Preparing them to play

Have you ever been to a sporting event and seen somebody rushing to the aide of injured players?

This is the athletic trainer and it’s their job to make sure student athletes are healthy and ready to play. Their job consists of tending to wounds on the field, getting injured players off the field once they’re tended to and giving athletes treatment to ensure their injuries don’t become serious.

Alpena High School’s athletic trainer, Katy Paxton is relatively new to Northeast Michigan, but she arrived with a passion for sports and a passion for helping people.

From a very young age, she was drawn to both sports and medicine.

“I played a lot of sports in high school and they were always a big passion of mine,” Paxton said, noting that she played soccer, softball and was a kicker for the football team.

Paxton’s mother was a nurse and exposed her to the medical field. She quickly picked up a passion for helping people that seemed to mix well with her love of sports.

“After spending some time working with my school’s athletic trainer, it just seemed like it made sense to combine sports and medicine. It just fit me like a glove,” Paxton said.

A typical day for Paxton starts at Alpena Regional Medical Center, which contracts her to work at the high school. She does outpatient rehab training from 8-11:30 a.m. and then gets a short break before she heads to practices at the high school.

She arrives at the high school around 2 p.m. and sets up water and waits for students to show up for practice. Any student with injuries goes through rehabilitation exercises designed by Paxton to help strengthen the weakened and injured muscles.

Paxton checks up on each practice, but makes special attention to football and hockey practices due to the severity of those sports. She also attends every home game, which can sometime make for some long hours. During practice days, she tends to make it home around 5:30 or 6:30 p.m. but on game nights, it’s closer to nine or ten.

Injuries during games are when Paxton’s career has the potential to be more stressful as she has to treat athletes and has to make sure they aren’t too severely injured.

Paxton has a coping mechanism that keeps the pressure during these moments minimal for her.

“I basically go into autopilot. I don’t think about the situation too heavily, but let my training take over. My main priority is making sure that the athlete is okay and then getting them off the field so the game can continue. Then I give them the proper care they need,” she said.

Paxton’s journey to Alpena has involved quite a bit of traveling. She was born in Canada, but traveled frequently as a young girl, spending time in New Jersey, Switzerland, Singapore and even Australia. She graduated from high school in New Jersey and attended Wingate University in North Carolina. Paxton earned a B.S. in athletic training in a four year program. She also received training from a concussion specialist in New Jersey.

Paxton spent two years at an all-girls school in New Jersey, but was drawn to the Alpena area due to a friendship she made while studying abroad in Australia.

“I knew (ACC softball coach) Erin Riopelle from the study abroad program in Australia and she got a hold of me when there was an opening at the school. It was a full-time job and I couldn’t pass that up so I came out to Alpena, applied and got the job,” Paxton said.

When longtime Alpena athletic trainer Brad Nash left to take the same position at Beal City last summer, Paxton got the job and began in August.

Although Paxton has been in Alpena only a little over half a year, she already loves it. She prefers small towns to big towns and finds the small town atmosphere friendly and relaxed.

She also enjoys the challenges of winter, but was surprised at how mild her first winter in Alpena was.

“Everybody always warned me about the Alpena winters, the Michigan winters. This was nothing,” she said with a laugh.