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Living with the pain

For collegiate athletes, the hefty price of playing a sport can easily be compounded by the difficulty of an injury.

With four regular season games left before the PAC playoffs, sophomore men’s soccer player Brian Raffle went to cross a ball and was slide tackled by an opponent. Raffle, the team’s leading scorer, broke his fibula and was forced to sit out the rest of the season. Without Raffle, the team went on to win a conference championship and advanced to the second round of the NCAA playoffs.

“It was probably the most frustrating thing I’ve gone through in my life,” Raffle said about watching the remainder of the season from the sidelines. “During the game your blood gets pumping, but you can’t play. You get so anxious but you can’t do anything.”

Junior Scott Patrick joined Raffle on the bench when he broke his fifth metatarsal during the team’s first round NCAA Tournament game. Patrick went down hard on a play but got back up and had his adrenaline carry him another minute before exiting from the field.

“Sitting there and watching from the sideline was the worst thing in the world,” he said.

Just before practice begins for any of Eastern’s intercollegiate teams, Head Athletic Trainer John Post has a slew of athletes outside his office, patiently awaiting his attention. Post, affectionately known as J.P. by the athletes, says his job is to tell athletes the truth, educate them on their injuries and encourage them in their recovery process.

Post has dealt with many serious injuries while at Eastern such as third degree concussions with seizures, compound fractures where bones stick through the skin, broken collar bones and asthma attacks.

Post said that 70 percent of collegiate athletes receive injuries that cause them to miss playing time at some point in their four years of eligibility.

In the ’06-’07 school year, 172 different athletes had recorded injuries at Eastern. Post and his athletic training staff made 5,904 treatments and consultations to those players.

Senior field hockey player Jaimie Heck spent an average of 45 minutes in the training room each day before practice after straining her hamstring this season.

Heck said the injury was even more frustrating since this was her last chance to play. Part of her frustrations came from the fact that hamstring injuries are not really visible, so treatment is based mainly off of admitted pain.

“The trainers do work with you, but it’s a lot about your pain tolerance,” Heck said.

First-year field hockey player Hope Donnelly suffered a stress fracture of her scaphoid bone while training this past summer. She played wearing a cast for the first two weeks of the season.

The injury, located in the wrist area just below the thumb, forced Donnelly to change the way she played. “I couldn’t do the things I usually could,” she said.

One-time injuries are not the only type college athletes experience. Some athletes deal with injuries that are recurring or even chronic.

Sophomore Erica Horning experienced a season-long knee injury that caused her to limp through the cross country season. What started out as shin splints led to a tight iliotibial band that put unnecessary pressure on Horning’s knee.

“I absolutely couldn’t run for more than five minutes without it killing,” she said.

Horning tried all kinds of methods for dealing with the pain: resting it, riding elliptical machines and seeking all sorts of medical advice. She admitted that going to practice seemed pointless by the end of the season but she still went to all the team’s practices and meets.

Injuries are far more than just a physical burden on college athletes. They can also be emotionally stressful.

Junior Heidi Peachey experienced a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus after going up for a header in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament.

“It was hard. When we actually won I couldn’t run across the field with everyone,” Peachey said. “It was a bittersweet moment.”

Post said that athletes will ask, “Why? Why me?” Believing that things happen for a reason, Post doesn’t feel it’s fair to ask such questions.

“You feel for the student-athlete,” he said. “It’s sad, but you show them there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, that there is a purpose behind it.”

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