Healing Aches, Pains and Strains
It didn’t take long for college to confirm Sage Pearson’s interest in physical therapy and athletic training. As a first-year student living in a dorm with men’s soccer players, he watched in horror one day as a floormate fell to the pitch with an ACL injury.
Through a partnership between Bradley’s health science program and the university’s athletic trainers, the Toulon, Ill., native worked with his friend toward a successful return to the team. Having an interest in PT sparked by two high school teammates’ ACL injuries, Pearson relished the opportunity to assist his new friend’s journey to health.
“There’s a sense of pride knowing I helped an athlete get back to what he loves,” he said. “I wanted to see my friends get back on the field. Once they healed, they could do everything like before their injuries. Knowing I had a part in that process is awesome.”
While serving as a training staff assistant for three years, Pearson devoted countless days watching physical therapists work athletes through sprains, strains, breaks and tears, big and small. Though not certified to work directly on players, he stood beside the medical team watching and asking questions for far more than the 40 observation hours required for graduate school admission.
To help staff, he learned to operate ultrasound equipment, a mechanical ice water sleeve and the department’s underwater treadmill. When friends and floormates were among the injured, he served as an informal secondary consultant away from the gym.
Working with athletes meant putting in long hours, like waking up at 5 a.m. to be in the training room before practice and arriving late to help with after-practice regimens. As a result, the former two-sport prep standout gained respect for the grind of NCAA Division I student-athletes, especially those who added injury rehab to demanding schedules.
“Understanding all the work they go through daily makes me more driven to help them,” he said. “I get overwhelmed by school sometimes; I couldn’t imagine adding a Division I sport at the same time.”
The hours he spent observing demonstrated that no two injuries and no two athletes are the same. One person may choose to end a session with electric stimulation, while another may not want it. As a result, rehab requires a personable, creative therapist to ensure patients respond to treatments.
“I aim to befriend all the patients that come in because, at the end of the day, they are people who have to go home to kids, a spouse or whatever else,” he said. “They’re going through a lot of excruciating things, so I empathize as I help them.”
As Pearson finishes the first degree and eyes graduate school, he can’t wait for the day he’ll be standing on a sideline, certification in hand, ready to serve athletes.
“Being around physical therapists every day makes me hungry,” he said. “It reminds me to keep my nose to the grindstone, and one day I’ll be where they are.”
— Matt Hawkins