Paul Alvarez has been an athletic trainer and professor at the University of La Verne for 24 years. He is currently the chair of the Movement and Sports Science Department.
Alvarez sat down to discuss his expericene at the 2009 World University Games in Belgrade, Serbia and his time at La Verne.
So tell me about your academic history and how you got to be where you are now?
Wow, ok, let’s see. The formal part is I got my bachelors of science in 1985 from Cal State Sacramento and my masters from the University of Oregon in 1987, and those were both in athletic training. Then I started here so that’s 24 years ago. So I like to tease the freshman, well actually I tell all the students, “I’ve been here longer than you’ve been alive.” But basically I started off as a half-time athletic trainer, just a staff position, but I was really interested in trying to get into an academic institution. Partly because I like working with college athletes. I had experience working with high school and junior college athletes and I also saw myself eventually being a teacher. So that’s kind of why I chose La Verne because talking about having a program academically. So I kind of took a risk because that was not part of the contract when I started. After two years part time assistant, they brought me on as a full-time faculty member, and I still continued to do athletic training as I still do now. But it was as faculty at that point. And I was encouraged by our former dean to go get my doctorate degree, that started in 1999 and I finished in 2004. Which I think was important because as the institution has moved more towards basic things in research and doctoral degrees and so forth, I think that gives me what students call “street cred.” I don’t think it drastically changed who I am as a person or an academic, although my colleagues might think otherwise, but certainly when you can put PhD after your name people somehow think that you got smarter. I guess that was important as far as that goes.
Is being in athletic training and being a teacher something you’ve always wanted to do?
Yeah, I started off as a physical education major because I was always a real klutz in P.E.
People thought was really funny that I was in a physical teacher education program because I was always the one chosen last to participate in sports and I wasn’t very good at athletics.
That actually kind of motivated me in a reverse way to want to go into physical education because the way I was treated, always being chosen last and always made to feel inadequate, rather than letting it get to me I kind of rebelled against it. I thought, “I want to be a P.E. teacher.”
Athletic training was kind of an afterthought, until I became an injured athlete, and then it was like I can actually do something with this athletic training and sports medicine background.
But when I realized that athletic trainers and coaches can go on to the Olympics and other international things that kind of motivated me.
I realized fairly realistically, that the demands of athletic trainers are such that I didn’t see myself doing it forever.
Teaching struck me as a way I could possibly give back to the profession by teaching future athletic trainers.
I want to try to give them some of the things that I’ve learned along the way; it has increased my longevity, which is why I think I’m still able to do athletic training.
At the same time I think it helps me because I know that in practice oriented fields like athletic training, like journalism, I think it’s kind of hard to relate to a professor that doesn’t do what you’re aspiring to do.
So if you’re not doing athletic training or if you’re not doing broadcast journalism or if you’re not writing for the newspaper, I think it’s kind of hard to relate to those individuals.
You know every four years we have a brand new group of students here that can care less what you did two years ago, three years ago because they didn’t see it.
Athletic training gives you the opportunity to travel. Tell me about your trip to Serbia last summer?
I went primarily as an assistant athletic trainer, and our job was to take of any athletes who weren’t covered by team physicians or athletic trainers.
For example, USA Basketball with men and women have their own team physician as well as an athletic trainer that travels with them anyway.
They’re pretty high profile and pretty well set up that way. Archery and tae kwon do didn’t have anybody and so we took care of their injuries and whatever they needed.
I remember one night we got this call that one of our tae kwon do athletes had slipped and fallen in the rain.
I mean here she’s spent all day battling people who were trying to knock her brains out, she doesn’t get hurt there, she gets hurt slipping and falling in the rain and hits her head.
I went with our team doctor and we had a discussion about how to best to help her and we finally got her out of there. So that was our job because the coaches don’t have the medical knowledge. We were able to do that and then quite frankly a lot of the time there was office work, from filing daily reports to my job was to research out every day as we accumulated medals, which we did fairly well at.
How did you get selected to go?
That was probably the classic example of right place, right time, but at the same time doing the little things makes a difference.
Usually the process to be an international team as far as US Olympic Committee and so forth goes you pretty much have to really pay your dues. There’s actually a process where you can intern at the US Olympic sports training centers.
So I sort of accidentally by passed all that because basically in the process of kind of down-sizing they turned the US International Sports Federation, which is in charge of university games teams, basically over to the organizations themselves, and said you guys are on your own.
And so the bad news was there was reduced resources, so they kind of had to make due in some respects, but the good news was, for me, that process of selection kind of went out the window.
It took me, to be honest, probably about two weeks to really absorb the fact that I was going, that I was going to be part of a US delegation.
What was something memorable that happened to you while you were over there?
Probably the strangest but the coolest thing was like any major sports organization there’s meetings and some of them are really important and very ceremonial, and others are just basic utility things.
There was one particular session where there was a question about ice, I didn’t have to go but I went along.
The weird thing was as I walk up to go in and these young ladies were waiting there and they say, “Good afternoon sir, where are you from?”
I tell them I am from the United States and they tell me to sign a paper. So I look down and realize I am literally signing as a representative for the United States of America.
