I don't know about you but I don't like pain. I detest it. I feel it, and I turn away and try not to faint. I see it, and I turn away and run. I hear it, and I grimace and plug my ears. That's me. Pain isn't for everyone. It's a special person who gravitates toward pain, who welcomes it with gentle tenderness. Yes, this person is truly unique. Broken bones, sprained ankles, dislocated shoulders: These are just a few of the numerous ailments that go to heal in the athletic trainer's room at OPRF High School, where Mike Barnish and Holly Odean turn the hobbled athlete into a healthy athlete again.
Barnish has been on the job since 1977, at OPRF since 1994. Odean began at OPRF in 2001. During the busiest sports season, together they help mend 50 to 60 wounded athletes per day. That's right, I wrote per day. No misprint. I had Odean repeat it twice to me.
"Some days there's a line at the door," she says.
They are part of Trinity Orthopedists out of West Suburban Hospital in Oak Park, and there's nothing else they'd rather be doing.
"I absolutely enjoy it," says Odean. "There's something new to deal with everyday. No day is the same. There are so many different aspects to our job that we never have the same thing going on twice. It could be a fresh ankle sprain, or post-op shoulder rehab, or we could be covering a game. There's so many different aspects that it keeps us on our toes."
I posed the same question to Barnish about what a typical week in the life of an athletic trainer might be.
"There's no such thing," he quipped.
If you're not bleeding, wincing, crying or talking silly from a concussion, then chances are Barnish and Odean don't have too much time to chat with you. The competitive drive of sports, even at the high school level, beckons their expertise constantly. There are athletes that need to be put back together, sometimes quickly, before the bus pulls out of the parking lot.
I see Barnish out on the football field a lot. Tape, scissors, bandaids, packets of gauze, and who knows what else attached to his belt. If he's got some free time, he'll even help tape up some uninjured players for preventive reasons. He's the coach of pain. He'll teach you how to avoid it, how to soothe it, how to get rid of it. The injured athlete tends to breathe a little easier when he arrives on the scene. Same for Odean.
Together they can put in 50-60 hours per week during the busiest sports season. Just last week, the duo was on hand at the school for four different basketball games, at all the levels, and a wrestling match until 10 o'clock at night.
"We go through stages where things are just really busy," says Odean. "And then we'll have are regular 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. shifts as well."
They also on occasion travel with the players they help keep from harms way. Odean last season traveled to Geneva with the OPRF baseball team for the State tournament, while Barnish took the ride to Peoria to assure the OPRF softball team was in peak condition for the State championship.
According to Barnish and Odean, there's no priority seating in the trainer's room. That stud quarterback or field hockey player will have to wait his or her turn.
"It's first come, first serve," says Odean.
So, what is an average week for an athletic trainer?
"Ankle, knees, dislocating, shoulder separations, sprains, jammed fingers, elbows to the eyes, concussions ? "
Column over, I feel squeamish.