NRHS trainer logs 2,000 hours helping athletes

Published 10:24 pm Tuesday, January 7, 2014

On the job: Nansemond River High School senior Shelby Gregory helps senior wrestler Nick Garland stretch in her longstanding capacity as student athletic trainer. (Titus Mohler/Suffolk News-Herald)

On the job: Nansemond River High School senior Shelby Gregory helps senior wrestler Nick Garland stretch in her longstanding capacity as student athletic trainer. (Titus Mohler/Suffolk News-Herald)

Everyone would love to have a shadow as helpful as Sarah Smith’s.

Smith serves as Nansemond River High School’s certified athletic trainer through the Bon Secours Sports Medicine program, and Nansemond River senior Shelby Gregory has faithfully shadowed her as a student helper for the last four years.

Gregory has logged more than 2,000 hours in the role, and her dedication to athletic training has practically made her synonymous with the department at school.

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“I don’t know what I would do without her,” Smith said. “I don’t like to think about it.”

Gregory’s interest in the field was spurred on by her mother, Paige Swaim, who served as a student athletic trainer at Western Branch High School.

Listening to her mom’s stories and how much fun she had made her think, “I want to do that,” Gregory said.

“That’s why I decided to start helping my grandpa,” she said, referring to Dr. Doug Gregory, the team physician at Western Branch. As early as the sixth grade, she was on football sidelines with him, mostly observing, but also helping him tape players and clean up blood.

When she was entering high school at Nansemond River, Dr. Gregory helped her continue her hands-on experience.

“Her granddad e-mailed me right before her freshman year and told me that his granddaughter wanted to be an athletic trainer,” Smith said. He asked if Gregory could put in hours assisting her, and she agreed.

“She came the first day of football practice her freshman year,” Smith said. She has been there almost every day since. “I’d say 99.5 percent of days.”

Smith sometimes sends Gregory home, knowing “she needs a little bit of a life, too.”

Each year, the range of work days spans from Aug. 1 to the end of high school sports seasons in the spring. Gregory has served as student athletic trainer for every junior varsity and varsity sport that Nansemond River offers.

Her responsibilities begin as soon as the school day ends. Coolers and Gatorade must be prepared for practices and games for whatever sports are active at the time.

“They want it right then, so as soon as I get there, I have to make the coolers,” she said.

“It’s just nice to know I have a second set of hands if I need them,” Smith said. “It might be why I don’t have gray hair yet.”

Gregory’s other duties include massaging cramps and helping athletes stretch out sore muscles.

“And she sometimes grades some papers for me,” said Smith, who is a teacher and chair of the physical education department at Nansemond River.

By many people’s standards, particularly teenagers’, the degree of Gregory’s sacrifice is great. She has spent long hours at school, even traveling for away games with the varsity football team, while still shouldering class work.

“There are some nights when I’m up pretty late doing homework and studying,” she said, and she sometimes doing her homework at indoor sporting events.

But, she said, “I’ve never regretted volunteering.”

“A lot of my friends are athletes, so I do get to see them and hang out with them and everything, but I really like doing athletic training,” she said. This is never more true than during football season, which she calls “the highlight of the year.”

A reward for her dedication came during the summer before her junior year, when she was selected by the College of William & Mary’s athletic trainers to be a student instructor at their sports medicine camp. She had attended the camp the two preceding years.

She hopes her broad experience will land her scholarships as she heads to Bridgewater College in the fall, applying for its athletic training program.

Gregory reflected on her experience in high school.

“I’m definitely going to remember how close Ms. Smith and I got over the four years,” she said. “She’s like a second mom to me, so we tell each other everything, and she’s helped me so much.”

Smith has been just as grateful for such a dedicated shadow.

“She has been my saving grace,” Smith said.