Rolling Out the Tape
After several years of discussion, the UCLA Club Sports Athletic Training Center finally opened January 2015 under the supervision of Tony Spino, the director of Athletic Training Services. Joined by intern Jonathan Wu and part-time trainer Tracy Ayers, the three-person crew treats club athletes. Daily Bruin Sports visited UCSB’s club sports training center, a source of inspiration for Spino, to see what UCLA’s center could develop into in the future.
In his 37 years as a trainer for UCLA Athletics, Tony Spino had interacted sparingly with Club Sports.
So, when Executive Director of Recreation Mick Deluca sent him a message in 2013 asking to talk about a sports medicine program, Spino had no idea that a year later he’d be in charge of taking the program’s fledgling training center off the ground.
“This was a need that I didn’t even know existed. I was over (at NCAA training) for 38 years, and I didn’t even know (that there wasn’t a Club Sports program),” he said. “I thought these kids just got taken care of.”
When Spino joined in September of that year, the Club Sports Athletic Training Center was but an idea. UCLA Recreation had started a sports medicine training program five years earlier, hiring part-time sports trainers to work on athletes at Club Sports events. Their eventual goal was to expand the program into a more comprehensive one, centered around a training room that the 2,000-odd Club Sports athletes could go to for treatment on an ad-hoc basis. However, a lack of space had caused that goal to “stagnate,” said Chief Compliance Officer Jason Zeck.
The deadlock ended with the completion of Yates Gymnasium a few months before Spino came on board. The new gymnasium, located near the entrance of Wooden Center, includes a locker room for the women’s gymnastics team. That in turn opened up the team’s previous locker room – a small room located in a hallway between Pardee Gym and Collins Court. After some debate with the Recreation’s Facilities department, permission was granted to convert the locker room into a training center for club sports medicine.
At approximately 500 square feet, the room was a far cry from Spino’s much larger former workplace at Acosta Athletics Center. It was approximately half the size of the club sports training room at UC Santa Barbara – which Spino had visited when developing ideas for opening UCLA’s center in 2013. But it was a physical space, and that alone was a step in the right direction.
Jonathan Wu, a 2014 UCLA graduate, had worked with Tony Spino in 2012 as an intern for the UCLA Athletics Sports Medicine program. When Spino offered him the chance to work in the new facility after graduation, Wu accepted and became the second man in the center’s fight to take off the ground.
When Wu joined the center, the proposed space was still in the process of being converted from a locker room. Shower heads and lockers still adorned the walls, and a dividing segment split the room in two.
Rudy Figueroa, assistant director of student recreation venues, in charge of the construction from the Facilities side, faced quite the challenge. Both the limited budget – $50,000 for the entire project – and the characteristics of the room’s walls provided constraints to the Facilities team.
“There were water (pipes), load-bearing walls and a lot of other things we had to take into consideration (when tearing down walls),” Figueroa said. “We started almost playing Tetris after a point.”
After the space had been cleared, the ball moved into Brian Smith’s court. As the director of competitive sports, Smith worked with Spino to fill the space with equipment.
Operating on a $25,000 budget, Smith used measuring tape and handwritten calculations to solve the “jigsaw puzzle” of fitting the necessary equipment into the room.
By late 2014, construction in the room began to wind down and the center finally opened for operation. Over a year had passed since Spino joined UCLA Recreation and several months since Wu came on board. As 2015 arrived, the center went fully live. For Spino, the center’s opening was reminiscent of his start at UCLA Athletics.
“I remember how small we were when I started (at Athletics) – we had three trainers for all of men’s sports,” Spino said. “So, I know how to start small and build up. I think the biggest challenge was just going back and (telling myself), ‘It’s going to start small, it’s going to take a while to get big.’”
One of the initial hurdles the center faced was outreach. There are approximately 700 club sports athletes competing in impact sports, a list that includes lacrosse, rugby and ice hockey, among others. As a prerequisite for working with these athletes, the center needed a physical from each one of them – a first for many of the teams involved. The two-month-long task of informing and overseeing the completion of these physicals fell on Smith, who called it a “logistical nightmare.”
