It all started in a square closet-sized room attached to the men’s locker room. Half the space was taken up by Formica table tops and an old desk. The other half was filled with three whirlpools and redwood benches. And it all smelled a little moldy.
Fast forward almost 30 years, and the Central College athletic training room boasts red-cushioned tables, ultrasound machines, heating pads, whirlpools, more athletic trainers than you can count at once and all the modalities to keep a trainer occupied, including associate professor of exercise science John Roslien.
Although he is used to the modern conveniences of the newest athletic training room, Roslien remembers his beginning years in the original room as the first full-time athletic trainer at Central. The year was 1986, and Roslien was fresh out of graduate school and working at Western Illinois University when he heard about the position at Central. He didn’t plan on staying in Pella long, since he had come from Division I institutions.
He interviewed with Ron Schipper—and was offered the job in a matter of hours. Roslien started three days later and has never left. He found Pella to be comfortable, like his hometown of Decorah. And he got support from Schipper and President Ken Weller, as well as other faculty mentors.
But the first year on the job was a tough one. The supplies were limited, and the temps in the athletic training room were scorching, since it sat on top of the boiler room. But Roslien had seen the plans for the current A.N. Kuyper Athletics Complex and knew that the situation was going to improve—he just had to stick it out.
The new environment was an adjustment for the coaches and players, too, who had never been exposed to athletic trainers before and didn’t understand how Roslien could treat injuries. He even caught a football player treating himself.
“One of the guys was sitting in the hallway with this old ultrasound machine plugged into the wall,” Roslien says with a laugh. “I looked at him, and I asked what he was doing and he said that he was treating himself. I told him that I hadn’t diagnosed him and that’s not how it was going to be. I was their first athletic trainer, and they had to learn, too.”
At the time of his hiring, Roslien’s job description include more than just “athletic trainer.” He taught classes, was the equipment manager, coached baseball and was a dorm director. Today, more than a dozen people do what Roslien did by himself in the ’80s and ’90s. It wasn’t until Leslie Duinink ’90, associate professor of exercise science, joined the staff 12 years later that some of the load was lifted from his shoulders.
As the first four-year student in the athletic training program and the first to become certified through Central, Duinink knows all of the ins and outs of the program, and she shares some insight on Roslien and his methodology.
“John provided me with exposure to a career I had never heard of prior to coming to Central College as a freshman,” says Duinink. “He played a huge role in my pursing athletic training as a career when I made the decision that my first plan wasn’t really for me. His positivity and a passion for athletic training are something I highly admire.”
Although Duinink joining the staff saved Roslien a few weekends, the turning point didn’t come until 2002 when the athletic training program began seeking accreditation for the academic program—a process of meeting standards and criteria set by an outside entity. Roslien had to take a sabbatical to accomplish the task.
Roslien gathered and analyzed data to prove that Central was following the standards set by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE). During his sabbatical, Roslien pulled together more than 500 pages of evidence before CAATE came to campus to examine everything the Athletic Training Education Program (ATEP) did. It took three days to complete the investigation, but the program achieved accreditation in 2004. With the certification under its belt, the program saw its numbers increase significantly.
With 15 athletic training degrees awarded just last year and about 50 majors in the program, Roslien still remembers when only a handful of students were interested. “I had five seniors who showed up the first day of football my first year and introduced themselves as athletic training students,” Roslien says. “I thought it was awesome, but as soon as football was over, they had all disappeared. Today, we have 48 sophomores through seniors and 18 freshmen applying to be in the program.”
Those early years required very little preparation for athletic training students. During Duinink’s time in the program, students could major in anything (she chose history with secondary education) and needed just six classes and 1,500 hours of documented experience. Today, the experience requirement is more challenging and more heavily supervised—with students gaining hands-on experience from nearly every sport at the college and multiple off-campus venues. It is a tough, demanding prequel for a future athletic trainer.
“The requirements for entry-level athletic trainers are constantly being changed to meet the needs of society and the profession and to reflect the healthcare setting as it exists today,” says Duinink. “An athletic trainer is now a licensed healthcare professional.”
Students have to be prepared for the rigors of athletic training, so gaining experience in many venues gives Central students an edge. All athletic training students must work with football, as it is the only high-contact and equipment-intensive sport. Beyond that, future trainers rotate every three weeks during their sophomore year to get as much contact with different sports as possible. As they become upperclassmen, they choose which sports they will be assigned to for the season. One student grateful for the varied experience is junior Katelyn Paul, who is spending the spring semester interning at Auburn University as the gymnastics athletic training intern.
“Central’s Athletic Training Education Program has prepared me in every way for this internship!” she says. “The professors and athletic trainers have given me information I can apply here. I have also taught some of the other interns things that I learned from our ATEP. I feel very confident that our program is one of the best.”
On top of working with most of the teams and treating injuries, future athletic trainers are required to take arduous coursework, including anatomy, physiology and kinesiology. Athletic trainers deal with all aspects of prevention and health and wellness for those that are physically active. The job even overlaps with strength and conditioning, as well as personal training.
“It is a medical profession,” Roslien says adamantly. “We deal with initial evaluation and care, how to deal with it in the first 24 hours of injury and then with physical therapy to return the athlete to play.”
Junior athletic training major Julie Landrigan agrees—and that the profession is the best of two worlds.
“I love athletic training because I can be involved in the sports world and all the competition,” she says. “But I can also be a medical professional, someone who needs to figure out what type of injury is preventing an athlete from performing their best,” she says.
Looking back on how the program has grown physically and academically in 27 years, Roslien is fond of his years on campus. But he can’t help but smile at the memory of the moldy, humid athletic training room attached to the locker room. He traded the old desk for a corner office with a window in the new exercise science building—and his love of Central (and the Green Bay Packers) comes through in his shelves of memorabilia, his years of memories and the staff and students that respect his dedication.
“We work with amazing and dedicated healthcare providers in the community that are committed to the students learning,” Duinink says. “Our students continue to amaze us with what they can and do pursue. The staff and faculty in this program are committed educators who strive to help students develop and grow as young professionals. And John is what I consider athletic training to be about—he is the cornerstone of this great program.”