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Marina Dubrovsky: As a Trainer I Wear Many Hats
Marina, do you think you found your vocation?
I am happy with my job and with what I do. I probably would have been bored if I continued doing physical therapy. In a physical therapy setting, everything is very uniform and quite repetitive versus in athletics, where every few months, there's a change of seasons, scenery, sports, athletes, change of injuries. I'm not stuck in the office. I like to have different experiences and to work with many different athletes. I get to know my athletes, who they are and what they like, and as a result, I can help them better, and not always on a physical level, but on a psychological level as well.
When working with student-athletes it really helps to know where they are coming from, what their worries are. Is that a family matter? Do they have a family to begin with? How are they doing in school? Are they worried about their school? If they are stressed about something that's going in their life, there is a greater chance they're going to get hurt on the field because they're not fully involved.
Some kids would not open up and tell you about their injuries because they don't trust adults - they remind them of parents whom they don't trust. So being trustworthy and honest to these kids is important. Kids can see through you if you are lying to them.
In a way, you act as a psychologist or a social worker then…
True, as a trainer I wear many hats. Treating an injury is like treating a trauma. A trauma could be small, or could be career-ending. Psychological trauma is much harder than physical. You have to be very gentle, very careful when dealing with these issues.
Another psychological issue that I noticed with student-athletes is that when they go to college and they lose their high school team camaraderie, they don't really know how to deal with that. They have a very hard time being on their own without their team members, coaches, schedules...
It sounds like sports team building has its downsides.
I would compare that to being in the army. When young men and women get out of the army, often they don't know what to do with themselves, they are lost. They need to be involved in something useful and quickly. Sometimes their family is not helping them. Sometimes the environment is wrong. But this problem is there and it is pervasive.
Being a Wilbur Cross high school graduate, you have first-hand knowledge of the urban school environment.
At Wilbur Cross, I was not involved with athletics at all. I was a nerdy kid. I was with the drama club, and had more artistic interests. I wanted to join the swim team but it never happened because I also had to work. My family just came to the US, and we were struggling. My elder brother started working at 16, and his paycheck was feeding our entire family. So, I said nothing to my parents about the swim team, and just got a job.
What in your job makes you happy?
I am happy when I can help, when I see somebody is relieved of pain, and is getting better, be it physical or psychological pain. When a student that I work with brings a good grade in, or is graduating with honors. When I see a sports team winning a championship. It all depends on what the goal is, and it could be different for each particular individual.
What remarkable things are happening at your job?
I am learning more and more about the kids I work with. I learn how much work they have to put in being in school and how much effort it takes. I learn that not everybody has family support. I learned how much kindness there is in their hearts and how much love and support they need, how fragile they are inside and not so much outside, and how misjudged they are.
What does your work as a trainer encompass? What do you do?
By CT law, high schools with athletic teams are required to have trainers. Athletic trainers are present at every varsity game. We are CPR certified and can operate AEDs. My primary duty is treatment and prevention of trauma. Like my other 2 colleagues at Hillhouse and Wilbur Cross, I am bound with HIPAA confidentiality rules. We deal with most of the injuries ourselves, but of course, would send a student to a PCP, or hospital, if there is a need for that. We can advise parents and guardians what to do when their kid is injured. Sometimes it can be difficult to get them to follow up with the doctors. Fortunately, the City of New Haven provides secondary insurance for injured athletes, so parents actually should not worry too much about the financial burden that comes with their kid’s injury.
There are just three of us in the district, but athletic teams know our phone numbers, and we make ourselves available for consultations via FaceTime. Video conferencing works very well. I can walk a coach and an athlete through the process of dealing with an injury without being physically present on site.
What work goes into prevention of injuries?
Let's say, a kid habitually twists his ankle. We can tape it up, of course, but we also teach him strategies to avoid this injury, to strengthen muscles. Every sport has its own muscles and body parts that are affected most. That’s why there are exercises, stretching specific to baseball or soccer.
I think New Haven Public Schools are very lucky having the three of you so knowledgeable and truly professional in their approaches.
Did you ever deal with life-threatening situations in your tenure at NHPS? How did you handle them?
I recall a few. You just have to stay cool. I allow myself to panic later when nobody's watching. When it happens, a trainer is the first one on the scene and has to control the situation, to direct couches, parents – they all are going to take orders from you until an ambulance arrives and the kid is placed on the stretcher. But it can be very scary, of course. I remember a situation when I was called to help an injured student who was not breathing, and for good 15 seconds I couldn’t find my scissors. Fortunately, a doctor was on site to help the athlete.
What methods are you using when treating and preventing injuries? Any secrets that you could share?
I use sports tapes a lot in my work. There are many different types for different purposes. I have been experimenting with them for the last 25 years. I recall taping up my university rowing team hands so that they would not get blisters but still had a good grip. There are a lot of things you could do with tapes – treat both short and long term injuries, especially with kinesiology tapes – it was invented to treat swelling in cancer patients.
I use various massage techniques and stretching. I am interested in Eastern medicine non-invasive techniques, such as acupressure points. I had several instances of sports-induced asthma attacks with the athletes when I was able to quickly help them just using the acupressure points.
Do you provide health education?
It depends on a situation. Typically, when I show a kid how to properly stretch, he is getting a full lecture from me on what muscles are involved, how they are working and why to stretch.
What are your impressions of the sports seasons in the pandemic?
We came back well prepared. We followed strict rules. The coaches in my school were on top of things with all the forms, questionnaires ready. We stocked up on hand sanitizers, wipes, thermometers, masks. All positive or suspected cases were investigated. Sports teams were practicing outdoors with proper social distancing. Athletics will recover, I am sure.
How did Covid affect your work and your personal life?
I found it challenging to get through to people I care about. It was difficult to become a homeschooling parent, difficult to explain to my kid why he had to stay home, not being allowed to play with his friends. It was hard to explain to my family what a pandemic was, and why we should take it seriously. I felt that I was fighting against misinformation that was coming from mass media. Let's be honest, we did not have the best support system in the country last year. And I was quite angry when I heard about people not following safety protocols. Covid is a story of disobedience, a story about people not following simple rules and not working together to prevent the worst.
I was disconnected from my workforce but I was able to talk to my coaches and some of the students through text messages - they were still working on some injuries dealing with the postseason situation. I just couldn't do any hands-on work.
Education went online, and for some people it worked really well. I have a friend who was able to complete her studies much quicker because she did not have to travel anywhere. But it did not work well for my own four year old son who could not see his classmates. Fortunately, we were able to find a private school for him with very thorough Covid rules.
I am very hopeful that we will get out of the pandemic one day. What will be different? We will not shake hands at the end of the game, that may not come back for a while. We will change the way we disinfect our equipment. The way we communicate with each other will change as well: it’s probably going to open up more ways to exchange information. Maybe we will value each other a bit more and value our time together. Maybe we will not take certain things for granted anymore.
Covid-19 was a valuable lesson to learn. For one, the environment improved: the ozone layer was repaired, the air got cleaner, Long Island sound water got cleaner, etc. Covid was a reminder for humans: there’s still a little bit of time left for us to stop and reverse what we have been doing to this planet.
Photo: Marina Dubrovsky; Marina helping student Yamil Jusino.