During that time, Spino and Wu, along with part-time athletic trainer Tracy Ayers, scrambled to deal with the various day-to-day challenges of running the center. The limited staff did everything from treating the 25-odd student-athletes who came by per day from inputting information into the database to outreach and other administrative work.
Difficulties forecasting first-year service levels and spending also hampered the center, Wu said. Unless they have severe injuries, athletes had to provide their own athletic tape as the center doesn’t have the funding to provide tape for all athletes. Furthermore, plumbing challenges meant the whirlpool tub has been non-operational to this date.
Despite these limitations, the center has provided a step-change in the level of service afforded to club athletes, Zeck said. Before its inception, Club Sports athletes had to go to the Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center or their primary care providers for ice packs, treatment advice or taping services. They can now have these services performed at the Training Center from 5 to 9 p.m. Club athletes no longer have to play through possible concussions – they can now get baseline testing and diagnosis at the center. Long waiting times to see doctors were once common for athletes with severe injuries. Because of Spino’s connections in the Ashe Center, athletes can now rapidly be seen by former Athletics physicians.
Spino is also working to start up a student internship program similar to the UCLA Athletics Sports Medicine internship, which Ayers said she hopes will provide an excellent opportunity for students to get hands-on experience.
“I think we provide a valuable service, and we want people to come here,” Ayers said. “We want people to come in and use the facility.”
As the end of the school year nears, the center has successfully made it off the ground. But challenges still loom ahead.
Both Wu and Spino said they have seen the center begin to outgrow its space, but there are no clear plans for expansion in the near future. Staffing is also an issue, with both Ayers and Smith expressing their desire for a full-time trainer to provide comprehensive coverage. Finally, with Spino retiring in 2016, the center will have to find a new manager.
Despite these obstacles, optimism emanates from those involved with the center.
For Spino, the pleasure lies in his vision for the center’s future.
“It might be a slow, long process, as I’ve told the very first athletes,” he said. “This is something that will really benefit the kids who come after.”
Wu’s feelings toward the center are bittersweet, as he will be leaving to attend medical school next year.
“It feels great to be part of something that’s totally new, but very necessary for Club Sports,” he said. “These students are practicing every day, competing at the highest level for their sport. They deserve this.”
Club rugby player Michelle Rodriguez said she uses the Club Sports Athletic Training Center every day to receive icing, heating, and electrical stimulation on her right shoulder, which she injured in March. (Daniel Alcazar/Daily Bruin)
Tracy Ayers knows that for any athlete, club or varsity, an injury can be devastating.
“People come to me when they’re at their worst, when they’re really really hurt and they’re scared. Granted, it’s not an NCAA sport but this means a lot to them, I mean, these kids dedicate a lot of time,” said Ayers, the athletic trainer at the new Club Sports Athletic Training Center. “And you do it because you love it so much, you have to do it.”
Two athletes who have experience with those scary moments are fourth-years Michelle Rodriguez, an art history student on the women’s club rugby team, and Kyle Knoll, a German and history student on the men’s club rowing team.
Ayers sees many club athletes cycle in and out of the training facility, which opened in January in the John Wooden Center, when they need help with injuries. But some, like Rodriguez and Knoll, are in there every day in hopes that they can continue participating in their respective sports.
Shouldering the weight
Rodriguez did not think much before joining the club rugby team.
As she perused the Activities Fair last September at the start of her senior year, Rodriguez was asked to join by a couple current players. Knowing almost nothing about rugby, she said yes.
“It was the most impulsive decision I’ve ever made,” Rodriguez said. “But it turned out to be a really good stress reliever and I’ve met a lot of really awesome women. It just really worked out.”
Not everything went well, though. Within her first two months in the sport, Rodriguez sustained a concussion.
After being dragged down by two opposing players at a tournament in San Diego last November, Rodriguez blacked out momentarily as her head crashed against the ground.
Minutes after the game ended, the athletic trainer present at the tournament informed her she had a concussion.
When she got back to UCLA, Rodriguez assumed it would be easy to make an appointment with the sports medicine doctor at the Ashe Center. She was wrong.
