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Former Ronan Maiden studies athletic training at UM

by Kyle Spurr, UM News Service
| November 16, 2023 12:00 AM

University of Montana student Alicia Camel of Ronan grew up with a love of basketball. Her brother and uncle both played for the Grizzly basketball team, and she competed in high school with dreams of playing in college.

But injuries derailed her plans. Camel, who was raised in Polson and graduated from Ronan High School in 2017, had constant ankle injuries and had to be taped by an athletic trainer before each practice and game. She got to know the athletic trainer, who was a UM alum, and became interested in the profession.

“I always knew basketball was the environment that I wanted to be in, but I had a lot of injuries,” Camel said. “That’s when I first got introduced to the profession and how important it is for all athletes.”

Camel is now in her final year of UM’s Athletic Training Program within the School of Integrative Physiology and Athletic Training. She is assigned to the Lady Griz basketball team, helping players with treatments as well as injury and illness prevention.

Athletic training at UM is a five-year program, starting with three years of undergraduate study, followed by two years of master’s level study. The two master’s level years consist of 22 weeks of immersive clinical experience working under certified athletic trainers in various professional settings.

First-year master students are assigned to five clinical rotations. Camel spent her first year working with athletic teams at three Missoula high schools – Big Sky, Hellgate and Loyola Sacred Heart – as well as with Griz Football and Lady Griz basketball.

Camel said athletic training requires a unique mix of skills including injury assessment and rehabilitation, therapeutic interventions, health care administration, injury and illness prevention and emergency medicine.

“We are the first responders,” Camel said. “We are in charge of everything: the emergencies, the injuries, the prevention, the rehab afterward.”

Valerie Moody, the UM Athletic Training Program director, said athletic training is a burgeoning field that is expected to increase 30% over the next two decades. The growth is due to a rise in youth sports and an overall interest in athletics and awareness of athletic training, especially in rural areas like Montana.

The result means a high demand for UM’s athletic training students once they graduate, Moody said.

“All of our students get jobs,” Moody said. “There are more jobs than we have students.”

UM’s Athletic Training Program has gained a strong reputation since it was among the first programs in the nation to form in 1971. Since then, the program has produced professional athletic trainers working across the country, and those UM alumni often give current students clinical opportunities and careers after graduation.

Along with placing students with Montana high schools and Grizzly Athletics, Moody said, the program has sent students to clinical sites all over the U.S.

“The goal has always been for us to build a national reputation for our program,” Moody said, “and I think we are very well known throughout the region and the country.”

Camel can be found this semester in the Rhinehart Athletic Training Center, housed inside the Adams Center on the UM campus, where she works with Griz athletes and helps them prevent or rehabilitate injuries.

Camel is entering a busy stretch with the Lady Griz basketball season underway, working hands-on with the players during practices. She stands behind the team’s bench during games, always ready to help in any way.

“Alicia is awesome. She’s such a great and positive person to have around our players,” Lady Griz coach Brian Holsinger said. “They really like her. She always has a smile on her face and is an energy-giver instead of taking it. Basketball is part of her family, so she loves the sport.”

Camel understands the emotional side of athletic training and how to keep players calm as they experience an injury or frustration during their recovery. She remembers feeling the same way while trying to overcome ankle injuries in high school. And she remembers how the athletic trainer helped her navigate that challenge.

“I remember being taped by a UM student,” Camel said, “and now it’s totally full-circle.”