We are told from a young age that participating in athletics is not just about the games or results. It’s about life lessons that we learn, the values that are instilled, the bonds that we share.
We learn how to be humble when we win, gracious when we lose. We learn to work hard, to focus on a goal and to trust our teammates. We learn how to overcome adversity.
Not everyone goes on to play a sport professionally, or even collegiately, but those lessons remain.
And ex-athletes who have gone into the medical field, who are now nurses and doctors on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic, still draw on them to get through their hospital shifts, to help them remain focused on what they must do.
Here are the stories of six of them, and how they rely on what they learned through sports to take care of their patients.
Registered Nurse, Critical Care Unit, Mercy Hospital
After playing three sports at Greely High in Cumberland, Copp concentrated on volleyball at St. Joseph’s College, where she was a middle blocker while earning her nursing degree.
“One of the biggest things I took from my playing career was teamwork,” she said. “Throughout high school and college, you have to rely on teammates to get you through life things and sports. And that has carried over, especially in critical care. Every person on our team is essential and we work well together.
“In critical care it’s a little different, because a patient may be a complex case, presenting multiple conditions at the same time. But we have to rely on each other to provide the best care we can.”
Having a father who was a paramedic may have steered the 23-year-old Copp to the medical field. “It was never set in stone,” she said. “But it just kind of seemed to be the calling for me.”
While attending St. Joe’s, she worked as a float nurse at Mercy, in several different units, and then joined the staff full-time after graduating in 2018. She now works three 12-hour shifts a week. The pandemic, she said, has really forced her to think quickly, just as she had to do on the volleyball court when the action became hectic.
“You have to adapt to change,” she said. “In sports, you can prepare as much as you can for a game in practice, but things are going to change and you have to adapt. I’m learning that now here.
“Sometimes, when things get out of your control – you may have the fundamental knowledge of how to treat patients, but each patient presents differently – sometimes you can do things textbook, sometimes you can’t. It can be frustrating when things are out of your control, but you have to remain focused.”
There is one other lesson Copp learned from sports that she still carries: “Anyone who has ever been an athlete, you’re always competitive, always trying to get better. Same with nursing. I’m always reading up on the latest research. I want to be the best nurse I can be.”
DR. KENDRA EMERY
Pen Bay Medical Center, Rockport
Emery, who is an avid runner, is the medical director of the hospital’s acute respiratory center and its drive-through testing site. On a typical day, she tests about 12 patients for coronavirus, and another five patients seek other services at the clinic.
She grew up in Wayne and attended Kents Hill, graduating in 1996. From there she went to Bowdoin College, where she played soccer and lacrosse her first two years before switching to cross country. Now 42, she still runs and rides mountain bikes.
Sports, she said, prepared her for her medical career.
“Different sports brought different things into my personality, and all of them have threaded through my medical training and career,” she said.”Some of the themes for me include teamwork, endurance, a sense of accomplishment and humility.
“And they’re all important now in running this medical clinic. I think back to when I started running at Bowdoin. When I joined the cross country team, I enjoyed the power of teamwork like I never did before. We pushed each other. And when you think about how that impacts your ability to coach a team, be it in the workplace, or a clinic or your own (medical) practice, that experience is very valuable. The strongest runner and the weakest runner are all important when you’re working together.”
Creating the sense of a team, and recognizing the strengths of each individual, is very important, she said, in the work they are doing at the clinic. “It is so important,” she said. “It really allows you to get through the hard days.”
Humility and confidence are also valuable traits that Emery draws on.
“We all suffer losses, we make mistakes or we fall,” she said. “I started playing sports at 8 years old and I haven’t forgotten how to work hard. And the confidence piece helps you handle things from the sense of being overwhelmed. We’re only human. As long as we can rely on each other as a team, we’ll get through it. We’re all connected. ”
And finally, there is endurance and focus, established during those long training sessions running trails. Facing a health crisis is continually changing, Emery said: “To endure this challenging scenario and keep your focus on getting things done, that comes from experiencing things like that in sport.”
Registered Nurse, Cardiovascular Progressive Care Unit, Mercy Hospital
Frank, 23, is likely the most successful college wrestler to come out of Maine. She was a four-time champion in the women’s division of the National Collegiate Wrestling Association while competing for the University of Maine. Each time, she was named winner of the Outstanding Wrestler award at the national tournament.
While growing up in Windham, she took to wrestling after her father wouldn’t let her play football. She competed against boys throughout high school and sometimes competed against men in college. Her national collegiate championships came in the 101-pound weight class against female competitors.
Everything she learned from the sport translates to her job now.
“It definitely takes a lot of resiliency, which is something I learned from wrestling, to come back from hard times,” said Frank. “You have to be resilient, you have to be stronger and you have to move forward. We bring that to every new case we get.”
And while wrestling is unquestionably an individual sport, Frank said she learned much about teamwork from it.
“You need a practice partner, so in practice, it’s a team sport,” she said. “Same with nursing. There’s a team aspect in doing procedures all day.”
Especially when preparing to enter a room with a COVID-19 patient. A nurse has to dress in personal protection equipment before entering any such room. “We have one (nurse) watch us put it on and one watch us take it off and help us,” said Frank.
