Ronald Linfonte, Associate Athletic Director of Sports Medicine at St. John’s University, sat down with us to discuss his storybook career and the progression of sports medicine.
Could you share about your career in athletic training?
I was a student at Seton Hall University in the mid-70s. I wasn’t good enough to make the baseball team, but I played golf during my first year in school. An athletic/academic counselor recommended that I consider athletic training, and the rest is history.
I started working with all sports as a student trainer at Seton Hall. While in college, I also was hired as high school athletic trainer at Columbia High School. I was eager to jump into this opportunity because I knew that I could gain valuable experiences by working more hours across all sports. At Columbia High School, I was the only trainer, so I had hands-on training with every sport you can imagine.
During my senior year at Seton Hall, I was at an Eastern Athletic Trainer Meeting. During the meeting, I started speaking with a gentleman and later found out he was from the Cleveland Indians baseball team. He recommended me for a job as an athletic trainer with the Cleveland Indians because he liked how I presented myself, and within a week, I was at Spring Training in Tucson, Arizona. I was able to arrange to pause classes at Seton Hall to gain that experience with a professional sports team.
I was also offered a position with the NJ Gems, from the Women’s Basketball League, to be their athletic trainer. So, I was able to work the first three years of my career where I was the athletic trainer for the Cleveland Indians from March through November, and then with the women’s professional basketball team from November through March.
What prompted you to shift away from the Cleveland Indians team?
I did not want make a career with minor league baseball, and I said that if I wasn’t in the major leagues, three years was going to be my limit. I had the opportunity to work at Princeton University for 3 to 4 months before I interviewed and accepted a position at Montclair State University. I had interviewed at the same time at St. John’s University, but was not offered the position.
I kept checking the NCAA job boards throughout the year and saw that the position at St. John’s University was still open in June. I called about the job, interviewed, and was offered the position. I have been at St. John’s now for 38 years. You never know what is going to come your way. I have had a storybook career.
What initially attracted you to athletic training?
I was attracted to the relationship to athletics and the level of care that goes into the profession.
What is your philosophy in regards to athletic training?
Treat the athletes like they are your own children. And give back and serve the profession, be it at the local, state, national, sport conference, Olympics, and more.
Some trainers don’t have the passion to continually learn and give back. You have to have passion for this job. I still get a rush from traveling with teams and being on the court at Madison Square Garden.
What sports do you typically work with?
When I started at St. John’s, we worked all sports. At the time, we had 27 sports with 3 athletic trainers. Today, we have 8 athletic trainers and 17 sports.
What shifts have you seen in athletic training throughout the years?
When I started, it was all about treating injuries. Now the focus is the prevention of athletic injuries and also recovery. A huge part of our job is the recovery of an athlete.
We spend more time now on recovery and prevention than we ever did before.
What is the most difficult aspect about being a trainer?
The time commitment and traveling can be a grind. The NCAA allows year-round basketball practice. So as trainers, we get 2 weeks off in April and 2 weeks off in August.
How were you introduced to the Marc Pro?
I met Gary Reinl at a national athletic training meeting and also saw the Marc Pro in a publication. I spoke to him for over 3 hours about my philosophy about the negative aspects of icing for athletes.
What are your thoughts about the “Ice Age”?
I share the same philosophy as Gary about icing. The icing craze started in Major League Baseball with a picture of Sandy Koufax icing his arm in the Mid-1960’s. When people saw that image, they thought, “Should we be icing too?” and it led to a major shift towards icing for athletes.
How many Marc Pros do you have at the university?
We have 10 to 12 units at St. John’s.
What is your Marc Pro protocol at St. John’s University?
All of the units are used in the training room. We don’t allow athletes to check the units out for home use. A trainer will also put the pads on the athletes and take the pads off too. We found that athletes would pull the pads off and damage the Marc Pro’s pads and wires.
We hook an athlete up to the Marc Pro for 15 to 20 minutes.
What do your athletes like best about the Marc Pro?
Once an athlete tries the Marc Pro and they see the results, they want to go on it everyday.
How has the Marc Pro helped you and your team in the training room?
We don’t have to tie up other therapy machines. By using the Marc Pro units, we save the trainers’ time and allow athletes to use one of the best tools for recovery.
What is your favorite part about working with athletes on a daily basis?
The satisfaction of seeing an injured athlete returning back from injury and back in the lineup.
You were selected as an athletic trainer for the Olympic Games. What was that experience like?
Being selected as an athletic trainer for the Olympics was the highlight to my career. The process for selection is long and arduous, and consists of multiple assignments and evaluations to ensure that the Olympic Committee is selecting the best medical professionals. I had the honor of working with the Olympics from 1986 through 1996 and worked with amazing athletes and people. I also had the privilege of meeting President Bush at the White House alongside the US Olympic Team.
What advice would you give to a potential athletic trainer?
I would tell someone who is interested in the field to gain experience in as many sports as you can with both men and women. Do not limit yourself to one area.
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