By Kevin J. Stone, Contributing Writer
GRAFTON – Grafton High School (GHS) athletic trainer Sarah Mealy found herself in a position, earlier this winter, where instinct meant more than any previous training she had before that moment she was in.
When the Grafton/BVT boys hockey team was playing the Milford/Hopedale co-op team, Milford/Hopedale player Aiden Collins had an opponents’ skate severely slice his wrist.
Having played hockey herself growing up, Mealy knew time was of the essence when she saw the injury happen.
“Drawing on that background of myself being a hockey athlete, when you see something like that, you just go,” Mealy said in a recent phone interview.
She was one of several people to rush to Collins’ side to address what his father recently told the Worcester Telegram was a life threatening injury.
Athletic trainer takes unique path to role
Mealy is only 26 years old and in her fourth year at GHS. But she is already showing she’s one of the best in the state at what she does.
Mealy grew up going to King Philip Regional High School, playing hockey, field hockey and lacrosse before going to UConn.
While there, Mealy got invaluable experience working with the women’s basketball team, which made her fall in love with being an athletic trainer even more than she already had.
Before that, though, her initial introduction into the field was somewhat different than most.
“When I was younger, there was this whole feature on the trainer of the Celtics in the Boston Globe,” she explained. “It had a picture of him on the court with a player of course and I had never seen anything like it. I thought it was the coolest thing that you could grow up and help athletes in such a large capacity.”
After seeing that article, and after playing “what felt like every sport” growing up, Mealy said she reflected on the topic and came to the conclusion that she should pursue a career in athletic training.
“It kind of felt like a no-brainer to end up in this position,” she said.
Mealy was on the proverbial big stage with UConn’s women’s basketball team.
From there, though, she realized she would rather work in high school settings.
“To be completely honest, it wasn’t for me,” she said. “I was obviously extremely fortunate to have that experience. But I’m from a really small town and it was kind of a shock to the system to be in a cut throat, business-like position at that high level.”
She gained experience at the high school level and said she feels like she can connect with athletes in that age group well.
She said she values the opportunity to be a liaison between coaches, guidance counselors, parents and physicians in her role as an athletic trainer.
“It’s a huge spider web of communication that needs to happen and I think my personal skill sets and personality just fit better,” she said. “At that college level, I can’t tell you how many athletes I saw that were kind of forced out or forced to transfer because they weren’t performing for one reason or another and that was kind of harsh for me.”
Athletic trainer adapts to changing demands
Mealy said she has seen her job description change over time, adapting to now include a focus on mental health for student athletes.
Mealy has embraced that, but said she wishes there was more support for the kind of work she does.
She said incidents like the skate cut suffered by Aiden Collins underscore that need.
“Our country does such an amazing job with academic support, we have guidance counselors and all these counselors necessary for all the academic support, but there’s not a huge emphasis on the athletic side which baffles me,” she said.
“We have such a huge emphasis on the value of sports at every level – youth, high school, club, college, professional, you name it – but it’s insane to me that we don’t place that same value on a role that’s actually looking out for those athletes across the board,” she added.