Lynne Young says she has four biological children and hundreds of "non-genetic" kids.
That's how it is as a certified athletic trainer who takes care of scores of athletes at high schools all over the Anchorage, Alaska, area during the academic year, then spends her summers as an athletic trainer for the Alaska Baseball League's Anchorage Bucs.
Young, who won the National Athletic Trainer Association's Outstanding Athletic Training Service Award in 2016, began her 23-year career in the sports medicine field while she played volleyball and basketball at Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana-Lafayette).
"I really didn't know what I wanted to do," Young, 48, recalls. "I love sports and I loved medicine and helping people, so my dad said, 'Why don't you combine them?' I thought, 'What a great idea.' So I combined the two. I love my job."
She tends to athletes of all ages and has worked all over the country, following her husband's moves in the Navy. They lived in Louisiana, Texas, California and Florida before moving to Alaska, where Young grew up, 11 years ago. A decade ago, Orthopedic Physicians Alaska, a group that provides care for the Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna Valley areas, hired her. In her role, she helped Alaska adopt concussion legislation to protect student-athletes.
Young is one of six certified athletic trainers assigned to care for student-athletes at local high schools. Over the course of an academic year, she oversees all athletic trainers at OPA and works with boys and girls participating in football, hockey, basketball, volleyball, baseball and skiing at three schools. She teaches about injury prevention and health while tending to their injuries.
The past 10 summers she has worked for the Bucs, calling it "my dessert" because of her love for baseball and the incredible Alaskan summers. The Alaska Baseball League annually draws elite college talent -- its notable alumni include Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Paul Goldschmidt. Players use wood bats to prep for a possible pro career.
For Young, being a certified athletic trainer is a year-round job with few breaks, but she still tries to carve out time for her family (with 16- and 15-year-old daughters and 9- and 6-year-old sons) and exercise (she's a triathlete). Says Young: "It's able to work, but you have to really keep a tight calendar."
The story of her sports career, in her words:
Why summer ball?
Baseball, it's just like life. There's never a dull moment, and it's short term. In Alaska we have 18 to 20 hours of daylight so you're at the ball field almost the whole day and night. You have just under two months to be involved with these kids who are from all over the United States, and hopefully you make a positive impact. You get to be integrated and care for these athletes and they become part of your family. Then summer is over and so is your baseball family.
If it's not a day game, I'm either doing rehab work with them or we're trying to arrange care for illnesses or injuries. I arrange schedules, appointments, and facilitate communication between care here in Alaska and their providers and family back home. For a 7 o'clock game, we show up at the ball field at 4, do some taping, preventative things, set up the field and watch the game, which can go anywhere from 2½ to 4 hours. If there's an injury, you take care of that. After that you clean up and say, "See you tomorrow."
You hope nobody gets hurt. You try to prevent injuries, working to maintain their arm strength and preventing those overuse-type, upper-extremity injuries, shoulders and elbows. They're just coming off a college season where they played 60, 70 games and we're throwing them back into another 50, so we're trying to manage that. They get hit by pitches and they have contusions. Every once in a while you'll have something more substantial, fractures or dislocations.
Athletic trainer, confidante, mom
You travel with them, you're on the road with them, so they do become your family. I'm not one of the coaches -- even though I'm part of the staff -- but they do rely on me to help them through an injury, and sometimes I'm the person they can confide in. Baseball's such a mental game. You have to bounce back.
Sights beyond the diamond
We try to show them Alaska, too. This may be their only time they'll ever be here. One of our road trips is to Kenai, about a three-hour drive, and we get them down to experience fishing for salmon. On days off we try to give them additional Alaskan experiences like rafting, hiking and enjoying the culture.
Staying in touch
I tend to follow these young men after they leave, too. I find myself texting them after a while, "Hey, I saw you went 2-for-3 last night, great job!" or say to them, "How come you're not playing?" They tell you they had this injury and then you help them through it, even after they leave. So I have probably 300 kids I keep track of. What's equally fun is I occasionally get these texts, "Hey, here's a wedding announcement," or "I just had my first baby," so it's fun.
Watching the team win the Alaska Baseball League a couple of years ago was memorable, just being a part of that. And seeing them overcome day-to-day things. Even watching how they struggle and adjust to wood bats. But most enjoyable for me, we've had some athletes that have gotten hurt and had to leave for surgery and they've come back the next year and gone on to successful careers. That's great. It's not just overcoming surgery or rehab, but the mental aspect. To hope you had a little part in it is extremely satisfying.
The road (back) to Alaska
I grew up in Kodiak, but wanted to see something different, which is why I went to college in Louisiana. I did an athletic training internship in college, then became a graduate assistant for sports medicine at the University of Louisiana, then got a full-time position there. I fell in love, married my husband and we went to Corpus Christi (Texas), where I worked at a high school for three years. In California I did outreach in sports medicine outside San Diego. In Florida I taught in the athletic training and physical therapy department at the University of North Florida. I'm an Alaskan by heart, so I always wanted to come back here and live.
Working with the high schools
Alaska didn't have a lot of athletic trainers providing outreach care, so in the last 10 years we've tried to build that up. I have a group of six of us that I oversee and we help cover the community. It's the kids you love, no matter if it's a sport you really love or don't care for. The greatest reward is just hoping to make a difference of healthy lifestyles and protecting kids from injuries.
Message: Be smart
I teach about hydration, rest, proper stretching and taking care of their bodies. A lot of these young athletes, especially male athletes, think if they do more they will definitely get better, so they put in long hours in the weight room and then are on the field hours and hours. You have to tell them, "Your body needs rest to recover as well. You're going to break it down."
All 50 states now have a concussion law that passed in 2011. It's legislation to protect kids that sustain a head injury, making sure they're adequately evaluated by trained medical professionals to not put them in harm's way by ensuring there's education about the risk of concussions and making sure that properly trained healthcare professionals manage their recovery. The third component is making sure they've gone through a safe return to play before we throw them back into an activity.
I stay active. Every once in a while I'll grab a glove and I'll just play catch with some of the Bucs or catch for the coaches when they're doing BP. I do a lot of jogging and sprint triathlons, about two or three a year. That's how I keep my sanity. I work out in the morning, very early. If I get six or seven hours of sleep, that's a good night. There's plenty of time to sleep down the road.