sprang into action, using CPR and an automated external defibrillator to help Svehla regain consciousness. 

"I don't want to say it was simple, but thankfully with all the training that we get, it's kind of like you just revert back to your education and blank everything else out," Davis said. "You just go into that mode of doing what you're taught. Thankfully it was a positive case."

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Dave Svehla Fire Department
West Forsyth High School athletic trainer Lena Davis and head football coach Dave Svehla embrace as she receives a citizen life saved award for her actions after Svehla had chest pains and a cardiac event in 2020.

There are good days and bad days in the world of athletic training.

The good days, True says, are when she can watch the games as a spectator, supporting the athletes she's come to know over the years.

"The hard days are when I just had to tell a kid that they're out for the season because they just fractured something. Those days are going to happen," True said. "You can be upset, but you just have to keep it together. You have to be able to do that, and that just comes with practice, because if you're falling apart because you're emotionally invested in your athletes, they're going to fall apart. You are their base and foundation when they're devastated because of something serious that just happened."

The best days, however, are when that athlete returns to the field, able to play the game they love.

"We had senior night last night and we had a bunch of tears," Turner said. "One of our girls who tore her ACL, she got to go kick the ball even though she's not even a month out. At that point, it's just support — even when tears are flowing. I feel like it's just support, 'You did great. What a career.' Just support them on their next goal."