NIU athletic training students ready to assist runners in Sunday’s annual Chicago Marathon

Bank of America Chicago Marathon logoPicture a brisk, early autumn morning in Chicago.

Forty-five thousand runners fill the start corrals. Twelve thousand volunteers stand throughout the course, armed with Gatorade, water, Vaseline, cold sponges and gel packets. And 1.7 million spectators stand in rows six-deep throughout Chicago’s historic neighborhoods – Near North, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Boystown, Pilsen, Chinatown – cheering, offering ice and water and energizing the runners in the Sunday, Oct. 9, Bank of America Chicago Marathon with their enthusiasm.

That’s what it looks like on the outside.

Inside the medical tent at the finish line is another story.

The medical and support staff inside operate much like a M*A*S*H unit, performing triage and treating a myriad of injuries and medical problems throughout the day, so it is not only the runners who will be exhausted at the end of the day.

Twenty-five students from the Athletic Training Education Program (ATEP) in the College of Education’s Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education will have that “insiders” experience Sunday. For the eighth consecutive year, ATEP students are volunteering to provide support for participants who are attempting the 26.2-mile feat.

NIU athletic training students at last year's Chicago Marathon
The students will face many challenges throughout the day, the first being that they will be on their feet and ready to work from 5:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.

From treating cramps to CPR, students will gain a wealth of experience in a relatively short period of time. The long day consists of working with runners who are exhausted, sweating and nauseous.

If the students can survive a day in this environment, it is a good sign that they have picked a profession that is a good fit for them. Not only will this experience allow the students to interact with runners, but it will also give them the opportunity to interact with seasoned professionals in their field and get valuable advice from them. For the students, this experience is an exceptional true life experience for learning about best practices in the field and seeing what works in a moment of need.

Traveling to the medical tent with the ATEP students will be Susan Stevenson, academic coordinator of clinical education. Stevenson has been involved with the Chicago Marathon since 1995, when she first ran the race. She has run the marathon three times and been involved with the drug-testing of winners for many years.

Stevenson considers it an honor to work the Chicago Marathon and rated it as her “favorite event to ever work for USADA. The people who run and volunteer for the Chicago Marathon are the friendliest, most caring groups of people I have had the pleasure of working with.” She added that she is excited to “be back at the finish line as a medical volunteer and to see our students in action!”

Involvement of NIU ATEP students began in 2004 when NIATSO (Northern Illinois Athletic Training Student Organization) volunteered; there was roughly half the amount of student participation then.

On their feet and ready to work from 5:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m, NIU students will gain a wealth of experience in a relatively short period of time. The long day consists of working with runners who are exhausted, sweating and nauseous.
On their feet and ready to work from 5:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m, NIU students will gain a wealth of experience in a relatively short period of time. The long day consists of working with runners who are exhausted, sweating and nauseous.

The NIU students who work the medical tent at the Chicago Marathon do so by volunteering with the organization itself on a first come, first served basis. However, those who volunteer must have some medical training, and students from NIU who apply must have both their CPR and first aid requirements finished.

All the challenges aside, the students are looking forward to the event that will give them great memories and experience.

“When I volunteered at the marathon I was at the finish line helping people who needed medical attention get to the medical tent,” said Antoin Shinaul, ATEP student. “My favorite part of the marathon was toward the end when the non-competing runners were coming through. I gave them high fives and hugs while congratulating them for finishing. They were usually overcome with emotion after such a long race. Their reasons for doing it were also great. The most heartfelt moments were when they ran in memories of someone.”

“You not are only working with other students but also ATC,” added Jenna Capps, another ATEP student. “Networking here is huge and when you are at the marathon you are on your own and only can rely on your own communication and professional skills to help you help others. It matures you and develops you into a professional.”

The students might even have the opportunity Sunday to take care of one of NIU’s own, although they hope that won’t prove necessary. Laurie Zittel, associate professor of adapted physical activity, is taking on the 26.2 mile challenge.

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