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High school trainer finds satisfaction in working with athletes

 

From the moment Leslie Hodge walks into her office in the field house at Tuck Dillard Stadium she becomes the epicenter of a whirlwind of activity. Out of the adjacent locker rooms student athletes appear, some needing ankles or other body parts taped, others need protective bandages and still others arriving to have her assess the status of previous injuries.

Through the hustle and bustle of preparing athletes for an afternoon’s practice, Hodge smiles and laughs easily, putting the students she works with at ease.

“If somebody comes to me that is injured, the least I can do is make them smile,” Hodge said.

“I know they’re hurting and coming to me to help. If I can put a smile on their face at the same time, I feel that I’ve accomplished something.”

Hodge is the athletic trainer at Halifax County High School. Since her start in August, Hodge’s primary work has centered around the high school football program. She works with coaches and athletes in other fall sports as well, and she also lends a helping hand to Halifax County Middle School athletes.

It’s a perfect world for the 24-year-old Burlington, N.C. native employed at Danville Orthopedic Clinic’s South Boston office.

“I’ve been around sports my entire life,” Hodge explained.

“I knew from day one I never wanted a desk job where I had to sit down all day. Being an athletic trainer in a clinic in a high school location, I get the best of both worlds. I can work on my rehabilitation skills in the clinic and do acute injury assessments and treatments here at the high school.

“I love being able to go from working with general population patients from 10-years-old to 86-years-old to working with athletes,” she added.

“Every day brings something different. I never get bored.”

Hodge enjoys being on the sidelines with the various athletic teams through practice, scrimmages and games.

“You never know what you’re going to see or what you’re going to run into,” she pointed out.

“It keeps you on your toes because you never know when somebody is going to get hurt or what kind of injury they are going to have. Plus, I like being around the athletes. They keep things fun for me.”

The trust factor

Gaining the trust of the Halifax County High School coaches and players was Hodge’s first order of business.

“The big thing has been getting the coaches and the players to trust me, getting them to believe that I know what I’m talking about, that I’m trained in what I’m doing,” Hodge said.

“It’s been the same way with every different group of athletes I’ve come into contact with. The coaches have been behind me and have supported me 100 percent since I got here.”

It wasn’t easy with the students initially.

“The first week was the easiest I’ve had,” she laughed.

“None of them (the players) wanted to come talk to me. They didn’t know what kind of person I was going to be. They didn’t know if they told me the smallest thing that was bothering them whether or not I was going to hold them out of practice or a scrimmage or whatever. Now, I’m the most popular person in the world when I get here every day.”

College vs. high school

Hodge worked with college athletic teams while attending graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, N.C. Having worked on both the college and high school level, Hodge said she most enjoys the high school level.

“I like the low-key of high school and clinic work at this point,” Hodge remarked.

“College sports runs your life. You are up at 6 a.m. for weightlifting, and you are there all day through their 10 p.m. practices. It was common to have 15-hour days when I was working with them in grad school.

“I like the college world, but a lot more politics are involved in it than are involved in high school athletics,” she continued.

“The college athletes are student-athletes first, but they are there a lot of times to help bring in revenue for the school. There is a lot more pressure (from the coaches and other staff members) to get athletes back (after they have been injured). Here at the high school, if I say a student needs to be out, they never argue.

“It’s a constant struggle to get them (the student-athletes) back onto the field as soon as possible,” she added.

“We try to do that here as well, but it is more stressful at the college level.”

It’s not all white tape

Hodge’s work is not all centered around tape jobs, bandages and protective gear. She also tries to educate students and their parents.

“At this level, there is a responsibility to educate the parents as well as the coaches and players, keeping them informed of what the newest beliefs and treatments are and what is best for their children,” Hodge said.

That is especially true, she said, as it pertains to head injuries.

“A lot of times, especially when you’re dealing with concussions and head injuries, the knowledge isn’t out there for everyone to know. There are a lot of ‘old wives tales’ out there about what you should do for a concussion and what you can and can’t do.”

Hodge points out that she tries to educate the student-athletes on how to help themselves recover from injuries.

“Most of my education right now is among the guys, telling them about resting, icing and things they need to do when they get home or what they need to do over the course of a weekend to help them be better for the next day,” she explained.

“They’re young and don’t realize what is going on with their bodies and how much resting and icing will help. They (the students) all hate icing, but it does what it needs to do.”

The dream job

Hodge enjoys her current work, but she has a vision of what her perfect job would be.

“My dream job would be to travel and work with the professional tennis tour,” she said.

“I’ve been a tennis fan my whole life. I’d love to work with the professional tennis tour and work with tennis-specific injuries.

“That’s very hard to get into,” she acknowledged.

“There is not a lot of turnover there. But it is something I’d like to do if given the opportunity.”