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Muhammad works to maintain health, fitness of Bluestone athletes

South Boston News
Bluestone athletic trainer Amirah Muhammad assists in stretching leg muscles prior to a school soccer match. / August 21, 2019

When injuries happen at Bluestone High School sporting events, one of the first people you’ll see rushing out onto the field or to the playing court is Amirah Muhammad.

For the past two years Muhammad has been the athletic trainer at Bluestone High School. Always calm, Muhammad takes her work very seriously.

In her job as certified and licensed athletic trainer, she does everything from collecting and studying physicals, to applying ice on a sprain, to treating student-athletes for possible spinal injuries, broken bones, cardio-respiratory issues and other medical conditions.

Watching Muhammad work, one notices how she can gain players’ confidence quickly — a product of knowing what’s she’s doing and making their safety her main concern. Players respect that, and coaches follow whatever Muhammad advises.

Baron varsity football coach Harry John said of the team trainer, “Ms. Muhammad is awesome! A true professional. She really keeps our student athletes at the top of their game. She conducts treatment appointments as well as prepares to serve for practices and games. We owe a great deal of our success to her.”

The 2008 Bluestone alumnus said becoming an athletic trainer was something she knew she wanted to do as she prepared to head off to college. Muhammad is a former Bluestone basketball and softball player.

The idea for her career came to her as she was sitting down watching Pat Summit and the Tennessee Volunteers women’s basketball team playing in the 2008 NCAA national championship tournament.

“Well, I was watching the women’s NCAA tournament that year,” Muhammad said. “That was the last year that Pat Summit had won a national championship. And they were playing, I think, Texas A&M. So Tennessee was the team that Candace Parker was on, and in the game I was watching she dislocated her left shoulder.

“And I was like, hmm. And I saw the trainers, and everything go out there. And when she came back in the game, she had a brace on. That kind of sparked my interest there. As far as, what do these people really do. And finding out that it was much more than just ice, stretch, tape, wrap; there’s a lot that goes into the profession. But that sparked my interest.”

Certified and licensed athletic trainers in Virginia are classified as Allied Health Professionals. Muhammad said by the time she started the application process for attending college, she was already hooked on becoming an athletic trainer.

“By the time I was starting to apply to colleges I already knew that I was going to declare athletic training as my major,” she said.

Muhammad said she applied to Longwood University and George Mason University because they offered athletic trainer as a major, before deciding on Liberty University in Lynchburg.

Muhammad said while in her undergraduate years at Liberty, she was exposed to a lot of different sports and the various injuries that can come from participating in competition. She added that she valued being able to be at a Division I university, because sports programs operate at an elite level.

“I think just the experience of working with that level of athletics,” Muhammad continued. “As far as on a college level that’s the best of the best, the most elite, working with Division I athletes.

“I think that experience in and of itself was very beneficial and then the fact that I worked with so many different sports teams. Because coming up through your undergrad [years] you get a clinical placement. You get to work with different sports teams to get that experience as a part of your curriculum.”

Muhammad said after receiving her bachelor’s degree she tested for her certification. Passing the test on her first attempt, Muhammad moved on to obtain her license from the Virginia Department of Health Professions.

“You can take it in your final semester, but I wanted to wait until I was completely done,’” Muhammad reflected on obtaining her certification.

She says when she started graduate school, she was exposed to even more aspects of being an athletic trainer. In the fall of 2012, she began her graduate internship and her first placement was with women’s basketball and golf.

“So, I did a little bit of everything,” Muhammad said. “I did girls basketball and golf that semester. Then in the spring I got moved to swimming and girls’ soccer. And then that following fall was girls’ lacrosse and field hockey.

Muhammad was working towards her masters in sports administration. Yet things just didn’t work out at the time for that to happen. Upon leaving Liberty, she took a job with an orthopedic office in Lynchburg. She worked for OrthoVirginia for three years where she was a cast-technician — applying and removing cast and braces due to injuries or surgeries was her main function at the office.

She said her path back to Bluestone was unplanned, yet she believes destined at the same time.

