Chris Walsh had finished his enlistment with the United States Coast Guard and was unsure of his next step. Then his neighbor, a professor at the University of Mobile, helped him start a journey that would include national awards, a passion for his work, and a way to share his Christian faith.
Walsh graduated from the University of Mobile in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in athletic training. (This bachelor’s degree program has transitioned into a Master of Athletic Training program that is enrolling its first class in summer 2021 at the University of Mobile.) After graduation, Walsh became a grad assistant at the University of Idaho where, after earning a master’s degree, he received a full-time job.
Now head athletic trainer for the University of Idaho, Walsh put the skills he learned at UM to use during the coronavirus pandemic. He worked to make sure every student athlete was safe and helped slow the spread of COVID-19 throughout athletics program. Because of his efforts, he was awarded Mueller Sports Medicine’s national Athletic Trainer of the Week for the last week of August 2020.
“A lot of people don’t know what Mueller is, but in the sports medicine world, it’s the equivalent of a Nike or Adidas. After the COVID-19 breakout, the responsibility of making sure that all of our athletes are safe fell primarily on our shoulders as athletic trainers,” Walsh said.
“In March, we were planning for the NCAA Tournament. Within a few days, everything had been cancelled, and from that day on, we had to figure out a way to continue on with athletics. We had to figure out how to create a safe environment for staff and athletes to come back on campus and prepare for sports. We did a lot of collaborating, reading, planning, and came up with a formula that would work for our school.
“With everything in place, we were able to bring all student athletes back with a pretty strenuous testing and quarantine protocol, and we’ve been tweaking it as we’ve been moving along.”
As an athletic trainer, Walsh isn’t accustomed to receiving recognition, but he appreciates the award and said he couldn’t have done it alone.
“As athletic trainers, we’re normally in the background and no one hears about us unless it’s a bad injury. So, the recognition from the award is nice, but at the same time, I have a staff of people who have worked just as hard as me and I share in the recognition with them,” he said.
Before finding his passion for athletic training, Walsh wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He visited UM and liked the small atmosphere that the University of Mobile provided. The opportunities for him to learn were also different than other, larger schools.
“As a non-traditional student, you always worry about fitting in. There’s a good age gap between you and the kids straight out of high school, and you’re in different stages of your life. The thing about athletic training, though, is that it’s so intensive. I was able to meet other students and make good friends through my classes and clinicals that I might not have with another program. It was nice having a tight group to work with,” he said.
Walsh said UM gave him the opportunity to branch out in his work and have a variety of professional-level experiences. He was able to work for local high schools, other colleges and the Senior Bowl, due to the University of Mobile’s small size and personal attention of faculty.
“Sports in Alabama is huge, and there’s so many athletes that come out of Mobile. It was great getting the experience of working with such great athletes,” he said.
While working at the University of Idaho, Walsh realized that he was able to use what he learned at UM not just from an educational standpoint, but also from a spiritual one.
“I’m in the healthcare setting so, by nature, we’re here to help and serve people, which is what we’re called to do as Christians. I get the opportunity to mentor students and athletes who are going through the same struggles that every other college student is going through, but they’re not at a small Christian institution. Being there for students and allowing them to connect and talk has become my role as a Christian. I just hope to be the light when there might not be much light,” he said.
Walsh also encouraged others who may be looking for a career in sports.
“Athletic training isn’t a profession where you’ll get a lot of recognition. It’s a hard job. It’s not a nine-to-five. But it’s not a job where you wake up every morning and it feels like work. If I have to work 12 to 15-hour days, I still thoroughly enjoy the job. It’s also such a great mission field for Christians to be around young people and mentor them.”
Featured Image: Walsh, right with hat, helps a University of Idaho football player.