I’m thinking, and I still get kind of emotional about it, here I am from little old La Verne that nobody’s ever heard of and here I am in a major international sports competition signing as a representative of my country. Who would have ever guessed that would ever happen?
Are you going to go back and do it again?
I have been asked to clear my schedule for the end of next August because the next games are going to be in Chin Chin, China. So I said I would show up.
Are you excited for that?
Sure. I mean I went as an athletic trainer but I did office work, I went to meetings, we fixed things and I ended up being one of the technology people because I had a computer and I could figure out ways of doing things.
I ended up going out and taking pictures and putting some up on the website. I think my ability to multi-task, which again I think is something that La Verne encourages, was helpful because I wasn’t a “one a trick pony.” If all you can do is one trick, you may be able to do it really well, but when things change then you’re not able to move with things.
I got to go around and see Belgrade and I got to see Budapest on the way back. Those are things I think are really important, so I’m looking forward to going to China, obviously knowing that I have to work hard, but at the same time knowing that I’ll get a great opportunity that I might not get if I wasn’t someone that was welcome and they appreciated my efforts.
What do you think it is about sports that draws people into them so much?
I think that it’s the idea that an athlete could be any person. I mean I realize that not everyone’s going to be 7 foot 430 something pounds and be the next Shaq.
There’s genetic factors there, but sport is so wide spread in terms of the types of things that one could do. I mean yes if one is extremely tall, one might be a basketball player or a volleyball player, or one that’s extremely small might be a gymnast, might be a swimmer. If one loves to run, run, run and run they might be a marathon runner. If one is extremely patient or precise they might be an archer or a pistol shooter.
I think in America we get caught up on the big sports, in American we get hung up on the big sports because there is that sort of gratuitous. Oh look at these terrific athletes doing these fabulous things, but I think we sort of distance ourselves in thinking that we cannot do it too.
That’s probably why we pay them millions and millions of dollars and nobody ever thinks anything of it because they’re so unique and incredible, they should get that kind of money.
I think if we were more egalitarian in our sports thought process, we might realize that anybody could do that or do something similar because we certainly don’t do that for a lot of our other sports.
Our “minor” sports, like our tae kwon do or archery make decent money with sponsorships, but for the most part they’re certainly not getting rich.
What sports did you play growing up?
I was a cross-country track athlete, which is hard to believe when you look at me I’ve gotten a little pudgy around the middle, but I’m working on it.
You know I would just take off running, it would be raining or it be hot or whatever and I would just keep going. I wasn’t the fastest runner, but I found some relative descent success running marathons.
Spread out over quite a few years it wasn’t a once year kind of thing. I did 14 marathons and did pretty good at that.
I enjoyed that aspect of that, I still go to track meets and watch the distance races and watching the tactics and stuff like that.
How much longer do you see yourself working here?
Well if they don’t fire me, I guess they can’t because I have tenure. I don’t know that I would ever do a Bob Neher in Biology. The guy fascinates me, he’s been here for over 50 years and he just keeps going strong. We all say some day they’re going to find him and he’ll just be quietly gone on his desk and hopefully it’s very peaceful, but you know I’m almost 50 now so I want to retire in 10 years maybe, 15 more likely. I don’t think I would ever stay here forever just because I think at some point, there’s going to be those things that I’d like to do in my spare time that I don’t get to.
I’ve told people, particularly when it comes to athletic training, I don’t want to be the person who hangs out forever and everyone’s kind of tolerant of. At the point where I am no longer an effective athletic trainer, I need to be told so that I don’t just create a situation where it’s going to be negative. If I ever get to the point where I am no longer an effective teacher and I can no long contribute something positive, I hope that some can tell me so that I can get out.
What do you think is the biggest problem is with the mainstream sports?
They think they’re bigger than the sport. There was great article in the L.A. Times a few weeks ago about how golf has very, very strict rules to a point where people think it’s ridiculous.
There was this great article about this young man who golfed and won this club championship and he got a trophy and everyone thought it was fabulous. Then he went back to his home club and this professional was looking at his bag and says you have 15 clubs in your bag and the rules only allow 14. So he returned his trophy or medal whatever it was and was honest with everybody. He received far more accolades for doing the right thing than if he’d kept it.
Conversely, I know there was huge thing about soccer where people were saying well before the World Cup France qualified because one of their players had a hand ball in the box and scored a goal off of that. Well, he admitted he probably did, and people were saying we need more referees or more video replays.
I think that’s when, again, sometimes they think they’re bigger than the sport. That’s what I like about division III athletics, I don’t oppose at all to the notion that some of these kids think they might have a professional career, if they do fabulous and if they don’t hopefully they should have a good quality college degree and athletics will be part of their life, it’s not their whole life.
Yeah, I mean look at Lebron James, he’s probably the epitome of it all. I don’t know him, he’s probably a wonderful human being and just lets the money or the media or get to him. Again, last time I checked Lebron James is not going to win a game all by himself. Let’s get this all over and done, get beat up and bruised, shake hands and say great game. It doesn’t mean it has to be clean, it doesn’t mean people aren’t going to get hurt, it just means it’s my ability against your ability or our team’s ability collectively and whoever is the best wins. And we still shake hands and say that was a great game and you walk away saying that was a great competition.
Elsie Ramos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.