"That was the first time I felt like I mattered to an athlete."
Volleyball Athletic Trainer, University of Alabama
From two ACL tears of her own to facilitating the complete recovery of an athlete who broke his leg jumping into a lake, Karah Sims was made to wear the “ATC” (Athletic Trainer Certified) title after her name. Born in Boaz, Alabama and a student of both the University of Alabama and Ole Miss, Sims offers a glimpse into the ever-changing industry of Athletic Training at a top-tier institution like the University of Alabama.
As the story goes for many rising ATCs, Sims got her start in the industry by serving as the lone Athletic Training student covering several sports simultaneously. During a Graduate Assistantship at Ole Miss, Sims balanced five sports with a full masters-level class schedule.
“At Ole Miss, I covered men’s and women’s golf, women’s tennis, softball, cheer, and dance. That’s a lot of different practice schedules for a lot of different student-athletes. It was tough, but I got the hang of it. I had to,” Sims said.
Not all programs are of the caliber of her current employer: The University of Alabama. Sims says it's common for ATCs at the collegiate level to balance several sports even well into their careers.
In a job that ultimately functions as a first responder, Sims says she has seen her fair share of catastrophic injuries. Of the emergencies she’s seen, she was never expecting the situation she confronted during her time with Men’s Swimming and Diving at Alabama.
“I thought it was going to be a breeze since it’s a non-contact sport. A lot of the issues we saw in swimming were overuse or someone being an idiot on the weekend,” Sims said.
“In February of 2018, we had gone to Auburn for a swim meet. We were doing a light practice the night we arrived to get used to the pool,” Sims said. “We had an athlete who was doing sprint breaststroke in the pool, so he was going all-out trying to get his race pace. Another athlete stepped onto the starting block of that same lane and was oblivious to the athlete in the water. He took a start off the block, full-speed, head-first, and his head collided directly with the swimming athlete’s shoulder.”
Sims had to spine-board the athlete while still in the water, a process used to safely transport an athlete when a cervical spine (neck) injury is suspected. The procedure is difficult enough to properly execute on land, let alone in a pool during the chaos of dozens of other athletes and coaches trying to see what’s happening.
“You’re properly trained, and you think you’ll be ready when the moment comes, but it always feels like time just stops. It’s an incredibly short moment that you’re trying to process who to take care of first, who is in the most need, and then your list of protocol,” Sims said. “You can practice scenarios like that as much as you want, but until you’re in it you won’t fully know how to handle it.”
She was able to get both athletes to a hospital in time for the injuries not to worsen beyond a concussion for one swimmer and a shoulder dislocation for the other. Both athletes were monitored and rehabilitated by Sims and have since returned to the pool. As for that moment of crisis, Sims compares the pressure to “shooting a free throw in basketball. You can let the noise get to you – because there will be distractions – or you can just tune everything else out and focus on your form and technique."
“We’re talking about someone’s life and longevity, and you are responsible for it,” Sims said.
Sims knew she had made the right choice of pursuing a career as an ATC when she dealt with her first major surgical case. When an athlete fractured his leg and tore his ACL jumping from the cliffs at a popular swimming hole on a weekend, Sims was the first person he called.
“I worked with him from the moment he was injured until the day he graduated at the end of senior year. I pushed him to a limit he didn’t know he could go to," Sims said.
"His goal was to make the Olympic trials. His first practice race post-surgery and recovery was a little off, and he called me and told me he couldn't do it. I told him, 'You're going to do this – change your mindset.' His mom called me crying an hour later because he'd done it, he made his time."
In a field laced with so much emotion and intensity, Kinematic Sports understands the pressure that ATCs face every day. We design our products to make people like Sims' job easier, even in the simplest way, as we've done with HydratER, the bottle-transporting cart that can hold up to 24 bottles in one maneuverable structure.
"HydratER is great for us in volleyball. All of my athletes have their own personal water bottle, and I can bring all of the bottles out at once," Sims said.
With the amount of bags and equipment that ATCs and their staff must transport, Sims said HydratER makes it especially easy to swap benches after each set. The ability to "pack up quickly, grab it, and go," is beneficial to ATCs like Sims.
Now, in her sixth year at the University of Alabama, Sims reflects on her experiences across different sports and offers this advice to other Emerging Stars:
"Being a good ATC has nothing to do with how much you know. I mean, you have to know how to not kill somebody. But I think more of it is about how you treat people. If you can treat people the right way, take care of them, and ultimately earn their trust – that is what makes you a successful athletic trainer."
Written by Morgan DeWitt