Rodriguez said she wasn’t able to see Dr. Dena Florczyk, Ashe’s provider of sports medicine care, for her concussion because Florczyk was not Rodriguez’s primary care doctor.
“I had to go through my primary care doctor,” Rodriguez said. “I ended up getting taken care of but it was a very complicated process.”
That was before the Club Sports Athletic Training Center opened.
When Rodriguez injured her right shoulder during a game in March, she found it easier to meet with Florczyk than it had been in the fall. Ayers was able to quickly refer Rodriguez to Florczyk for treatment.
“It was really nice when I did see Dr. Florczyk for my shoulder for her to be able to understand that this is specifically for an athlete,” Rodriguez said. “I think it just made things easier when Tracy came in.”
Besides receiving a referral to Florczyk after her injury, Rodriguez began to visit Ayers at the center every weekday to receive heating, icing and electronic muscle stimulation.
Although she did stop wearing her backpack over her right shoulder, Rodriguez found that the treatment curbed any restrictions caused by the injury.
“I can tell that she really didn’t want to limit me with what I could and couldn’t do,” Rodriguez said. “So she would help me find stretches and would … (give) me (electrical stimulation) and ice me and heat me up so I can continue to play.”
Rodriguez said Ayers’ presence was essential as she tried to work through the injury.
“Without her, I think it definitely would have gotten worse because I would have tried to figure it out on my own,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t know anything about my own body, about the mechanics of it.”
Ayers is now helping Rodriguez prepare to attend a rugby camp in Colorado where she will play with many members of the national team.
“My mom was super excited when she thought the season was over,” Rodriguez said. “And then I said, ‘Well, I might join a club or something.’ I think it’s a lot of people’s dreams to be able to say they played for the national team.”
For Knoll, injury prevention is a daily habit.
“When you do higher-level athletics, part of being an athlete is knowing that it’s not just all the fun stuff, it’s the whole thing,” Knoll said. “You can’t have the rowing in the morning and all the hard training and everything without the maintenance on the other end. Learning that is part of maturing as an athlete.”
Knoll said he didn’t fully learn that until he faced a frustrating injury last year.
Years of competitive high school volleyball had taken their toll on his elbow, causing loose bone fragments and cartilage to float around the joint.
In his third year of rowing at UCLA, Knoll found that he couldn’t fully straighten his elbow.
Before he could meet with the sports doctor he sought, however, Knoll had to make it through several hurdles in the medical system.
“I knew I was injured and I saw the main doctor, but I had to have a gap before I could get the sports doctor,” Knoll said. “Had the (club sports) training center been there, I’m not saying it would have prevented the injury, but it would have made the process for getting a referral to Ashe Center and going down that road to surgery much easier.”
The injury and resulting surgery forced Knoll to miss his entire junior season of racing.
“You never really realize how much things matter to you until you don’t have them,” Knoll said.
So now, as he prepares to compete with the varsity four boat at the national championships in Georgia over Memorial Day weekend, Knoll spends half an hour each day in the Club Sports Athletic Training Center working to prevent another devastating injury.
“The most important thing you can learn is that you have to do it every day, or you have to do it as frequently as you can,” Knoll said. “There’s no real magic thing that’s going to fix your injuries except constantly paying attention to them, knowing your body and just giving them the care and the service that they need.”
With the help of Ayers, Knoll is able to receive ice every day, a task that was trickier before the center opened.
“Before the athletic training center was open, all the icing and things that you had to do was basically buying an ice pack and keeping it in your freezer at your apartment. Or maybe trying to pawn ice from the A-level of the Ackerman food court and trying to get it out of the ice machine and rub it all over yourself,” Knoll said. “So as soon as the center opened, I’ve been in there every day just to do a lot of preventative things. … I’ve definitely had better quality of life both athletically and just walking around.”
As for his ability to see Florczyk at the Ashe Center, Knoll said it’s easier these days because of the new training center.
“This year, when I’ve had little injuries that I wanted to get seen for, at the training center I could get a referral for the next day to the sports doctor in Ashe,” Knoll said. “All those little things over time prevent large injuries like the one that I had last year.”
