Ignacio head athletic trainer Shelby Sangster sees to an injured Bobcat at IHS Field during the 2018 football season. The 2018-19 school year was her first at Ignacio in that capacity.
Ignacio head athletic trainer Shelby Sangster re-fastens a Bobcat's facemask in between halves of an away football game during the 2018 season. The 2018-19 school year was her first at Ignacio in that capacity.
Photo Credit: Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Photo Credit: Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
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Talking Training: Sangster on year one at IHS

On October 3, 2018, the 115th U.S. Congress passed the Sports Medicine Licensure Clarity Act of 2017 (Senate Bill 808, sponsored by Republican John Thune of South Dakota), essentially extending licensed professionals the ability to practice sports medicine throughout the country, and not just within borders of states in which they’re primarily licensed.

Packaged oddly with the larger FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 (House Resolution 302, sponsored by Kentucky Republican Brett Guthrie), passed the next day, President Donald Trump signed the SMLCA into law October 5.

Unbeknownst specifically to those on Capitol Hill and in the White House, Friday, Sept. 7, in rural San Juan County, N.M., had presented evidence of the Act’s importance.

For Shelby Sangster, it was more or less the moment early in the 2018-19 grind she came into her own as Ignacio High School’s lead athletic trainer, and more or less the night she, being just one individual, would have feared.

“I had five of my guys go out in one game,” she recalled, reflecting on IHS Football’s 42-6 loss at Newcomb, N.M., in which serious aid beyond her immediate capability was required.  “That was probably the worst experience I could ever have.”

When worse came to worst, sophomore running back Joe Garcia suffered a season-ending lower-leg fracture ultimately requiring screws to fix, while senior lineman Mike Archuleta was later back-boarded off the field due to a probable stinger and eventually transported out of town for further analysis—but the first responder in each case, other than a teammate, was Sangster.

“Like any other day, nothing’s really perfect and nothing really goes your way,” she joked.  “But you’ve got to have this reaction to make that less of an impact on the person.  You’ve just got to think on your toes.”

“They know that we’re out there, and not…standing on the sidelines just to watch.  We’re actually there trying to figure out what’s going on, trying to see the actual play, like what happened and how they got hurt.  So we’re actually there for a purpose.”

One of more than 45,000 like-minded souls nationwide saluted during National Athletic Training Month (also National Brain Injury Awareness Month, coincidentally) back in March, the Gallup, N.M., reared Sangster took over at IHS from predecessor/mentor Kolin Tomlinson—presently Supervisor of Athletic Training at Mercy Sports Medicine in Durango—in ’18.

Having been a Lady Bengal in multiple sports before graduating GHS in 2013, she already had some basic knowledge, besides athletic tape and water bottles, regarding her targeted field of collegiate study (she would earn her B.A. in Athletic Training from Durango’s Fort Lewis College in ’17) and current field of work.

“I’d played volleyball all four years of my high school career, and I played a little bit of softball and golf.  Little bit of everything,” she said.  “And [while] almost any athletic trainer can tell you, ‘I got hurt and this is why I got into it,’ I wasn’t really hurt; I just knew.”

“My high school was kind of fortunate; we actually had a trainer that worked with the [NFL’s] Arizona Cardinals,” she noted (the alluded-to fellow was Freddie Carbajal, who’d also assisted the International Basketball League’s New Mexico Slam and future NBA ‘Birdman’ Chris Andersen).  “During fall meetings, like, parent meetings and the meetings you have before practice, he came and talked to us…told us what he did.  Right then and there I was like, ‘That’s what I need to do.’”

And that she’s proud to be doing, from working one-on-one with volunteer student aides to coordinating efforts with several ‘ATs’ at a large event like Ignacio’s Butch Melton Memorial Invitational during the winter wrestling season.  Or even when operating practically solo at other sizable spectacles such as IHS’ Abel Velasquez Invitational during the springtime track-and-field slate.

“Usually we’re on the very back end of athletics.  No one really thinks, ‘Oh, who really takes care of that person when they’re hurt?’” Sangster said.  “So just having that recognition is kind of nice.  Especially with athletic training; it’s always in different settings instead of an ordinary hospital.”

And those settings go beyond the wide world of sports, making for a career choice with many real-world applications.

“You can see athletic trainers in a military setting, law enforcement setting, construction setting, and also in the hospitals—it just depends.  We have one, she does work with a construction company…goes out there every day, helps the guys with their normal back pains, and she’ll help figure out what’s the problem and ‘Do this, this and this, and this should take care of it,’” said Sangster.

“It’s nice to see us slowly growing into what we would call ‘health-care providers’ instead of ‘athletic trainers.’”

Not surprisingly, the theme of NATM 2019 was ATs are Health Care, a motto stemming from one vital trait all medical personnel must possess:

Active listening, Sangster stated.  “And I still need to work on my questions, especially with high-schoolers because you can ask them the same question over and over but they’ll give you a different answer each time.”

But that’s a back-and-forth in which she’s more than willing to participate.

“Seeing an athlete go through an injury that might have ended their season, and actually getting to work with them…to the next stage until they can actually compete again—that’s most of the satisfaction I get,” she said.  “The thanks I get from the athletes—like, ‘Thank you for helping me with this little pain!’ or ‘this big injury!’—it’s always nice…. I’m always a helper!”




Sangster said she met Carbajal late in her high-school days after he’d become Gallup’s athletic director.  A predecessor at that post, also with a background in athletic training at GHS and elsewhere (including the Major Indoor Soccer League), Joe Kolb became owner of the reborn American Basketball Association’s Gallup Talons in 2005.

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