Cheryl Rockwood didn’t make any tackles for the Union College football team, and she certainly hasn’t scored a goal for the nationally ranked, NCAA tournament-bound Dutchmen hockey squad.
Greg Dashnaw obviously didn’t fine-tune Marquis Wright’s pin-point passing technique or Rob Poole’s deadly jump shot on the Siena basketball team, which made a postseason appearance in the CBI.
And Jay Geiger didn’t help rugged Sam Rowley grab a rebound or speedy DJ Evans make a steal for the University at Albany basketball team as it made its run into the NCAA tournament.
But you could make a strong case that the trio of veteran collegiate athletic trainers are the real MVPs for their respective schools’ athletic programs.
Rockwood, Dashnaw and Geiger work behind the scenes to keep their student-athletes healthy and productive, not only during their current season of activity, but throughout the year. And they work their magic in several different sports.
“You wear a lot of hats in this job,” said Geiger. “You need to be a psychiatrist and a great communicator with the coaches, administration and students. They have to trust you.”
“Every season is a new adventure,” said Rockwood. “You end up working seven days a week, but you are never bored.”
Trainers are the gasoline and oil for every program’s athletic machinery. They are the first ones on the scene when there is an injury, but they are also the first members of the staff prepping the athletes in the training room. And perhaps more importantly, they are the ones who monitor each athlete’s personal health with an eye toward preventing injury or illness.
“I’m a big fan of prevention,” said Rockwood. “I believe in setting the athletes up for success. I even check the nets or the backstops for holes, and I make sure there aren’t any rough spots on the ice.”
All three trainers have noticed numerous changes in their profession over the years.
“I think it has gone from being an art to now being more of a science,” said Dashnaw. “The campuses have changed, too. A lot of the campuses are getting away from having the athletes rule the roost. Campuses don’t tolerate that kind of behavior anymore. That changes the way you can handle the kids and what you can tolerate from them.”
Dashnaw and his colleagues have adapted to the times.
“Obviously, the medical profession itself, and the surgeries our doctors perform, have become more advanced, but the other thing that has made our life a little more difficult is social media. You must always be aware of social media, because information about a player’s health is out there for all to see even before you know it,” Dashnaw said.
“I think one of the biggest changes I’ve seen is the amount of communication we get from the parents now,” said Rockwood. “They want to know what’s going on at all times.”
All three agree that the most difficult part of their jobs is the hours, coupled with the travel.
“It definitely wears you down,” said Geiger. “The travel is the big thing. There are a lot of wasted hours away from my wife and daughter. You don’t really have holidays. Even on Thanksgiving, we practice. I tell everybody that you better love what you do, because they [the athletes] are your family. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you better get out.”
“You are basically taking the place of their parents,” said Rockwood. “There’s a ton of hours in this job, and you are working seven days a week. But I love it. There’s always something new happening every day, and every season.”
Their profession has caused some scary moments.
“Any time a kid goes down on the field, or on the ice, and lies perfectly still, I know it’s something very bad. That’s when I go into action,” said Rockwood.
“I remember a day when I was working with the Albany Firebirds,” said Geiger. “Derrick Stingley had a neck injury, and he had some paralysis in his lower extremities. I never forgot it. That was very traumatic for me.”
Dashnaw was the Siena trainer when the Saints were playing in the North Atlantic Conference championship game en route to their first NCAA tournament appearance.
“That’s the year we had the measles outbreak, and it was a crazy time,” Dashnaw said. “We had to make sure all the kids were vaccinated, and we had to take the immunization cards wherever we went. There was a lot of things involved that year with the players’ health because of that measles outbreak. We almost cancelled the women’s team’s season. I’ll never forget that season. It’s amazing that the kids still won that championship with all that was going on.”
Talk to any coach or athletic official, and they will tell you that their trainers are the life blood of their program.
“Thank God for the Hammer [Dashnaw],” said Siena first-year head coach Jimmy Patsos. “He made my transition very easy. I don’t have to worry one thing about medical issues. I trust him. He’s great.”
“They are absolutely critical,” said recently retired UAlbany head football coach Bob Ford. “They are invaluable. With today’s athletes getting bigger, stronger and faster, things happen quite a bit on the field or in practice. Trainers like Jay Geiger not only take care of the athletes when they are hurt, but they work very hard in the care and prevention department, making sure the players are taped up and that their equipment works properly.”
Ford said the coaches and staff must trust their trainers, even when bad news is delivered about not being able to let the players compete.
“I always trusted Jay and the rest of our trainers, because that’s their job, and they do it well,” said Ford.
“I remember the time when we had a defensive end named Mike Kelly on our team. He had a lower-leg injury, and it turned out to be a compartmental syndrome. We didn’t know what it was, but Jay did. When Kelly called him on a Saturday night at midnight and said his calf had swollen up, Jay told him to get to the hospital, and he would meet him there. When they got there, the nurse wanted just to put some ice on it, but Jay insisted that a doctor see him, and sure enough, they ended up having surgery.”
Union head football coach John Audino said the Dutchmen are extremely fortunate to have Rockwood by their side.
“She’s been with us for so many years, and she’s such a great person,” said Audino. “She’s a tremendous friend of the program, and she really knows her football. Her judgment is so important. She knows what to do, no matter what happens, and the great thing is that the kids trust her, just like we do. She’s the best. We’d be lost without her.”
Dashnaw is in his 28th year as the head trainer at Siena, where he oversees 18 sports and 400 athletes. His primary sports are basketball and field hockey, but he also used to handle men’s lacrosse and soccer.
The Plattsburgh State graduate formerly worked with the Albany Patroons of the CBA, the Albany Firebirds of the Arena Football League and the Empire State Games. He’s a two-time recipient of the Howard Tucker Award for outstanding contribution to Siena basketball.
“I was a pretty good basketball player in high school, but when I tried out for the Plattsburgh State team, I soon realized I was out of my element. That’s when I started to think about becoming a trainer,” Dashnaw said.
Geiger is in his seventh season as head trainer at UAlbany. The former College of Saint Rose head trainer is a graduate of Colby-Sawyer College, and he received his master’s in educational psychology at Saint Rose. With primary concentration in basketball, football and tennis, Geiger has also worked with the Albany Firebirds and Albany Conquest arena teams. He previously worked as a trainer at both Siena and Saint Rose.
“I was in sports all my life, and I was also into the sciences,” said the four-sport letterman at Colby-Sawyer. “I thought sports medicine would be a good field to get into.”
Geiger, an avid runner, plays recreation basketball and is a part-owner in some thoroughbred horses.
The head trainer at Union since 1988, Rockwood supervises all 25 intercollegiate sports. She has also served as Union’s director of student-athlete programming since 2000 and was the college’s senior woman administrator from 1996-2000. She has worked with the New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets rookie camp, World Cup soccer and several U.S. Olympic team festivals and training camps.
“This job is amazing, because there are so many battles to face every day,” said Rockwood, a Central Connecticut State graduate whose primary focus is football, hockey and baseball.
“I was always involved I sports in high school, and I knew I wanted to be involved in sports some way. The sports medicine field helped me to be hands-on,” she said.