It’s 11:15 a.m. and Los Angeles Pierce College student athletes are trickling into the office where senior athletic trainer Leonard Ramirez, or Lenny as he is known, reminds those waiting that treatments won’t begin for another 15 minutes.
There is a casual nature in the exchange between Ramirez and the students. It’s comfortable, like Ramirez’s grey Nike shirt that reads in highlighter green letters “Pierce. Just Do It.”
Originally, Ramirez majored in physical education, or what today is called kinesiology.
Ramirez wanted to get physical therapy until he suffered an injury in college and began working with the athletic trainer during his recovery.
“After I went through the process, I stayed on as a student athletic trainer to help. The more I did that, I got a lot more interested,” Ramirez says. “In physical therapy you often work on people that are never going to recover, like spinal cord injuries. You want to see people get well and return to their sport. You want to see them play in their games and that’s kind of like validation of the work you do.”
In the morning, Ramirez fills and prepares the three whirlpools in the trainers’ room in the Pierce South Gym, but before any treatments begin, there is administrative work to be done.
Papers are organized in small stacks lined next to Ramirez’s desk like an assembly line. These papers are related to treatments being given and physicals of athletes.
“We do administration, which takes a decent amount of time. Then we do treatment of injuries after we’ve evaluated the injury. Then we attend the practices in the evening,” Ramirez says. “I also go to meetings for the risk management insurance committee for the district.”
Ramirez has been at Pierce for 24 years and has been the senior athletic trainer since 2002.
Before coming to Pierce, Ramirez worked as an trainer at Palmdale High School while working at a physical therapy clinic, which Ramirez says is common for athletic trainers at the high school level.
“Most high schools don’t employ trainers full time. Most of the trainers have to be a teacher and athletic trainer at the school or they work at a clinic and then they work at a school in the afternoon,” Ramirez says.
The room is still quiet. Burnt orange 2-pound hand weights and medicine balls are stacked neatly on their racks. Robert Horowitz walks in as the first athlete arrives.
Horowitz is the associate athletic trainer on the Pierce campus, arriving from L.A. City College last year. Horowitz and Ramirez are normally busy, but during the fall semester things really get hectic for the department.
“Between the six sports we got coming in it gets pretty crazy around here. I would say fall is the busiest season for us,” Horowitz says. “I think the most challenging thing that we face is the volume of athletes we see for this size of a facility. We’ll see anywhere from 35 to 40 athletes within our four hours of treatment.”
Along with Horowitz and Ramirez, six student athletic trainers volunteer to assist the department.
Natalie Livermore, 20, is a kinesiology major in her third year at Pierce.
“He’s always been very helpful,” Livermore says. “He’s dedicated to getting the students to know about the profession and getting them properly prepared.”
Even with training and experience, a serious injury can test any professional. Ramirez recalls helmet-to-helmet collision that caused temporary paralysis to a Pierce football player almost 18 years ago.
“That is probably the most serious and scary injury I’ve had in my 24 years,” Ramirez says. “I went up to him and he said, ‘I can’t feel my arms, I can’t feel my legs and I can’t move.’ I said ‘Well the good thing is you can breathe and you’re talking.’”
Ramirez is grateful for his recovery and the quick reaction of those helping.
“Luckily, our team doctor was there,” he says. “We spine-boarded him and took him to the hospital where he stayed overnight,” he says. “The X-rays showed that there was just a compression of the disk, so 24 hours later, when the swelling went down, it resolved itself. A year later, the kid went on to play at the University of Texas.”
Later in the day, Ramirez gets teased in a conversation with some football players about how he won’t be attending night practice. He promised to be at the weekend game.
“Everyone wants their own trainer from their school. They feel more relaxed or maybe another school tapes differently,” Ramirez says. “It’s like sleeping in your own bed.”
Student athletes at Pierce don’t want to be sent to Ramirez, but they will be grateful he and his staff are there.