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Athletic Trainer Spotlight | Carla Gilson of Georgia Tech

Carla Gilson, a 25 year veteran of the sports medicine profession, joined the Georgia Tech Sports Medicine staff in August 1997. Gilson serves as the Director of Sports Medicine at Georgia Tech. Gilson has had the privilege of serving all student-athletes within the Athletics Department including football, women’s basketball, volleyball, softball, tennis, as well as serving amateur, collegiate and professional athletes in basketball, football, volleyball, track & field and tennis.

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A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, Gilson earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Management from Tulane University’s A.B. Freeman School of Business in 1993. As a graduate assistant at East Tennessee State University, she received her M.A. in Physical Education with a concentration in Fitness Leadership.

An avid believer in team/group collaboration, Gilson believes that dynamic teams don’t just happen. Team health is cultivated, and everyone within a team CAN contribute and is a ‘10’ in some area. The key is to help each team member discover their ‘10’ and equip them with the tools to soar.

What initially attracted you to athletic training?

During college, I played rec football. One of my teammates was in physical therapy school and was taking a course in athletic training. She was persistent and recommended that I consider volunteering in the athletic training room. I was originally a business major and not interested. Then one day I ventured into the athletic training facility to see it in action. 

I was immediately immersed in the competitive nature of sports in the athletic training room. I saw not just like-minded athletes, but a group of professionals who were committed to helping young athletes get back on the field. There was so much energy around that central driving force. I watched what the athletic trainers were doing, and I thought “I want to do that!”. From that day, I have been serving and learning in the athletic training room, and I haven’t looked back since.

How many student-athletes are at Georgia Tech?

We have 450 student-athletes.

What sports do you typically work with?

My primary sport is volleyball. Because we are a centralized facility, our full staff has the opportunity to serve and work with all of our student-athletes. We share in everyone’s knowledge and understanding of injury prevention, care and athletics. It’s a special collaboration.

Do you typically see similar injuries across all of the sports you work with?

Yes. Specifically in volleyball, I typically see shoulder injuries. However, I also see a range of musculoskeletal injuries, like hamstring, knee, or ankle injuries. I’ve learned over the years that competitive volleyball is an extremely explosive and dynamic sport. These athletes train and compete in every plane of movement, which makes it important for athletic trainers to take an aggressive approach in how we are assessing and treating these athletes.

What is your philosophy in regards to athletic training?

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We treat people. “Nobody cares how much you know, until they realize how much you care” is a quote that my mentors have modeled, and it has become a life philosophy. In my opinion it helps me treat so much more efficiently and effectively. The emphasis is on the patient, so it is inherent that there is a genuine interest and appreciation for how we will treat and care for the individual.  

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

Most of our athletic trainers incorporate manual therapies in the initial phase of treatments and care. Not that we do not rely on therapeutic modalities, but our hands have become our primary asset.  

How were you introduced to the Marc Pro?

I was introduced to the Marc Pro at an NATA convention about 5-6 years ago. While I was walking through the exhibit hall, I ran into Gary Reinl. He shared about his philosophies in regards to recovery and icing, and he mentioned the Marc Pro. We exchanged contact information, and he shared more details about the unit and the research after the conference.

About a year later, our volleyball team purchased three Marc Pro units. After implementing them, and seeing some successes with student-athletes from varying sports, more of our teams began incorporating Marc Pro into their daily/weekly recovery routines.

How many Marc Pro units do you have at the university?

We have about 20 units.

What is the protocol for using a Marc Pro in your training room?

For an acute injury, the Marc Pro becomes another set of hands. We use the Marc Pro to pump the area and assist with opening the lymphatic chains to encourage flow.

A typical protocol consists of 20 minutes of the Marc Pro, followed by range of motion exercises and then the athletic trainer will work with the athlete, focusing on manual therapies, like massage.

We permit athletes to take the Marc Pro unit home for use in their dorm or classroom. In some instances, we instruct them to use the Marc Pro in the morning when they rise, which serves as a pre-therapy session prior to reporting to the athletic training room.  

Do you use the Marc Pro for team travel?

We use the Marc Pro with athletes traveling during plane and bus rides. Athletes also have the opportunity to use the devices in hotel rooms when we are on the road.

Do you use icing as a recovery method in your training room?

We still use ice.  However, prior to considering ice, I/we do consider both the short-term and long-term goals that I/we are trying to accomplish with the injury.

From the research and considering how our body heals, there are some benefits to delaying and avoiding ice therapy for acute injuries. From experience, when I have avoided icing an acute injury, the student-athlete experienced improved tissue response, healing time and recovery. It was great to see the athletes’ body respond quickly, and consequentially I didn’t want to inhibit the body’s natural healing process.

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

The limited time with the college athlete. Athletes have a fixed amount of time between class, practices, and life. As an athletic trainer, you must make the most of your time with them. And the Marc Pro has helped us to improve our efficiency.

What advice would you give athletes about recovery?

Do it. Athletes need to recover. The ideal for performing is to have pain-free range of motion. Their bodies take a beating and tissue is constantly being broken down during strenuous workouts. In order to recover fully, healing has to take place. Recovery and rest must be a priority. If you have access to modalities and tools, use them.  

For example, two of our former student-athletes are now professional athletes. One is an Olympian and another plays pro basketball. They both have shared that they wish they would have made recovery a greater priority while in college. If some of the best athletes are saying this, I take that to heart as a clinician, and encourage all athletes to recover appropriately.

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

I genuinely love people. I don’t take this responsibility as an athletic trainer lightly or for granted. In this profession we have the ability and opportunity to give our athletes and coaches wings to soar, in both word and deed. When athletes come to us, they are usually in a compromised situation and need assistance.

I love it when the light bulb comes on with an athlete and they get it. They begin to understand and appreciate the process. My parents taught me to serve. Witnessing and helping young person not just succeed on the field, but in life too, brings me so much joy.

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