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Built For Adversity

Built For Adversity

Familiar with quick decision-making and adjusting on the fly, JWU athletic trainers and coaches have made a seamless transition to taking on several new roles within the university.


The profession of athletic trainer is well-documented as a challenging yet rewarding one that few have the nerve to battle through daily. The crew at Johnson & Wales is no different. Day-in and day-out, the four trainers help to keep our athletes safe and ready to compete, all while figuring out the never-ending obstacle of scheduling around practices, games and meetings. In a regular academic year, the trainers can transition from a fall sport game to a winter sport practice while traveling to the local hospital with a spring athlete in the span of eight hours.

When COVID-19 came and presented a new array of challenges to the university, the administration reached out for help from this group that regularly juggles unforeseen challenges. Since the summer term began back in June, Director of Sports Medicine Alan Segee has shifted gears from the "ice, heat or stim" of a year ago and focused on culinary first aid and assisting with all things COVID-19. When the fall, and later, winter sports seasons were cancelled, he knew that he was going to need to get comfortable in the office with Health Services. Fast forward to February and Segee is still answering phone calls and helping test countless students week to week.

In his 20-plus years with JWU, this experience is uncharted territory for Segee and company. "No challenge even comes close to the pandemic," Segee expresses. "Our medical background has made the transition somewhat easier, but a great deal of this has been 'learn as you go'." For instance, he has needed to learn contact tracing, coordinating quarantine/isolation for JWU students and how to properly test for COVID. He adds, "However, working with the students and the parents has been similar to what we do with the athletes, just on a larger scale. It's been a challenge, but the Health Services staff has been very appreciative and welcoming to us."

Athletic Trainer Jillian Withington is heading into her 20th year with the school and her story is much the same. She came back to campus in August and immediately went to a new office in Health Services to help with the influx of COVID needs.

"I started working in Health Services and initially started contacting students for COVID test results upon their arrival in September. Soon after it was on to contact tracing and testing, doing whatever is needed to help out. The Health Services and Athletics collaboration has been great," Withington says.

Both Tim O'Brien and Matt Roberts' return to campus after the summer was primarily focused on the small varsity team pods that could meet to practice through the fall term. Although O'Brien's new normal was closer to his typical day-to-day, he still was asked to spend time in Health Services and assist in testing. Roberts is focused on sentinel testing and helping in the Health Services offices. Unlike Segee and Withington, he gets time with athletes, however, as he is at the pod practices for the Wildcats hockey teams.

Athletic Coaches

 JWU's varsity coaches have also taken on new roles, helping to run the fitness centers, assisting with weekly sentinel COVID testing, covering campus tours for admissions, supporting Residence Life with quarantine protocols, and acting as mentors to first year students within the general student body, all while continuing to provide safe and meaningful engagement with their student-athletes and recruiting future prospects virtually.

"Although seasons have been cancelled, our responsibility to our current student-athletes or recruitment hasn't stopped," says Nancy Somera, head volleyball coach and assistant athletic director. "Coaches have come up with a lot of innovative ways to recruit future prospects and engage with their current athletes through video and virtual platforms, while also stepping up to contribute in other areas on campus."

Kim Camara-Harvey, head softball coach and assistant athletic director, confirms the major role that coaches play in a student's life, on and off the court or field of play. "With the cancellation of seasons and other losses in their lives, coaches have been here to help their athletes through the emotional hardship of this last year," she says.

Experienced in finding solutions to unforeseen obstacles and shifting strategies mid-match, coaches often possess refined skills in decision making, making them capable beyond simply coaching their sport. Athletic Director Dana Garfield admits, "Coaches are used to pressure situations and working in groups which is why many universities, including ours, are looking to them to assist in a variety of roles as part of their COVID response." Somera adds, "Coaches are competent in quickly assessing a situation, adapting if necessary and making decisions that lead to effective action."

While the trainers and coaches will continue to adapt, innovate and navigate through the ups and downs of living amidst COVID, they all agree a return to competition and their more familiar job descriptions are something they are looking forward to.