Keeping student-athletes healthy

Ryan Pinson
Alumnus Ryan Pinson ensures the health of student-athletes as Head Athletic Trainer.

Like any sports fan, Ryan Pinson knows where the action is – out on the field, or the court, or in the pool. But while fans of Northern Arizona University’s athletics teams keep their eyes glued to the action, Pinson stays alert for something altogether different.

As the university’s head athletic trainer, Pinson, who graduated in 2004 with a master’s degree in athletic training, and his crew of trainers work behind the scenes to ensure the safety and health of student-athletes.  And, Pinson says, his own experience as an athlete and former graduate assistant helps him to keep student-athletes healthy and on the field.

“At the end of the day, it’s about having that gut instinct of knowing someone and perceiving when something’s truly physically wrong with them,” Pinson says.

Pursuing a dream in sports medicine

Pinson strives to administer the best care he can because he knows all too well the pain of a life-altering injury. Having wrestled at his high school in Adak, Alaska, he prided himself on his work ethic, in and out of the gym. But after four knee surgeries ended Pinson’s wrestling career, he saw first-hand how important trainers were in helping athletes to maintain their health and high level of play. This realization drove him to pursue a career as an athletic trainer.

Pinson interior

“It’s a great feeling to know that even though we’re behind the scenes, athletic trainers are at the forefront of an athlete’s health care,” Pinson says. “We want to provide student-athletes with the best products and services possible.”

After graduating from Oregon State University with a bachelor’s degree in athletic training, Pinson was offered a graduate assistant position at Northern Arizona University working with the cross country and track and field training staff. Although Pinson was unfamiliar with these sports, he soon found himself learning new facets of his profession and growing within his field.

“Athletes are athletes and soft tissue’s soft tissue, but there’s definitely a different mindset between sports,” Pinson says. “As an athletic trainer, I always loved wrestling, football, and hockey – sports where I’m always busy. But at the same time, cross country and track and field really challenged me in terms of getting to know injuries and athletes – where they can push themselves, and where they need to pull back.”

The next generation of trainers

Pinson’s drive and initiative working as an assistant on the university’s training staff got him noticed. In 2007, Pinson was offered the head athletic trainer position.

The title comes with heavy responsibility, Pinson says, including traveling with the teams and overseeing the day-to-day operations of the entire program. Making the transition, though, was no problem; Pinson says the support system he found upon accepting the job helped him to acclimate smoothly.

“I had the support of the coaches and athletic administration to take on the position,” Pinson says. “Everyone was so willing to work with me and help me through the growing pains of being a young professional.”

In his role, Pinson employs three additional athletic trainers and six graduate assistants to help him manage each sport’s games, practices, and any related events.

Working with a new generation of trainers has allowed Pinson to act as a mentor to current students looking to become full-time trainers or physicians. He says his mentoring approach depends on the situation, but that he always strives to instill a passion for the work and a drive to learn in his assistants.

“Sometimes, I like to lead by example, but I don’t want to be too much of a micromanager for the team,” Pinson says. “I let them go through the growing pains when it comes to athletics, but also try be there for them as a mentor and remind them that their education is very important. I’ve come full circle.”