Bathed in the dusky haze of the afternoon sun, the smell of freshly mowed grass hovering as an undeniable harbinger of spring, the University of La Verne baseball and softball teams on April 8 don...
La Verne professor Paul Alvarez can offer his students real-world perspective after serving as an assistant athletic trainer for Team USA at the World University Games.
Paul Alvarez could have taken a conventional summer vacation, rode a mule down into the Grand Canyon, a train across Europe, a Jet-Ski around Maui.
Instead, he left his golf clubs at home, packed his athletic trainer’s kit, and headed to Shenzhen, China, to serve as one of a select few athletic trainers to take care of American athletes at the World University Games in August.
For Alvarez, now in his 25th year as a professor and head of the University of La Verne’s award-winning athletic trainer’s program, the China trip was quite a feather in his cap. From a personal standpoint, it was further validation of his successful ascent through the ranks of athletic training and a reflection of his devotion to his profession.
From a professional standpoint, it means Alvarez’s Sports Science students have one more reason to listen closely in class.
“The reason I was on the team is that I still practice, and there are a lot of professors who don’t,” Alvarez said. “They didn’t need an academic on the team; they needed someone who could tape and take care of the athletes. I think that my being involved — just like the work outside of class that George Keeler and Mike Laponis do in Communications, that Reed Gratz does with music, that Jerome Garcia does with biology — all of these are things that give our students an edge.”
Alvarez’s ability to walk the walk is a product of his own Olympic dreams.
“I vaguely remember Munich, and only because of the terrorists and all of the media coverage,” said Alvarez, 50. “But by the time the Montreal games came around, I was a mediocre high school runner who thought, ‘Maybe some day…’ But time goes by, and reality strikes, and I realized I wasn’t even the best guy on my high school team.
“Then, when I started as an athletic trainer, I saw that it was a process and it’s possible to move up to the next level, and the next level.”
While being part of the U.S. contingent at such a prestigious event, witnessing the spectacle of ceremony and athletic performance at the highest level was thrilling, Alvarez said he was most impressed with the basic human condition.
“I tell our students that international exposure is critical,” Alvarez said. “You get down to the ground level and you’re able to strip away the politics. The one caution we were given was don’t talk politics. We found some great human beings there. One of our attachés was a woman who had a 3-year-old daughter at home. She’s there 10, 12 hours a day, helping with the Games. But she says, ‘No, this is important.’ If anyone gets the chance to be involved in an international event like this, they should take advantage of it.”
Amid the importance of his work and contribution to the U.S. team, Alvarez found time to stop and take it all in.
“There’s definitely a wow factor,” he said. “I was a little awestruck, you know, ‘What am I doing here?’ I caught myself walking around like an idiot saying, ‘Wow, there’s the Russian athletes. There are the Germans. I actually teared up a bit at one point, there was so much emotion. I even got a note from my academic advisor at Sacramento State, saying, ‘We’re so proud of you.’ Down the road, I hope my students will call me and say, ‘I came out of La Verne and I ended up doing something great.’
While he’s still a little in awe of his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Alvarez says it’s one open to any of his students as well.
“The strongest thing about our athletic training program is something our president and our provost have both said: Theoretical knowledge only takes you so far. Practical knowledge only takes you so far,” Alvarez said. “But if you do the work, then you put yourself in position to succeed. Our soccer coach, Cres Gonzalez, has a T-shirt that says, ‘Luck Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity.’
“When you get that opportunity, it comes down to, ‘What have you done? What have you lived through? Can you handle it? I always have a story to tell students. Sometimes those are good teaching moments.”