(written and photographed for Somerville Patch)
To win a championship, you need talented athletes. You need good coaches and well-run practices. You need luck.
You also need to stay healthy, and when a Somerville Highlander gets hurt, his or her first stop is always the trainer’s office, where Michelle Kelly is in her fifth year as Somerville’s one and only athletic trainer.
“Athletic training, to me it’s a puzzle,” Kelly says. “There are so many aspects of what can be wrong. It’s not always clear-cut something is injured.”
Kelly, 36, has been an athletic trainer since 1998. She discovered athletic training as an undergraduate at UMass-Boston.
“I played basketball my whole life,” Kelly says. “I liked science and medicine, so the athletic trainer that was at UMass told me about the profession.”
Kelly graduated UMass-Boston with a B.S. in athletic training, then earned her board certification from the National Athletic Trainers Association. She also has a Massachusetts Allied Health Professionals license.
For Kelly, diagnosing an injury is only half the fun.
“Educating the students, and trying to get them to understand how their body works, and answering their questions,” Kelly says. “We have a good time in here. The kids like to come hang out. It’s a safe haven for a lot of people.”
The trainer’s office is on full display as a gathering place one Friday afternoon. When Kelly leaves to call a parent, several students – both injured and healthy – come in and chat with Kelly’s patients. They discuss upcoming sports seasons, the differences between boys and girls – common conversations among teenagers, no matter the setting.
“Michelle makes the environment non-stressful,” says Johnson Thomas, senior captain for the boys’ basketball team.
After graduating from UMass, Kelly worked for Boston College, traveling with teams while earning her master’s at night. It was an exhausting time in her life, and Kelly took a break by becoming a medical cast technician.
“I was just burned out,” Kelly said. “Rather than give up everything, I used my skills to good use.”
Ultimately, Kelly returned to her original profession.
“I missed being in a training room all day, and being with the kids, and being on the field too much,” Kelly says.
After BC, Kelly met Somerville athletic director Nicole Viele at Leslie University, where Viele was a pitching coach. When Somerville lost its athletic trainer before the 2006 football season, Kelly started working for the Highlanders part-time.
“Pretty much at the end of that year, I decided that I really liked being with the high school kids,” Kelly says. “We figured out how to get me over here.”
While Kelly says she doesn’t have a favorite athlete to work with, she likes ice hockey because she also plays it. The variety of hits in football also makes that sport interesting for Kelly.
“Every sport sort of has its pros and cons,” Kelly says.
Kelly says the toughest parts of being Somerville’s athletic trainer are the hours and the amount of work.
“Our winter schedule, we have sports Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, some Saturday nights,” Kelly says. “So it’s really a six-day job, and my day starts here at 9 a.m., and I’m here at 10 at night.”
Overuse injuries are the most common, Kelly says, and sprained ankles.
“We have a lot of shin splints, a lot of patella tendonitis, a lot of just muscle tightness,” Kelly says. “The student-athletes don’t do such a great job stretching until it’s too late.”
To help athletes avoid muscle tightness, Kelly says she’s worked with coaches to incorporate dynamic stretching – stretches done while moving, as opposed to the traditional method of standing still and bending.
So far, Kelly hasn’t had to deal with any serious physical injuries. She has had far more experience with concussions and concussion management, and says that while she appreciates why concussions are so carefully managed, coordinating a student’s post-concussion care is nearly a full-time job in itself.
When she’s not working for Somerville High, Kelly also serves as trainer for the Boston Militia, Somerville’s women’s tackle football team.
In that role, Kelly says: “I wouldn’t necessarily say that I work harder, but there are definitely times where you do things that you wouldn’t necessarily do for a high school student to get a professional football player back on the field.”