My nephew will never be on a Wheaties box. He won’t be on the cover of Sports Illustrated, either, and he won’t be in a team picture that glows with the warmth of broad, confident smiles at the end of a championship season.
Nonetheless, he works just as hard and puts in just as much time, dedicating himself to college sports at his Division I school as do many of the athletes whose natural talents and achievements thousands of students, alumni and fans applaud at arenas, fields and stadiums around the country.
My nephew is an emergency medical technician and is studying the field of kinesiology, which is the science of human movement. Someday he will either be a doctor, a trainer or some combination thereof where his knowledge of the way the body works will enable him to help athletes and nonathletes alike overcome injuries, stresses and strains or their own physical challenges.
He is a part of the team behind the team. He doesn’t lead chants and he doesn’t scream for the adoring fans to get out of their seats. He helps get athletes back on their feet again back in the stadium, and back to doing what they love when the inevitable battle of wills brings two people into the same space at the same time.
Every morning he gets up some time around sunrise, as he slowly slinks out of his dorm room to the training center. There, he waits patiently, hoping his services aren’t necessary but ready, willing and able to help any of the injured athletes who need immediate medical attention.
He is like so many of the other medical and emergency response crews who close their eyes not knowing whether they’ll be able to rest for two minutes, two hours or 10 hours when they go to sleep.
He works with amateur athletes who might one day make an Olympic team, a professional team, set a school record in an athletic event or simply bring glory to his college for one magnificent day. He dedicates himself, day after day, to his fellow students.
We recently visited him at his school, where he had a rare day off because the team he’s helping didn’t need him that day. We twisted his arm to watch a softball game on an unusually cold afternoon.
The team played a doubleheader. My nephew saw his counterpart on the field during the first game of the doubleheader. The next day, he said he found out that his friend arrived two hours before the first game and didn’t leave until at least an hour after the second game ended, which means he spent about nine hours of a weekend day focused on supporting these athletes.
This is great training, building his professional endurance, giving him opportunities to see sports injuries — and helping him figure out where on the medical sports spectrum he’d like to dedicate himself. Still, I couldn’t help remembering some of the slow, lazy mornings in college, the hours tossing a baseball back and forth on a lawn, and the carefree joy of watching my school’s hockey team win a big game. My nephew, by choice, spends hours he could be studying or hanging out with buddies playing an important supportive role well behind the bench.
Athletes defy gravity, each other and their own limitations to become the kinds of heroes we celebrate each day. At the same time, when those limitations catch up with them, they turn to people like my nephew and a deep bench of medical talent to bring them back to the games they love. My nephew may not be on the field but he, like so many others at these big schools with winning athletic programs, plays an important role off of it.