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School athletic trainer profile

Belfast's Packard has impressive sports background, loves outdoor activities

Standout high school athlete, college All-American redeployed at Eastern Maine Medical Center for COVID-19 pandemic
By Ken Waltz | May 10, 2020
Courtesy of: Sara Packard Sara Packard.

Belfast — Editor's note: You see them at school athletic events or practices. They are fixtures on the sideline — until they spring into action when needed on the field, court, diamond, mat, floor, track, course, slope, ice or poolside. They are the ones who help keep young student-athletes in the game. They are there to comfort, treat and support youngsters, from any school, who have sustained an injury, no matter how insignificant. They are fans of their school teams and student-athletes. They are extensively trained, eager and ready to administer sports medicine when needed — to lend a personal touch. They are the calm and reasoned when emotions and fear are high. This is one of a five-story series that takes a closer look at Midcoast school athletic trainers, the unsung, mostly behind-the-scenes, heroes — until they are called into action during a child's more traumatic, painful experience.

Here is a closer look at one of them:

Name: Sara Packard.

Age: 24.

Years as athletic trainer?: Two.

Years at current school(s)?: One at Belfast Area High School.

Town or city you live in?: Winterport.

High school and college/what school sports or activities did you do, year graduated, what studied in college?: High School: I attended Nokomis Regional High in Newport, and graduated as valedictorian in 2014. While in high school I was a part of the soccer, basketball, and softball teams. I was also involved in National Honor Society, Key Club, Latin Club, and a variety of musical groups. College: I attended the University of Maine at Presque Isle. There I majored in athletic training and had a minor in physical education. I graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in athletic training in 2018. While in college I played basketball my freshman year and softball for all four years, where I was a three-time All-American. I also worked as a resident assistant in college for three years.

Why and how did you get in this field?: Growing up I was always involved in athletics, and I have always loved sports. While in middle school and high school, I really started to enjoy learning about the human body and knew some day I wanted to work in the medical field. While in high school, all students at Nokomis had to take career pathways classes. Through these classes I was able to job shadow athletic trainers at UMaine and also work with my high school athletic trainer Bob Kreider. I also was able to take Mr. Kreider’s introduction to athletic training class in high school, and this class just confirmed for me that athletic training was what I wanted to study and have as a career.

So from there I applied to four colleges throughout New England that had athletic training programs and decided to attend UMPI. I graduated in four years, passed my certification exam, and became a certified athletic trainer. My first athletic training job was at my alma mater at UMPI, and this past June I started at Northern Light Sports Health working primarily with Belfast Area High School.

What is your role, responsibilities and how far does your authority go (are you the one who decides who can play and who cannot play if in-game injury protocol)?: Depending on the severity/nature of the injury, I can either treat the athlete myself or refer to a different healthcare provider. For example, if an athlete suffers an ankle sprain with no suspected fracture, I would be able to treat and rehab the injury and determine when the athlete is ready to return to sport. Another example, if an athlete suffers a potential ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] tear, then I will refer to an orthopedic surgeon who will then be responsible for making the final determination when an athlete can return to sport. I work very closely with orthopedic surgeons and sports medicine physicians throughout the whole injury process, from initial evaluation, to surgery, to returning to sport.

During games it is my call on whether or not it is safe for the athlete to return to the game. When an injury occurs during a game, it is basically assessing what immediate care does the athlete need. From there, it becomes the question: is it possible for them to safely return to the game? If an athlete is functional, able to protect themselves, not at risk of injuring themselves further, and wants to return to the game, then I will allow them to. If any of the following criteria is not met, then I will communicate to the coach that his or her athlete is done for the day.

Best and worst aspects of your jobs?: The best part of my job is working with athletes and helping them achieve their goals. I love seeing an athlete who suffered an injury be able to return to the sport they love and compete. The worst part of my job is seeing and dealing with career-ending injuries.

Most rewarding aspect of dealing with young athletes?: I love being able to see young student-athletes grow and develop into young adults. In my role I am able to watch student-athletes not only grow physically and athletically, but also see them grow into leaders and young adults. I also love listening to my athletes talk about their goals and aspirations and seeing them go out and achieve them.

