Rarely does a person credit a muscle strain in one’s leg for providing clearer perspective.
Chris Shaff does.
As a freshman split end for Franklin College’s football team in 1992, Shaff went to see trainer Kathy Remsburg, who is now the Athletic Training Education Program director and an associate professor at the school.
Something about witnessing the care shown by Remsburg flipped a switch within Shaff.
Her upbeat nature and the words of encouragement she provided motivated Shaff to perform something of an academic 180.
“My initial major when I came here was physical education,” Shaff said. “I had some injuries in high school, whereas at the college level you go to rehabilitation and think, ‘I could see myself doing this.’”
Shaff followed his heart to the point where he’s in his 11th year as Franklin College’s head athletics trainer.
An award-winning one, at that.
On Oct. 26, the 39-year-old Lafayette native will be honored as the 2013 Athletic Trainer of the Year in the College/University division. This award is given by the Indiana Athletic Trainers Association at a banquet in Indianapolis.
Shaff’s workplace responsibilities also include being an adjunct professor and instructor. The sports programs he primarily works with at Franklin College are football, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s golf, and baseball.
“Chris is able to skillfully divide his time amongst all of these responsibilities while providing the athletes of Franklin College extraordinary care,” said University of Indianapolis Assistant Professor of Athletic Training Scott Lawrance, the IATA president.
“Chris also served the IATA for several years on the Education Committee, contributing to many successful meetings and helping to raise the profile of educational offerings within the association.”
While awards such as the one Shaff will receive are appreciated, they’re not why he immersed himself into this particular line of work.
The rewards, very simply, are progress.
“One of the things I love about what I do is the opportunity to see these student-athletes and seeing that whole process of, ‘Here’s what it is and here’s what we’re going to do’, he said. “There’s no better feeling than that kid going back and making that tackle or making that free throw. That moment is so rewarding.”
Shaff played just the one football season at Franklin but was on the Grizzlies’ baseball roster all four years as an outfielder, catcher and occasional third baseman.
After graduating in 1996 he served a one-year internship at Franklin College before landing a job as trainer for the Danville (Va.) Braves, a rookie level minor-league affiliate of the Atlanta Braves.
It was around this time Shaff began working toward his master’s degree at Valparaiso University.
“Once I got in the college setting again, I just loved it,” Shaff said. “It was a great time to be at Valpo.”
Shaff eventually spent two years as athletics trainer at Wheeler High School in Valparaiso before returning to Franklin College in August 2003.
There is a heart-wrenching element associated with every injured athlete Shaff works with. He sees it in their eyes. The uncertainty. The caution. The concern.
But he’s there for them the way Remsburg was for him back in the day.
“I can share with them my experiences. Trust me, it’s tough, but you have to push them and help them see the end,” Shaff said. “Being an athletic trainer is a very thankless job sometimes. Very behind-the-scenes. There are the ACL tears and the fractures. The athlete is so down in the dumps. It’s a roller coaster, but you have to remain positive.”