Athletic Trainer Helps Rustburg Students At Alma Mater

LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) — Catherine So wasn’t ever far away during that whirlwind 30 minutes or so last week, but she was constantly on the move. In a room tucked behind the gym at Rustburg High School, she asked and answered questions and provided instruction and treatment as she traveled from one athlete to the next.

For one athlete, who just finished classes for the school day, she wrapped an ankle. For another a wrist, and one more a knee. She set up two others with an electrical stimulation treatment. She talked with an athlete about pain he was experiencing in his leg and then, after some of the action died down, instructed an athlete in an activity to care for her foot.

It was an average after-school, pre-practice frenzy for Rustburg’s athletic trainer, but it wasn’t ever chaotic.

“She is real good at her job,” senior football player Jaidian Johnson said. “Extremely good.”

Johnson wasn’t speaking just of the interactions he and many of his fellow athletes have with So as they gear up for practice. Athletes also know Ms. So, as they call her, the teacher, and the Ms. So who spends hours watching players run through drills on the gridiron, there in the event of injury as teams prepare for a Friday night contest.

They know the Ms. So who tailors rehabilitation plans to their specific needs, then works through those exercises with them.

Then there’s the Ms. So who’s there on game days. The athletic trainer who observes whether an athlete is favoring one area of their body, who stretches out an athlete’s cramps, or who puts an athlete’s arm around her neck as she helps them to the sideline.

Put simply, Ms. So is the person who “definitely cares,” said Avery Dixon, another senior football player.

Dixon has seen So, 28, run to meet him as he sat on the field. Most recently he suffered a sprained ankle — for which he received counsel from So and still receives attention from So before practices.

“She always helps everyone,” he said.

And, according to junior football player Zephaniah Chalmers, So “knows every single thing that’s going on” despite juggling the responsibilities that come with teaching and game days and practices and other treatments for dozens of athletes.

The number now of players she’s worked with is in the hundreds for So, who is in her sixth school year at RHS.

It’s there, she said, where the field she pursued more to get away from her initial major in college became the career she truly enjoys.

So grew up in about as different a place from Rustburg as you can imagine: New York City. She and her twin sister, Christina, and mom, Jenny Lin, and extended family lived there until So was a teenager.

Eventually, they traded the big city busyness for the much more spacious, quiet Lynchburg-Rustburg area. Catherine and Christina So attended Rustburg High School, and it was there that the two got their first taste of athletic training.

According to Catherine, her sister took an athletic training course at RHS — the class Catherine now teaches — first, and Catherine followed at her sister’s suggestion. That was the initial spark, though the fire of enjoyment Catherine finds in the field now didn’t find the oxygen to grow until years later.

When she graduated from RHS in 2011, Catherine So initially pursued a nursing degree at Lynchburg College (now the University of Lynchburg), she said. She realized quickly organic chemistry didn’t come close to resembling the type of chemistry she’d taken in high school.

So switched her major to athletic training, “and it was just as hard,” she said with a smile. But she stuck with it, then landed a job as a graduate assistant at LC (UL) before getting the gig at RHS.

There, the textbook knowledge she gained was put to practical use, and she became responsible for the well-being of athletes across more than a dozen teams.

At RHS and at the high school level, she enjoys the freedom to “make my own decisions” about treatments and evaluations, and have coaches and athletes depend on and trust in her.

“Rustburg is great,” she said, explaining she appreciates the confidence coaches across the board have in her, and the chance to influence athletes for the better.

Whether it’s helping to prevent injuries or addressing and explaining injuries with athletes, So said that “clinical aspect” of the job — and the interactions she gets to have with athletes through those processes — is the part she enjoys most.

So said she’s seen a range of issues, and they started early; an athlete suffered a fracture on So’s second day at RHS, kickstarting her career as a high school athletic trainer. She’s seen other fractures or season-ending injuries such as ligament tears, too.

All the while, she explained, she does her best to stay calm, “because if I’m not calm, it’s going to scare the athlete.”

Among those who know well the scary situations that require careful approaches like the one So employs is Johnson, who, as a sophomore, suffered a broken collar bone.

“That was real hard,” Johnson said of both the moment during the football game when that occurred and of the weeks that followed, “… but that’s when I got real close with her.”

So became “like a second mom to me, really,” he added. She helped him through six weeks of recovery, including exercises that helped him get back to playing.

“Rustburg is great,” she said, explaining she appreciates the confidence coaches across the board have in her, and the chance to influence athletes for the better.

Whether it’s helping to prevent injuries or addressing and explaining injuries with athletes, So said that “clinical aspect” of the job — and the interactions she gets to have with athletes through those processes — is the part she enjoys most.

So said she’s seen a range of issues, and they started early; an athlete suffered a fracture on So’s second day at RHS, kickstarting her career as a high school athletic trainer. She’s seen other fractures or season-ending injuries such as ligament tears, too.

All the while, she explained, she does her best to stay calm, “because if I’m not calm, it’s going to scare the athlete.”

Among those who know well the scary situations that require careful approaches like the one So employs is Johnson, who, as a sophomore, suffered a broken collar bone.

“That was real hard,” Johnson said of both the moment during the football game when that occurred and of the weeks that followed, “… but that’s when I got real close with her.”

So became “like a second mom to me, really,” he added. She helped him through six weeks of recovery, including exercises that helped him get back to playing.

“Rustburg is great,” she said, explaining she appreciates the confidence coaches across the board have in her, and the chance to influence athletes for the better.

Whether it’s helping to prevent injuries or addressing and explaining injuries with athletes, So said that “clinical aspect” of the job — and the interactions she gets to have with athletes through those processes — is the part she enjoys most.

So said she’s seen a range of issues, and they started early; an athlete suffered a fracture on So’s second day at RHS, kickstarting her career as a high school athletic trainer. She’s seen other fractures or season-ending injuries such as ligament tears, too.

All the while, she explained, she does her best to stay calm, “because if I’m not calm, it’s going to scare the athlete.”

Among those who know well the scary situations that require careful approaches like the one So employs is Johnson, who, as a sophomore, suffered a broken collar bone.

“That was real hard,” Johnson said of both the moment during the football game when that occurred and of the weeks that followed, “… but that’s when I got real close with her.”

So became “like a second mom to me, really,” he added. She helped him through six weeks of recovery, including exercises that helped him get back to playing.

As a member of the Army National Guard, she will be deploying to Africa for what likely will be a year.

“Everything will change, and that’s what’s heartbreaking about it,” Kate Hardie, a senior who’s assisted So on football game days and received her attention as a volleyball star during the fall. Hardie also runs track during the winter and spring and therefore will have to adjust to a new athletic trainer for the remainder of her high school career.

According to So, the school has hired someone to take over her position while she’s away on deployment — So’s first — but she’s asked administration to hold her spot until she returns.

It’ll be difficult, So said, leaving RHS and her family, but the new challenge of a deployment is “also kind of exciting in a way.”

A truck driver in her part-time gig — which also requires monthly drill weekends with her Lynchburg unit — So said she entered the National Guard as a way make attending college possible financially. She ascended through the ranks and signed a second contract, but she isn’t sure whether she will sign a new one when her current one is up.

Until she leaves for Africa, she and the athletes are soaking up the time they have left together at RHS, even if it’s just a few minutes while So tapes their knee, wrist or ankle. And some, like Scharnus, already are counting down the days until she’s stateside again.

“We can’t wait, already,” Scharnus said, “until she gets back.”