Do you feel like you are part of the school teams, like a coach or mentor, or just a person with the team doing a specific job?: I always tend to feel like I am a part of the team, simply because I spend a lot of time with the team. Some teams I am definitely closer with than others, depending on the demand of the sport and how their season goes injury-wise. For example, I spend a lot of time with the football team due to the nature of the sport and the risks that are associated with it.

Hobbies, passions, other things you do that tell people more about you?: Most of my hobbies involve being outdoors and being active. I love to go golfing, even though I am not very good. I also enjoy hiking, snowshoeing, kayaking, biking, and simply exploring new places. I also enjoy traveling. One of my travel goals is to visit all 62 national parks. I recently visited Florida and checked three off the list: Biscayne, Dry Tortugas, and Everglades. When I am home, I also enjoy cooking and trying new recipes.

You watch a lot of school sports, which are your favorite?: I think my favorite would be softball. Softball was my main sport in high school and college, and I just love being around the sport. I also really enjoy watching basketball. Growing up, my dad and I watched a lot of basketball games together, and it is just a really fun sport to watch. I also find myself really enjoying field hockey because it’s a sport I don’t know a lot about. I love trying to figure out all the rules and different strategies to the game.

Do you have a favorite moment watching school sports, a personal or team achievement that makes you proud and happy?: Although I have only had two sports seasons at Belfast so far, I have enjoyed a lot of special moments. One moment that really stands out to me was watching our girls basketball team earn its first win in three years. It was special watching the team continue to battle and work and finally be rewarded for their efforts.

I also love seeing the Midcoast rivalry games. There’s just an extra energy to all those games, and it is fun to watch and be a part of.

You obviously become fans of your school's teams, but your job is to focus on helping all athletes, correct? Do you become vested in the athletes and teams?: Obviously our first focus is the health and well-being of all the athletes that are competing, but yes, I am vested in my athletes and teams. I was always pretty competitive growing up, so I do enjoy winning. However, at the end of the day just being able to see the kids compete and grow is my favorite part. I put in a lot of time with athletes and teams, and I like to see them do well.

You are on site to be athletic trainer first, but I see so many of you do anything to help schools, programs. What are some of the "extra things" you do to help out not in your job description?: With Northern Light, we do a lot of educational programs that intend to educate our coaches, athletes, and parents. We recently put together our March Series, which is an annual event when we put together a series of presentations over a specific topic. This past March, we presented on different aspects of sports specialization as it is a growing trend in youth sports.

While at Belfast, I also try to help out my athletic director with the small tasks. Whether it is helping find game balls after soccer games, or making a playlist for basketball, I just try to help out with the small things whenever I can.

I also love spending time teaching/mentoring students who are interested in sports medicine as a possible career. It is a great way to share my passion with others and hopefully help to grow the profession of athletic training.

How are you personally dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and not being able to work with athletes and schools?: In the down time I have been able to update our emergency-action plans and policies and procedures. I also have taken some time to improve my knowledge by working on continuing education units. As athletic trainers we must complete 50 continuing education units every two years.

Also, since I am employed through Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center, the athletic trainers there have been redeployed throughout the hospital to assist in the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of us are screening visitors and employees as they enter the hospital.

I have also had the opportunity to work with inpatient physical therapy on non-COVID floors and work on getting patients up walking and improving their strength.

Do you have other jobs or use your medical/athletic training in other ways?: In the summer, Northern Light Sports Health does a lot of community outreach and covering athletic events within the greater Bangor communities. Last summer, we were involved with covering USATF Maine Youth Developmental Track Series which consisted of seven track meets throughout the summer and a final state meet which featured young athletes from all over the state of Maine. We also covered three baseball tournaments throughout the summer, including the Senior League Regional Tournament, Senior Legion State Tournament, and Junior Legion State Tournament. One of our busier weeks in the summer is the week of the Lobster Bowl. Northern Light Sports Health, along with MaineGeneral Sports Medicine, provides athletic training coverage throughout the entire week of training camp, as well as game coverage. I have had the chance to be a part of two Lobster Bowls and it is always a great and memorable experience.

Can you tell me anything else about you personally, what makes you tick?: I do love seafood, so that is a definite bonus to working in the Midcoast area.

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