Athletic Trainer Spotlight | Valerie Tinklepaugh-Hairston of TCU

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Hairston, the current Women’s Basketball and Men’s Golf athletic trainer arrived at TCU 11 seasons ago after spending the previous four years at Villanova working with women’s basketball and swimming and diving. Prior to her stint with the Wildcats, she attended Bloomsburg University to obtain a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology while working as a graduate assistant. Hairston received her undergraduate degree from Texas Tech and majored in exercise and sport science with a minor in biology.

What initially attracted you to athletic training?

I played volleyball in high school and had to have knee surgery for an injury. I was told I could never play again and needed to rehab with the athletic trainer and immediately became interested in the profession.

I was always around the healthcare and athletic fields. My mom was a nurse and my dad was a coach. I worked as a physical therapy aide for a summer, but found it wasn’t the right fit in terms of the clientele. After that experience, I knew that I definitely wanted to work with athletes. I wanted to work with people who had the mindset to recover and be the best that they could be. That is what athletic training allows you to do.

What is your philosophy in regards to athletic training?

My number one philosophy is if you give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he will eat for a lifetime. I want to be able to treat the athlete and also educate the athlete on the how and why. That way, I can help an athlete learn what to do when out of my care. Then athletes are able to know what their bodies need and how to continue to care for themselves.

What sports do you typically work with?

Women’s Basketball and Men’s Golf.

What injuries do you typically experience with basketball?

Basketball is now a year-round sport. We see a lot of overuse injuries, mostly lower extremities and overuse. We work hard with our strength and conditioning coach to address these issues on another level too.

What injuries do you typically experience with golf?

With golf, it is a single-side sport. There are the repetitive motions that can lead to various injuries. I tend to see back and lower body injuries as well as shoulder and wrist when changing swing mechanics.

“Athletes like modalities that they can feel working during treatment, like the Marc Pro.”

What shifts have you seen in athletic training throughout the years?

There has been a shift to more manual therapy treatments. There is a lot more direct interaction with athletic trainers and the athletes. There is also a focus on more patient-centered care. Instead of the mindset of ‘How can I treat your injury?’ we are thinking, ‘How can I treat the entire person?’

Many athletes want to ‘feel something’ immediately. They want to ‘feel like’ something is improving.  The athletes tend to buy-in to different treatments and protocols when they can feel something immediately.

Do you use ice for recovery?

People are really starting to look at the research about ice and cryotherapy. Ice has its place for pain management, and I use it to manage specific cases of pain. However, with recovery, the body needs to stimulate the lymphatic system, not halt it. The body was created pretty phenomenally to heal in amazing ways. We can enhance the body’s healing ability with specific protocols and therapies that are outside of icing.

What are your opinions about using NSAIDs for recovery?

The first question I ask when an athlete wants to pop an ibuprofen for pain or recovery is “Why?”. I ask, “Do you need this for your pain or soreness? Are you nervous about how you are going to feel without taking medication for this?”

Giving an NSAID is a decision that is made on a case-by-case basis and made with proper assessment. You don’t want to mask symptoms with an NSAID. You want to promote proper healing and the body’s natural healing methods.

Many people get trapped into the blanket application of different treatments and medications before truly assessing an athlete.

What is the most difficult aspect about being an athletic trainer?

The expectations of all of our student-athletes are so high. Student-athletes have a full-plate. They have lifting, classes, community service, practices, travel, and games.  I have a short window to take care of them and address all of their needs. 

Now, there is also the demand for immediate care. People want injuries to just vanish after one treatment, and that is not realistic.

How are you invested in the student-athletes?

I am invested in the athletes as people, not just as athletes. When they have a bad day or something traumatic happens, I feel it too. That also goes when something good happens. I celebrate the athletes’ accomplishments and wins. I ride that emotional roller coaster with them while also trying to teach the athlete important life-lessons about resilience and humility.

What advice do athletes hesitate to listen to?

An injury does not just heal overnight. One treatment or application may not solve everything. An athlete may not feel better with just one thing. They all want immediate results. Some things take some time to improve.

I like thinking about benchmarks instead of goals as they try to recover from an injury. A great book is “Burn Your Goals” that addresses this shift in mindset. I think it is important to educate athletes on small benchmarks they can reach throughout the healing process. They need to do the little things to reach benchmarks. Little things like sets of specific exercise to address the root of an injury. When athletes reach different benchmarks, they can progress to the next step in the entire healing process.

What recovery tools have helped you and your team in the training room?

I think about recovery in three different categories: Joint health, soft-tissue quality, and general recovery. With general recovery, we focus on using modalities like compression therapy and the Marc Pro. Athletes like modalities that they can feel working during treatment, like the Marc Pro.

What is your favorite part about working with athletes on a daily basis?

You never know what you are going to get on any given day. There are always different problems, scenarios, and demands from the athletes every day.

I love that I get to spend time with the athletes in the university setting and then as they move on to the next steps in their lives. I get to be a part of the entire process. When I worked as a physical therapy aide, I didn’t see the final results with the patients I worked with. A person would leave, and I wouldn’t know what happened with them.

Now, I get to see when the athlete makes it back to the field. I am part of the athlete’s journey. That is such a fulfilling part of the job. The challenging part is that there is a heavy emotional investment in the athletes. It is both challenging and so rewarding.

What advice would you give to athletes about recovery?

Understanding that recovery is not checking a box. Recovery is a process that you have to be invested in. You can’t do things once and expect everything to be better right away. Plus, you need to work with someone who is educated about recovery and find the tools that make you feel and see results.

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