Athletics 101: Head Athletic Trainer at UF is More than Meets the Eye
This is the seventh in a series of stories heralding the many great people of the University of Findlay and the ways they support our mission of preparing students for meaningful lives and productive careers.
In 2017, Fiona Hanks, head athletic trainer at University of Findlay was working a men’s basketball scrimmage in Croy Gymnasium on campus, when a boy from another team collapsed on the floor during play. Hanks and others were able to assist the athlete long enough for the paramedics to arrive. The boy survived, but it was determined that he had heart issues, and wouldn’t be allowed to play ball again.
Thankfully, this is a rare incident in a career spanning twenty years for Hanks at UF. According to her, most folks don’t know exactly what it is that an athletic trainer does, and she doesn’t mind that. Staying under the radar to those not involved with athletics at UF means that there aren’t major happenings in the way of injuries that Hanks has to contend with. At the same time, the myriad of other talents she uses toward the many obligations she faces within the job might also not be noticeable to all, but are undoubtedly integral to the success of the athletes and programs she works with.
Hanks landed at Findlay by way of Australia, where she was, for a brief stint, an elementary school teacher. One summer, however, she came to America to work at a summer camp, and “fell in love” with the country. She knew that summer camps weren’t something she could make a career out of, and, being athletic herself, acted on a suggestion to look into being a field hockey coach, a sport she’d played for years prior. She became an assistant coach at a Division I school for a bit, but found that it wasn’t a good fit. Realizing she still had a year of eligibility to play field hockey herself, however, she transferred to and enrolled at Frostburg State in Maryland. All seemed great until she had to sign up for a major. “I had no idea what to sign up for. I was like, ‘Athletic Training. Okay, that’ll do.’ When I went to the first class, though, it was like a light bulb going off. I knew it was what I wanted.” After that, it was off to grad school and eventually landing a position as assistant athletic trainer at UF, where Hanks became head athletic trainer in 2001. She works most closely with the volleyball, swimming/diving, and men’s basketball teams.
The long and short of the professional life of an athletic trainer, said Hanks, is that you are responsible for the primary care of student athletes. And as “care” is a broad term, the ways in which it is given to Oiler athletes covers quite a few bases. By taking care of many of the athletes from start to finish, Hanks gets to know them often on a fairly personal basis, and that sometimes means that she becomes more than just a guide for physical health. Students often come to her with the proverbial “What do I do?” question, and, thankfully for UF and its athletes, she’s well-quipped to assist them. In fact, one of Hanks’ obligations is to teach a class called “Psychosocial Issues,” dealing partly with those types of specific issues. “They [student athletes] come to me to talk, often about nothing to do with sport, and they’re frequently not one of my teams/athletes. They just hear that I’m a good listener, I guess. It’s nice to be able to help in a less than conventional athletic way.”
Hanks, who has a small family of her own in Findlay–she’s been married to wife Melissa for three years, and the couple has a rescue dog named Remy–explained that the togetherness and family-vibe that comes at University of Findlay, even more so for its athletes, makes it a place to which parents can feel comfortable sending their children, and that if they are deciding on it as a school at which they can continue their athletic career, Hanks has nothing but good things to say about that choice. “The student athletes here are different from students at other schools, they really are,” she said. “They’re such a vibrant group of people with respect for each other and staff. They’re high quality athletes that know it’s not the only thing that defines them. From the minute you sign, you’re part of the family. Even before you start to play.”
Hanks recalled a particularly meaningful example of this camaraderie at UF when a large group of physical therapy students came to watch one of their classmates play lacrosse. “Every time we scored a goal they would do pushups,” she remembered. “They didn’t have to do that. They did it because of their love and support for one another.”
As for future plans for Hanks at UF? She said she doesn’t need to change a thing. “There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles with this job; not a huge amount of open gratitude. But it’s amazing to help people and know that they know you helped them,” she explained. “Getting to be around dynamic people is the best part of the job. Our student-athletes are just a really good group. They keep me young and laughing.”