Athletic trainers keeping athletes in the game

Now in her second year working at St. Marys Area High School, Certified Athletic Trainer Ashley Mulcahy, 25, is working to keep Dutch athletes in top physical shape by helping to prevent and diagnose injuries, provide rehabilitation and monitor their condition."I chose to go into the athletic training field because I think it's a nice combination of athletics and medicine," Mulcahy said. March marks National Athletic Training Month as recognized by the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA), through which Mulcahy is accredited. A 2004 graduate of Elk County Catholic High School, Mulcahy obtained a bachelor of science degree in Kinesiology-Athletic Training from Penn State University in 2008 and a masters degree in Athletic Training from East Stroudsburg University in 2009. She is the daughter of Jim and Charlene Mulcahy of St. Marys.Throughout her education, Mulcahy has worked with numerous athletic teams, including Penn State's men's soccer team, men's lacrosse team, women's basketball team, State College Area High School's intramural sports program and with Lehigh University's field hockey, men's basketball and baseball teams. All certified and/or licensed athletic trainers must have a bachelor's or masters degree from an accredited college or university. Mulcahy is among the 70 percent of athletic trainers who hold a masters or higher advanced degree. As a one-woman show at SMAHS, Mulcahy has a vast amount of responsibilities. Although part of her typical day involves preparing athletes for practices and games by taping ankles and other areas, Mulcahy emphasized that her job entails much more.Treating acute injuries are of more interest to Mulcahy, more so than rehabilitation. "An acute injury is any injury that happens then and there," she explained. "I like the evaluation process, management, first aid and return to play."Mulcahy works with athletes one-on-one by showing them proper stretching techniques for specific areas of the body, providing rehabilitation on injured areas and documenting any injury, evaluation, treatment or taping done on each and every athlete, as well as keeping track of physical referrals and wrestling skin diseases, and inventorying supplies for ordering purposes.Each season Mulcahy administers tests for ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing), the most widely-used and most scientifically validated computerized concussion evaluation system. ImPACT was developed in the early 1990s by a group of neuropsychologists, neurosurgeons, and scientific researchers at UPMC Center for Sports Medicine. The system includes a battery of tests measuring attention span, working memory, sustained and selective attention time, response variability, nonverbal problem solving and reaction time. Some of the tests resemble brainteaser puzzles. Mulcahy said that each athlete undergoes ImPACT testing, which lasts between 20-30 minutes. She utilizes the high school's computer labs to test entire teams at one time. Athletes returning for consecutive seasons in the same year are not re-tested, but are tested each school year they participate in sports. "Every athlete has the potential for a head injury or concussion whether they are participating in a sport, slip or fall or are hurt in gym class," Mulcahy said."The tests are response-based. We test for a baseline for each individual athlete, then in the event of a concussion or head injury the tests are administered following this injury in order to manage and assess the severity of the head injury," she explained. "An athlete may be symptom-free, but the test could show a difference in reaction time, etc., which may not be noticed in everyday life."On an average day, Mulcahy assists between 5-10 student-athletes. "Falls sports season is much busier than the others. There are also more athletes participating during that season," Mulcahy added. Mulcahy covers all home sporting events throughout the year. During the fall sports season, her main assignment is covering football practices and games; however, she also attends additional sports practices and games throughout the week. In the winter, she remains in the training room tending to athletes when not at events. As spring sports season rolls around, she remains on call inside the training room when not covering all home sporting events. When there are multiple events taking place in the same day, Mulcahy attends the event with the most number of athletes participating; however, she remains in contact with assistant coaches at the other events.She also attends to athletes in the training room following events."A fairly common injury is an ankle sprain," Mulcahy said. "Depending on the severity the typical treatment is R.I.C.E - Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation."