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Spread Love to an Athletic Trainer

No college program would function as efficiently – let alone at all – if it wasn’t for the behind-the-scenes heroes in the training room.

Katlyn Ledbetter is one of the four athletic trainers at USC Upstate and is currently serving her fourth year in the role. Alongside Michael “Sandy” Sandago, Eric English, Abbey Earich and Joslynn Trail, Ledbetter’s primary responsibilities include the women’s volleyball team and the baseball team.

As a 2015 graduate from Western Carolina University, Ledbetter started out wanting to be a personal trainer. When asked what made her want to get into athletic training, she says, “I had my first clinical rotation with our football team at Western. The more rotations I did with athletics, I fell in love with it and stayed with it ever since.”

Ledbetter’s favorite part of her job is “getting to build relationships with coaches and athletes and getting to meet so many people every year.” With the constant turnover of athletes graduating or transferring in, there are always new faces appearing after saying goodbye to the old ones. Ledbetter says she loves “seeing them grow from freshmen to senior year and helping them with that process.”

In terms of athletic training, Ledbetter’s main goal is simple: “do the best I can. [I want to] help athletes as much as I can and make sure everyone feels that they’re taken care of.” She aims to make sure she is “helping in some way no matter how fast or slow that process is.”

Like anything in sport and life, the rewards also come with challenges. Being responsible for two large roster teams is one of the most challenging parts of Ledbetter’s job. “Having so many athletes, communicating with them, making sure coaches are up to date, and then you add COVID on top of that” are some of the daily challenges that athletic trainers balance within their schedules.

COVID-19 has made it extremely difficult for athletic programs across the nation. From delaying or cancelling seasons outright, evolving safety protocols, or infecting athletes and impacting their performance, COVID-19 has created another element for athletic departments to pay attention to amidst their already demanding considerations. But what is not given enough credit is the contributions of athletic trainers during this unprecedented time. Their responsibilities have included - but are not limited to - testing athletes, staying up to date with the ever-changing safety procedures, and getting athletes through recovery after being sick.

This weighs into what Ledbetter would like to see from athletic trainers in the future. Often, people who aren’t involved in athletics don’t know what athletic trainers do, and so they are faced with the tiresome “oh, you’re like a personal trainer” response. Ledbetter would like to see the role evolve so that more people acknowledge the worth of athletic trainers. “Behind the scenes there’s a lot of different hats we wear, and we aren’t always recognized or valued for the work we do. Out of all the other healthcare professions, we’re at the bottom. Of all the other rehab specialists, when it comes to salary, we’re bottom of the barrel.”

Ledbetter says “no one goes into athletic training because of the money, we do it because we love it. If I was a personal trainer, I would make so much more money.” Given that it takes about six years of study to sit the board of certification exam, along with related qualifications and regular standard checks, athletic trainers face a similar realm of education as other healthcare professionals – and yet, due to lack of understanding, do not receive the same level of respect.

USC Upstate acknowledges the work of their athletic trainers by announcing them at home games with the starting lineups – a practice that is not common in college athletics. Both the department and athletes depend on and value the work of their athletic trainers, because without these behind-the-scenes heroes, USC Upstate teams would be incomplete.

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