The Athletic Injury Center (AIC) is ostensibly dedicated to serving an estimated 750 to 800 University students, representing 29 varsity sports teams as well as a select set of club teams. However, students across the University’s varying levels of athletic recognition have expressed concerns with the AIC’s ability to administer the necessary level of care.
In addition to Director Joe Fountain, the AIC employs two full-time assistant trainers, Kevin Dompier, and Laura Litwin, and one part-time trainer, Evan Davis. The AIC also partners with a general practitioner, Dr. Adam Perrin, and a specialist in orthopedic rehabilitation, Dr. David Hergan. This core staff is supplemented by various per diem trainers, as well as medical personnel who work on a contest-by-contest basis and are funded through the University’s operating budget.
With such high demand for their limited staff, Fountain and Athletic Director Michael Whalen ’83 must navigate pressures from the NESCAC, the University, and students to allocate consistent care for varsity, club, and intramural teams. In particular, the AIC must choose which teams are assigned full-time trainers.
“Most of our decisions [about the allocation of trainers] are decided by the NCAA Sports Medicine Handbook…[and] also somewhat due to tradition,” Fountain said in an interview with The Argus. “Football has always gotten an athletic trainer.”
“We go with statistically where the most injuries occur,” Whalen added in an interview with The Argus. “We wish we could have a full-time trainer at every event, but that’s not realistic….Our sports medicine will certainly facilitate coverage for a club team or an intramural team if necessary, but our first priority is to meet the needs of the 29 varsity programs.”
Varsity athletes whose teams lack access to full-time or per diem trainers must rely on care offered during the AICs walk-in hours. Many athletes, such as Charlotte Pitts ’18 of the varsity swim and diving team, say this self-serve approach is not enough.
“Certain sports are privileged, [but] all athletes need help and they should be treated equally,” Pitts said. “The nature of swimming is such that we use our arms a lot and our shoulders get worn down. I’ve gone to the AIC multiple times seeking help for shoulder issues and I’ve just been given ice, and that’s really not enough. I need [a team athletic trainer] who can go through the recovery process.”
Henry Vansant ’18, Wesleyan Student Assembly liaison for club sports and a two-sport varsity athlete in cross country and track and field, seconded Pitts’ frustrations.
“I’ve gone to [the AIC] several times per week ever since I stepped on campus, whether it’s icing my kneecaps after a run [or] warming up my legs,” Vansant said. “The equipment is good. The facility is totally fine…[but] we definitely need a trainer for running injuries…since we get injured all the time or are constantly fighting knee injuries.”
Vansant also underscored the need for full-time trainers for a wider range of club teams. Currently, high-impact club sports, such as rugby, are the exception to the AIC’s prioritization of varsity teams and are provided a per diem trainer for matches.
Sam Beck ’17, a member of the University’s club rugby and hockey teams, shed light on the shortcomings of the care provided by per diem trainers.
“We don’t really have access to the school’s facilities or the trainers that varsity athletes get here,” Beck wrote in an email to The Argus. “The AIC’s help would be infinitely better than the self-treatment we usually administer if we tweak anything during a practice or after a game. I haven’t had any interaction with the AIC since I’ve been here, despite suffering multiple injuries, broken nose, sprained wrist, broken rib, [and a] torn meniscus.”
For non-University-recognized athletes, the AIC offers little non-urgent care beyond the occasional Band-Aid. If a student’s health history is not on file, the AIC legally cannot offer care. At the moment, the AIC database contains only the insurance information and medical histories of varsity athletes.
Jeesue Lee ’17, a non-University-recognized athlete, encountered the limitations of AIC care earlier this year, when she skinned her knees performing pylo-box jumps in the Freeman fitness room.
“I hobbled over to the desk…[and] asked if there were any Band-Aids, [and] after a look around, the student worker told me there were none,” Lee recalled in an email to The Argus. “I wasn’t spurting blood, but really, not even a first aid kit?”
This wasn’t Lee’s only injury that Freeman was unable to accommodate. During her freshman year, she sprained her ankle and was stranded due to a lack of transportation.
“Pretty much as soon I told him I wasn’t an athlete, [the AIC trainer] stopped taping [my ankle],” Lee wrote. “I was told that instead, I would have to go to the health center for further treatment. I remember hopping back to [my dorm], pretty miffed. How the heck was I supposed to get all the way to the health center on a sprained ankle?”
The absence of care in cases such as Lee’s is one of the downsides of the AIC’s relationship with the Davison Health Center, which is located far away from the gym and thus cannot provide immediate medical assistance. Moreover, the health center’s generalist approach tends to prioritize student athletes’ recovery over their return to the field.
“We refer a lot of kids to Davison Health Center,” Fountain said. “Their charge is to take care of health care needs of all Wesleyan students. They really don’t want us doing their job.”
Medical Director of Davison Health Center Dr. Thomas McLarney expressed similar thoughts on the referral process between the two institutions.
“Davison Health Center and Freeman AIC have a great relationship,” McLarney wrote in an email to The Argus. “We work very closely together and will consult with each other when applicable….Whenever they call and are concerned about a student athlete, I will get that student in for an evaluation. They too are very responsive to our calls when we are concerned about a student.”
Ultimately, while the Athletic Department takes pride in the AIC, they recognize its shortcomings as a medical provider. However, expanding its coverage to non-varsity athletes requires funding that Whalen anticipates will not soon be available.
“Relative to the NESCAC, [the University is] in the middle to the bottom of the number of certified athletic trainers on campus,” Whalen said. “It’s a need that the University examines every year.”
In the event that the department secures additional funding, Whalen envisions a satellite training room for non-varsity athletes run by a full-time trainer who would also work alongside the varsity-oriented staff.
In the meantime, the AIC looks forward to acquiring another utility vehicle and a polar tub, which would aid in athletes’ recovery process after contests. Whalen said the tub would be available to all University-recognized athletes.