“Well, the very first time that they (Mecklenburg County Public Schools) created the position for Athletic Trainer, I was a little on the fence about applying for it,” Muhammad explained. “I think by the time I did choose to apply, they had already hired someone. So, I said okay, I’ll just continue to look elsewhere.

“And then when it came open the second time, I was like maybe this is where I should be. I applied the second time and got the interview. And then about a week or two after the interview I got the call saying that they were interested in hiring me.”

She said a lot of things brought her back to Mecklenburg County, including wanting to provide a health service in an area she knew was underserved.

“I was just thinking it would be neat to bring something back to this area that really hadn’t been here. As far as providing that type of service to our high school athletes,” said Muhammad.

“And it’s home — this is where I was raised and got my start in athletics and things like that. I was thinking from my point of view how cool it would have been to have an athletic trainer when I was coming through high school. So just like us being from an underserved area I thought it would nice to be able to provide that.”

A normal day on the job is not like having a teaching position, Muhammad says. She likes that her job is somewhat unconventional and is constantly challenging her: “I grew up playing sports, so I wanted to be able to have an unconventional career I guess.”

“I don’t teach” and don’t have the same demands on her time as teachers, Muhammad explained, but her day is typically consumed by treatments, and rehab. “And then after school it’s covering practices, covering games. It’s football season now, so I’m with football whether they’re at home or away and that includes traveling on some Friday nights.”

Watching over the health needs of student-athletes involves considerable paperwork, ongoing checkups and close attention to physicals and medical evaluations.

“It helps to look at the physical before [players] get started because some people might try to slip through the cracks,” she continued. “Let’s just say a kid has a heart murmur. During the physical, well, that doctor is not going to clear them, they’re going to refer them to a cardiologist for further evaluation; I have to know those things. Especially if a child goes down, I at least know what could possibly be going on with them. So, allergies, asthma, all that stuff I need to know.”

She says a normal week of football practice may include players having their hands or feet getting stepped on, or sometimes it’s banged up knees. You’re always dealing with head and neck injuries because of the collision aspect with football. You’re always doing concussion evaluation, in all sports, not just football.

“It’s a no tolerance policy for concussions or a head injury,” Muhammad added. “The first suspicion of one, they are automatically pulled out.”

Muhammad stressed that a good working relationship between the coaching staff and athletic trainer is vital to the health of student-athletes. “Go see Ms. Mo, get checked out, if you can come back, she’ll let you know,” coaches tell their players.

“I have been blessed to work with some great coaches — we’re all on the same page as far as that goes,” Muhammad said. “I haven’t met any resistance as far as that is concerned. It’s been a blessing and makes my job a lot easier.”

Muhammad said one of the biggest hazards she deals with during this time of year is dehydration, especially with the football players. She notes that players need to come to practice already hydrated and then start rehydrating as soon as they get home.

She tells them they need to drink plenty of fluids as soon as they get home. Then they need to hydrate the next day during the day. By the time they come to practice, they’re good to go. If they wait until they get to practice, it’s already too late.

She also encourages athletes to minimize their soda and juice intake because it’s a lot of extra sugar that your body doesn’t need. Maximize water intake, eat grilled or baked meats if possible and fruits and vegetables.

For students interested in becoming an athletic trainer, Muhammad says she advises that they must really want to do this and then be dedicated: “You have to be committed to the studies first of all, and then you really can’t go into it halfheartedly.”

She noted that anything you can do to pick up college credits that will transfer from high school is also another good idea. Muhammad was a dual-enrollment student while attending Bluestone.

Former Bluestone athletic director Dan Powell summed up Muhammad’s impact as such:

“Bluestone athletics is fortunate for the addition of Amirah Muhammad as athletic trainer for the Bluestone Barons,” Powell said. “She brought a next-level approach geared towards student’s safety and wellness.

“Her time went beyond practices and games and included a rehabilitation center where she prepared students to return to play. The knowledge of Ms. Muhammad has had a direct impact on student-athletes with their safety, wellness, and their return-to-play protocols; improving on-the-field performance and the abilities of those students.”

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