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A Step Back: How Injuries Affect Student Athletes

By: Julia Straka, Staff Writer

Senior Ana Ramirez earned a scholarship to play for the University of Richmond’s tennis team, trained for 20 hours every week during the season leading up to conferences, and kept in top shape by training for 8 hours a week during the off-season. But only a week before conference last year, she suffered a disc movement in her lower back.

“You work hard all year for those important conference matches,” she said. “Not only the conference tournament, but every single match in that season is important. It is frustrating to know you were practicing every day during the fall for this, and preparing, and killing yourself with fitness [...] It’s like a step back, when you were already prepared and at your peak.”

Fortunately, Ramirez started feeling better right before her team played. After some doubt, she was able to help her team out and per- formed well. However, her recovery took a lot of time in the training room, cooperation from herself, her coach, Mark Wesselink and university trainers -- and patience, which she joked she doesn’t have. “Injuries in general take a lot of patience, and I am very impatient," Ramirez said. She said she felt that watching her team practice and play matches while sitting down, in a boot, was one of the most difficult aspects of being injured. While being injured, she felt that she was letting her team down because she couldn’t participate in the more important matches leading up to conference that had the potential to bolster her team’s ranking.

Ramirez practicing at the UR tennis courts. Photos courtesy of Jessi Alt.

Junior Lyndell Giffenig, one of Ramirez’s teammates, agreed about the most frustrating part of athlete injuries. Giffenig strained a flexer in her foot last year around the same time that Ramirez hurt her back. The unfortunate timing of her injury caused her the most worry, she said. Her injury also cost her confidence since she wasn’t able to play in matches leading up to the conference, that if she had won, could have pushed her forward, she said.

Both athletes visited the “training room” to speed up their recoveries. The training room refers to a room in the Weinstein Center for Recreation and Wellness where athletes can work with trainers to rehabilitate and then strengthen their injuries. Ramirez went to the training room everyday for her lower back injury and used anti-inflammatory machines, as well as electrical muscle stimulation, known as “e-stim,” to boost her recovery. Once she started getting better, she learned strengthening exercises for her back and went to the training before each practice to warm up and reduce her chance for re-injury. Overall, it took her close to a month to fully recover.

Giffenig has also frequented the training room for a previous shoulder injury. She has a recurring knee injury that she ices and does rehabilitating exercises for once it flares up. “I just think as long as you get ahead of it, it’s fine,” she said. Both Giffenig and Ramirez felt the pressure to recover quickly when they were injured close to conference time. Because of the proximity of conference matches, Ramirez felt the pressure to heal quickly and get back out on the court. Ramirez feels that the training room staff try to do everything they can to ensure the speedy recovery of their athletes.

“I guess there is some pressure to recover,” she said. “In season, there are matches every week, so obviously, you know that the faster, the better. You do feel pressure to do everything every day. Every exercise they give you. Show up to the training room everyday and be willing to spend an hour or two doing rehab and everything you can, because you know that it’s not off-season. You need to be ready as soon as possible, with taking into consideration your body.”

In addition to working in the training room and treating their injuries with different therapies, the athletes are also required to attend practice, even if the most they can do is watch. “When you’re injured, I feel like it’s another commitment, it’s another [...] one hour of your day,” Ramirez said.

However, both tennis players agree that their coach is understanding and supportive when it comes to injuries. “He’s never exactly thrilled that we get injured, but he knows that there is nothing you can really do,” Giffenig said. “He’s pretty supportive of when we’re injured and just wants us to get healthy as soon as we can.”

Ramirez said that her coach would call her and offer condolences, as well as any support she needed. He also asked the training room staff to give him a daily report of her recovery to see how far he could safely push her during practice. Even though Giffenig never doubted that she would recover from her foot-flexer strain, she knows if she didn’t let it heal, she could’ve torn it and been forced to deal with a much more serious injury.

Both athletes also agreed that the team was very supportive of those going through an injury. “We are all understanding because we’ve all been through it so many times,” Ramirez said. Because of the endurance that tennis players must build up — some matches can last up to four hours — and the need to play through soreness, injuries are not uncommon.

“They are definitely very helpful when someone is injured or sick. We definitely help each other out as much as we can,” Giffenig said.

That is also one of Giffenig’s favorite parts of playing tennis for the University of Richmond: having a team to be a part of. “We balance each other out; there’s definitely a lot of different personalities,” she said. “I don’t think that there are two people that are the same, but we all get along really well and it’s really fun to be around girls that like each other.”

On top of the 20 hours that they spend together at practice, the athletes also plan workouts and study sessions together, as well as eat dinner and attend social events as a group. Ramirez said it’s helpful to have a support system and a coach that “cares about you, not only on the court,” throughout the trials and tribulations that being a student athlete can bring.