Kenny Wilka, Associate Athletic Trainer at Marquette University, talks about the positive shift towards focusing on the long-term health of each athlete, and not just their four years in college.
What initially attracted you to athletic training?
I played baseball and football in college and had injuries treated by the athletic training staff. I thought the field and duties of the profession were interesting. I liked the hands-on aspect of the profession and the constant activity. Plus, athletic training melded with how I learn, practical application of knowledge. Through my athletic training internship, I worked with many different sports, and also learned the ancillary aspects of the profession.
What is your philosophy in regards to athletic training?
Through my experiences, I have learned that you need to evolve. There is a constant evolution of what you are trying to accomplish. I use a holistic approach that includes the physical, mental, and emotional components of an athlete.
In regards to injuries, I try to promote the healing process during recovery. You do not want to trick the body and return too quickly, otherwise there can be issues in the future.
As athletic trainers, we can have a different outlook than coaches. While some coaches might want healing to happen fast, we want healing to be as fast and as safe as possible. We are invested in the athlete’s long-term health and overall wellness.
What sports do you typically work with?
I work primarily with women’s soccer. I like it because I get to work with 32 athletes individually, learn about each of them, and find the methods that work best for every person.
What shifts have you seen in athletic training throughout the years?
The biggest thing is that we now focus on athletes as patients. We look at the long-term effects of our decisions, instead of just thinking about an athlete’s time in college for four years.
We also do a much better job of being advocates for student-athletes and promoting safe and effective ways to treat and promote healing.
What is the most difficult aspect about being an athletic trainer?
A lot of people will say that there are long hours and long days– that is normal in the service-oriented fields. For me, a 10-hour day goes by fast because I enjoy it.
You create bonds with student-athletes so when they are going through difficult times, you feel it. That can drain you emotionally, especially when you have to have tough conversations with athletes.
I worked with a soccer player who was extremely talented, but could not play many games due to constant injury. We had to have one of those conversations. Sometimes you have to be the bearer of bad news. The news that is career-ending for an athlete, but in the best interest of the athlete for the long-term.
What are your thoughts about icing?
Icing for athletic trainers has always been done, but may not be an effective tool depending on what you want to accomplish. We are supposed to be promoting healing, and phase 1 of healing process is the inflammatory phase. Everyone says that inflammation is bad, but you are not promoting the natural healing process by trying to inhibit it. I also explain that we want to promote increased circulation, to remove the exudate from the area while increasing nutrient rich blood to the injured tissue.
How many Marc Pros do you have at the university?
We have about 26 units, and the soccer team bought 8 for the team’s use only.
After using the Marc Pro at other schools, I introduced it to Marquette University. I like the device because it promotes blood flow increasing the body’s ability to heal or recover.
Initially, I bought a couple of units and used them with pitchers, and the athletes immediately bought into it. They felt the difference in how fast they were recovering and the devices were constantly being used by the athletes.
What is your Marc Pro protocol at Marquette University?
We teach the athletes how to use Marc Pro devices for individual injuries and recovery. Athletes learn that you place the electrode pads where you get the best contraction possible.
Our athletes can also check out units. Our rule is, if you have it, you have to use it. We don’t want Marc Pros being left for hours without being used. We also have a Marc Pro “GroupMe” chat so athletes can share when they are passing off the Marc Pro devices to other athletes so that they are always being used.
What do your athletes like best about the Marc Pro?
The invaluable recovery. Athletes can use the Marc Pro for 8 to 10 hours while sleeping, allowing them to maximize their recovery time.
How has the Marc Pro helped you?
I travel with 8 units and I am able to treat acute injuries right away. I can help athletes recover better in a smarter and faster way.
What is your favorite part about working with athletes on a daily basis?
The relationship building. I love watching my athletes go through the range of motion of success—determination and growth. They learn from mistakes and learn how to increase their focus.
People often do not experience enough failure when they are successful. It is easy to be a winner. It’s what you do when things are hard and you have to pick yourself up. What are you going to do next when things are difficult?
What advice would you give to athletes about recovery?
Listen to your body and provide what it needs. You need to be hydrated, eat clean food that is not overly processed and sleep 8 hours a night.
Some days you can’t perform at a higher workload than other days—it doesn’t mean that you are not giving 100%. My biggest advice is just learning how to take care of yourself. I am here to be a self-advocate for an athlete’s body. I want athletes to be able to ask questions and learn why they should be doing things to help the body function properly.
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