As the chair of the club sports executive council, Knoll said he has been able to appreciate the progress of the center.
“I’ve seen it grow from an idea three years ago to being open and being usable now. I’m just extremely grateful that it’s open and extremely grateful to the university and the department for putting the effort into it and the funding,” Knoll said. “It makes a huge difference. I don’t know if I would be on the water without the training center.”
Clara Goin walked into the athletic training room in the Robertson Gymnasium at UC Santa Barbara an hour before her soccer match. For the second-year biology student, coming to the center has been a routine occurrence for her the last few weeks.
“Currently I am injured but have been here for almost the past two weeks, like every day,” Goin said. “But otherwise I come in here to just get some ice so I don’t feel tight anymore. I usually come in here twice a week.”
Goin was not the only player from her team who went to the center to an athletic trainer that morning. Six other players from Goin’s team walked into the room looking for treatment for their various injuries.
“Currently we’re all kind of injured right now. There are 10 of us now that are coming in (the athletic training room) every day,” Goin said. “There is always someone who has a rolled ankle or wants to get ice after a tournament.”
While having this many injuries for just one sport might sound troubling, the room was ready. With five student athletic trainers there before the soccer match to service the team, all the athletes were treated and taken care of.
This was of the many reasons that the Director of Athletic Training Services at UCLA, Tony Spino, decided that UCSB’s program was going to be one of the models for the new club sports athletic training room in the John Wooden Center.
Spino said he knew that he needed to go to look at a successful program that had a relatively smaller budget compared to an NCAA facility. USCB fit the bill, and more.
The athletic training program for club sports at UCSB started in a trailer back in the early 1990s. As UCSB’s recreation department saw the importance and need, more and more focus went in the program. When a new recreation center opened up in 1995, space opened up in the Robertson Gymnasium for the center to be moved into.
The facility currently houses two full time trainers and 33 student athletic trainers, servicing more than 950 club athletes from across 24 club sports.
“Our center rivals any Division 1 program,” said UCSB head athletic trainer Rob Wang.
The center features five treatment tables, two wrapping benches, several modality machines and a whirl pool station, which means it meets the needs of all of the club sports athletes at UCSB, said Wang.
“It’s vital. I don’t know what I would do without it,” said Todd Heil, the women’s club soccer coach.
In addition to all of the services the athletic training facility offers, it also has a student athletic trainer’s internship, much like the internship at UCLA’s Acosta Athletic Complex. Whereas Acosta deals with NCAA athletes, UCSB has internship programs for both NCAA athletes and club sports.
The club sports athletic internship is set up so that there at least two student trainers
at all the practices and home events, and with high impact sports, the student trainers will travel with the team.
“They get to know the student athletes, instead of a different trainer having to look a different injury every single time,” Heil said. “It is really incredibly important that you
Spino said it is his goal to set up an internship program similar to UCSB and Acosta, but that there are certain hurdles that they must surpass, such as funding and hiring at least two full-time trainers.
Wang said UCSB has been fortunate with its program and center. He said UCSB recognizes the importance of having the center for club athletes, and making sure the students are safe and healthy. It is because of this, Wang said, that athletes and coaches feel like their treatment is on par with any NCAA facility.
“If you look at it, it is almost like they are being treated like the NCAA Division I athletes,” Heil said.
Much of the success and the growth of the center is thanks to the UCSB’s undergraduate student body. The student body currently pays a $6 student fee that goes straight into the program. This covers the cost of the full-time trainers, equipment and staff.
The UCLA facility’s cost is covered by UCLA Recreation.
“What is … vital is having student support and having students recognize the need (for a program like this), and be able to voice and advocate for these types of services,” Wang said.
Comparing the two facilities, UCLA has a long way to go to reach the same level as UCSB’s, but to be fair, UCSB has had almost 25 years to get to where it is at.
“It might be a slow, long process … and it will benefit current students, but it will really benefit kids who come after,” Spino said.
Spino said his ultimate goal is to have a facility that rivals UCSB’s and even Acosta, and while it is going to take a while, it is certainly heading in that direction.