Living the dream

An ankle sprain in middle school inspired Riverside athletic trainer Erin Samuels to help other athletes return from injury

By Giselle Rivera Roman

After 4 pm, when students get on buses and walk to their cars to go home, athletic trainer Erin Samuels’ day approaches its busiest time. 

Samuels arrives at Riverside after lunch and teaches sports medicine 1 and 2 during third and fourth period, but her main role is working with athletes.

Athletic trainer Erin Samuels explains an exercise to a student athlete. A Riverside graduate, Samuels joined the faculty this fall. Photo by Victoria Alcindor

“I am the medical support,” Samuels said. “I’m there for preventing injuries as well as taking care of injuries after they happen and rehabbing those injuries here at Riverside for all the athletes.”

This requires her to stay after school often to watch over and support “her athletes.” 

However, she does play a role during school hours. She also helps any Riverside student who needs medical attention. 

“[School staff members] will call me if like a student is injured here,” she said. “I’ll evaluate them, make sure that there’s not a bigger emergency or something like that. I’ll be in charge of helping contact the parents, make sure the parents know that the student is okay or what’s going on. But my main concern is my athletes,” she says. 

Samuels tapes an athlete’s ankle before practice. She arrives at school before third period and often stays until all practices and games are over. Photo by Victoria Alcindor

This is Samuels’ first year as a Riverside teacher and athletic trainer. She previously worked at Rogers Herr Middle School teaching Sports Medicine to seventh graders. In addition to that, she taught freshmen and sophomores in the athletic training program during her senior year at Western Carolina University. She also worked with physicians at a surgical clinic. 

“[Working at the Surgical Clinic] was good,” she said. “It was different. I definitely thought I would have more set hours than I do here, but I ended up working so many hours. But also being there with patients you don’t create the relationships that you do with your students. I feel like I’m really impacting people, not that I wasn’t impacting people at the clinic, but when you see someone for 5 to 10 minutes in a room every two to four weeks it’s not the same as seeing the same kids every day.” 

However, it’s not her first time at Riverside. She was actually a student, and in the Riverside building is where her passion for sports medicine developed. 

A Riverside student athlete describes an injury. Athletes flood the training room after school. Photo by Victoria Alcindor

“I kind of knew this was a dream job, and if I came back here that’s where I would be teaching this course,” she said. “This is definitely somewhere that I wanted to be.” 

In seventh grade, at Brogden Middle School, she sprained her ankle. During this time her brother was a Riverside student-athlete, so she was permitted to receive rehab here. Her experience working with Jess Brady, Riverside’s athletic trainer at the time, is the reason why she is back here now. Now she wants to inspire others the same way Brady did for her. 

“I enjoy sharing my passion and my love for it.” she said. “Hopefully, maybe, at the end of the year some of these kids will maybe change their mind, maybe they want to be athletic trainers now. Just seeing [students say] ‘hey, it’s not that bad.’ Some of them [have already said] ‘you actually kind of have a cool job.’ So, if I can just open some people’s eyes to see the different things that are out there, I think that is awesome.”

So far, Samuel’s year has started off busy. 

“I’ve had three concussions with football already.” she says.“We’ve had a couple knee injuries that we’ve done some rehab with. [One athlete] had an ankle strain/sprain. So, we’ve been a little filled with injuries this season.”

Samuels helps an athlete perform a weighted exercise. Students are rehabbing a variety of injuries this fall. Photo by Victoria Alcindor

Samuels follows a very specific protocol when treating concussions. 

 “I evaluate them and diagnose them on the sidelines, then they come back and see me,” she said. “I have to wait until they’re symptom-free before we can start a five-day return to play, which is a five day progression where it starts off pretty easy, all the way till they’re back fully playing football, making sure that they’re symptom free during each day.”

For the ankle strain/sprain, treatment depends on the severity of the injury. 

“It probably took that kid like four weeks to get over, so four weeks of pretty intense rehab and trying to get him back on the field.” 

A RHS student athletes performs band-assisted exercises. Samuels often supervises multiple athletes simultaneously.
Photo by VIctoria Alcindor

Samuels explained that some of these incidents were predictable.

“You know, it’s just one of those things, especially with our team this year,” she said “We have a pretty young football team out there. And starting off the season with just varsity and no JV, some of those young kids are going against some pretty big guys out there.

“Injuries, unfortunately, are going to happen, but all I can do is make sure that the parents are informed and that I’m getting those kids back as quickly and as safely as possible,” she said.

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