When Brandi Wenzlau and husband Jason brought daughter Miya into the world Oct. 5, she was relatively relieved, if not elated, that their first-born arrived during a bye week for Bayfield High School football.
Missing a game just couldn’t happen for the dedicated BHS athletic trainer, though she was urged by her family and Bayfield administrators to not get too close to the game action on the field.
Oh, but she did.
“I was watching a play go by, and I did my normal, you know? Scanned all the athletes, making sure everyone’s getting up, and this kid wasn’t,” Wenzlau said. “So, I had to kind of run over there, and (BHS assistant coach) Frank Hawkins is looking for the girl that was replacing me, and I was there. He was like, ‘I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to yell at you.’ And I was like, ‘I’m not supposed to be out here.’ But if someone’s hurt, I’ve got to help ’em.”
Seven calendar days after giving birth, Wenzlau rejoined the Wolverines for more Friday night fury – a 39-3 rout of Montezuma-Cortez – and with more personal purpose to perform her tasks as BHS’ head athletic trainer. Wenzlau is one of more than 45,000 nationwide saluted in March as part of National Athletic Training Month.
“Being a mom, I think, ‘What if that was my daughter laying there?’” she said. “It can get a little overwhelming, but in that moment it’s my job to take care of them mentally and physically.
“Big injuries can be scary, and they all handle them differently. I can remember one time I couldn’t really get him to talk to me — what happened, where does it hurt — because he was just crying. And I can hear everyone around going, ‘Oh my God, oh my God!’ In that moment, we’re in the spotlight, and everyone in the stands, all the coaches, both teams are watching.”
And if there ever was a trainer eager to embrace crunch time, it would be Brandi Wenzlau, who went by the last name Calderwood when she was a 2009 BHS graduate. She is still amazed at having worked with state championship winning squads in football, boys basketball, boys track-and-field and even dance last year.
“I kind of get in a zone where all that matters is the athlete that’s down, and I try to stay calm,” she said, “I know what I’m doing, don’t feel the need to convince people anymore. I just focus on me and the kid now, and to me it just seems like 30 seconds.”
Between education and preparation, athletic trainers are more than battlefield medics. Re-founded in Kansas City, Missouri, back in 1950 – a previous attempt had lasted from 1938 to 1944 – the National Athletic Trainers Association, which is now headquartered in Carrollton, Texas, gave an “ATs are Health Care” slogan to National Athletic Training Month this year.
“We always joke that we’re not marketing gurus, but for March we really try to get it out, tell people and show people what we can do, what our capabilities are,” said Wenzlau, who replaced Crystal Moore at Bayfield in 2014 after receiving her B.A. in athletic training from Fort Lewis College. “A lot of people think that we’re just personal trainers or all we do is fill water bottles, tape ankles. But we’re board-certified medical professionals. We took boards specific for athletic training, kind of like nurses and doctors have to take their own boards, and we specialize in the care for and prevention of athletic injuries. So, if I’m not busy treating a new injury, then I’m busy preventing that.”
And student-athletes aren’t the only ones who can benefit from an athletic trainer. Wenzlau said the profession can extend to all active jobs.
“There’s so much opportunity for growth,” said Wenzlau. “With Mercy Sports Medicine, we’re expanding. When I started, we were only in four schools, and we’ve since added so many more. And we’re looking at reaching out to big companies in the area – work with fire departments, police departments, those active jobs. (Colorado Department of Transportation) actually employs a company to have an athletic trainer covered. (People) have these active jobs that require them to use their bodies, but nobody cares until they’re hurt.
“Getting them back healthy but quickly, there’s a lot of work that goes into that. There’s always some new modality, some new exercise, some new research. Always so much to learn. So nationally, we use March as sort of that big month to spend extra time educating our communities on what athletic training as a whole is. Yes, I tape you on game day, and yes, I’m there to help make sure you’re hydrated, but behind the scenes is really where we shine.”
Wenzlau’s career pursuit began in earnest at the University of Wyoming, which despite dropping its athletic training program while she attended from 2009-11 allowed her to learn more independently from Cowboy football trainer Bob Waller.
“I worked with the offensive linemen, and those guys were huge,” she said. “I used them as a wind-block up in Laramie.”
After transferring to FLC, she learned from longtime director of sports medicine Wayne Barger.
But within the halls of BHS is where Wenzlau says her interest was initially piqued.
“Being an injured athlete is where a lot of athletic trainers kind of get their start; we spend so much time going, ‘Wait a minute, we can be around sports, but I’m a medical professional? This is great,’” she said. “I was not as athletic as I hoped. Played basketball, volleyball and track, but I wasn’t great. I loved the atmosphere, loved sports and to be around them, I just couldn’t really play them.
“Sophomore year in high school, I had knee surgery, and I spent a lot of time with (Janine Pleau, currently Western Colorado University’s head trainer). She did all my rehab, got me back to playing, and I thought, ‘That was kind of fun.’ Then (Portia Kamps, currently a physician assistant in Washington state) was in Bayfield for really what I remember of being an athlete. I got a concussion in basketball, and she did all of my return to play.”
Wenzlau’s concussion came in a game against Pagosa Springs while Mary Rambo was a star player for the team. Rambo, formerly known as Brinton, works with the BHS staff.
“So, I tell her all the time, ‘You’re the reason that I’m here,’” Wenzlau said.
And Wenzlau, proudly, doesn’t plan on leaving anytime soon.
“I always call the athletes at Bayfield my other kids,” she said with a downward glance at a wide-eyed Miya, preoccupied with a rattle while absorbing all the lunchtime sights, sounds and smells of Bayfield’s Baked restaurant, with Wolverine Country Stadium visible to the north through the window. “They’re so easy to work with. They’re dedicated to their sport, dedicated to their team. They want to get back when they’re hurt. So, their drive and ambition just kind of doubles mine.
“And I feed on that excitement to where it’s exciting for me to get to try all this new rehab, all these new stretches, new tape jobs, new exercises. I always say my best day is watching my injured players score points or make big defensive plays or whatever they specialize in, succeeding at it. I always say, ‘Those three points were mine’ or ‘That touchdown was mine,’ and usually they kind of giggle and go, ‘OK. Brandi, OK.’ But the real excitement is to watch them play. Watching the kids succeed.”
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE: With advances in the field tending to require more and more education, Wenzlau advised any young prospective athletic trainers to get involved early in any related studies.
“Anything you can do in high school to kind of get you familiar,” she said. “You can work with your own athletic trainer or a physical therapist or somebody just to get you exposed to it. It’s pretty science-based with a lot of anatomy, physiology classes. You do have to get your master’s to get there now, and a lot of kids see that as kind of a deal-breaker. But there’s so much you can do, like getting a degree in kinesiology or exercise physiology, anything you can do to get exposed.
“It’s such a hands-on job that just because you’re good at reading books and taking tests does not mean you’re going to be a good athletic trainer.”