There is also a lot of preparation that goes into entering a room, just as there is entering a match. “When you go into a room by yourself, you’re putting all your practices to work,” said Frank. “You have to prepare and plan ahead and think about what you’re bringing into that room. And you have to time it so you get everything done and limit your time in the room and your exposure.”
Frank believes that the pandemic has brought the nursing staff closer. “We all collaborate with each other, especially if we’re doing a procedure,” she said. “You don’t see us panicking. If you’re prepared for something, you’ll be less nervous and more confident in your ability.”
DR. CHRISTINE HEIN
Emergency Department, Maine Medical Center
Growing up in Cumberland, Hein (then known as Christine Brown) was a basketball player at Greely High, running only to stay in shape for her favorite sport. But at Colby College, she took to cross country, eventually transitioning to marathons.
She’s run Boston about 10 times, several times as part of the elite field. She won the Maine Marathon in 2018 and finished second in 2019.
Running, said the 45-year-old Hein, “has shaped a huge piece of who I am.”
“You really learn mental toughness and how to work through a process, which has been very helpful in many different situations in life,” she said. “Dealing with what’s in front of you and realizing life is not about immediate gratification and you have to work hard to achieve goals. Running teaches you to expect a lot from yourself to meet goals, and then to reevaluate them once you get there.”
Now, working in the emergency department of Maine’s largest hospital during a worldwide health crisis, Hein is putting all those lessons to work, every shift.
“When it started, obviously there was so much anxiety and uncertainty about the future,” said Hein. “I went back into my mind and knew I was going to need to calm myself down, go back to the concept that this is a marathon and how do you approach it. You bite off small pieces that you can manage.
“I manage the day-to-day and what I can do to help at home (where she and her husband, Peter, are joined by five children) and work and not get caught up in the big picture, what it’s going to look like in four weeks, what it’s going to look like in six weeks. There hasn’t been a time I haven’t been able to handle what’s come across my plate. And my colleagues are doing the same thing.”
Hein said that dealing with the virus outbreak has forced health care to “change rapidly.” Running has given her the tools, the focus, to handle the changes.
“We had to throw out our typical operations manual and rewrite it in a very short period of time,” she said. “We focus on taking care of patients and taking care of each other, which is remarkable to be part of. It’s a whole different universe than we’ve been used to and everyone is working toward the same goal and working together.”
Physician Assistant, Mercy Hospital
Langton just joined the staff at Mercy Hospital in January after graduating from physician assistant studies at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana.
As a PA, he helps coordinate care for patients who require further treatment and hospitalization for acute health issues. And he has treated several COVID-19 patients.
He grew up in Grosse Point, Michigan, and was hooked on lacrosse at a young age. He played at St. Vincent College, an NCAA Division III program in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and returned to his hometown to coach.
While he draws on several of the lessons he learned from lacrosse, he said, communication is at the top of the list during this health crisis.
“Effective communication has been huge,” said Langton, 30. “There are various levels to that now that we’re in this pandemic. We have a provider meeting two times a week, an online Zoom chat with well over 100 providers on it. It’s a great forum for upper management to get information out to the providers so that we know what they’re working on and what they’re doing. It’s also a great forum for people who have individual concerns to communicate those to upper management.
“That’s something that’s huge in lacrosse. In college, if we had an issue, we would talk to the captains and they would take it to the head coach. The same went the other way, if the coach wanted us to know something, he would talk to the captains. Having communications working to the same goal, and not working against each other, so we can join forces is the biggest thing.”
Teamwork and knowing your role are also lessons he draws on. “In lacrosse, there are 10 people on the field, you don’t have to play every position,” said Langton. “You need to know your role really well so everyone can rely on you. If you do your job, your teammates don’t have to worry about doing your job. Now I’m still new at this, and gaining that experience. It’s better to know my role and when to ask for help when I’m outside my comfort zone. That way, the rest of the team can function well when they can focus on their job and not try to do multiple things.”
After all, he said, everyone is working toward the same goal: “Hopefully controlling the outbreak and taking care of the patients we have and preparing for a possible increase in patients.”
Registered Nurse, Family Birthing Unit/Emergency Department, Franklin Memorial Hospital, Farmington
Trask serves many roles at Franklin Memorial, from helping families through one of the most joyous moments of their lives to helping patients who need immediate, and sometimes critical care. All the while, she draws on the lessons she learned as a soccer player and Alpine skier at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington
Trask did not play sports at St. Joseph’s College, instead concentrating on her academics and becoming a nurse. But the 33-year-old said everything she learned on high school soccer fields and Maine’s mountains readied her for her current task – helping the sick during a pandemic.
From skiing, she learned to adapt. “You have a variety of mountains and courses,” she said. “You have to adapt to those different challenges. That has set us up to work in this pandemic. You don’t know what you’re going to see at work each day. So you have to adapt. You don’t even know what each patient who comes through the (emergency department) door is going to need. So you have to adapt and face that immediate crisis.”
From soccer, she learned teamwork. “You work together as a team for an end goal,” said Trask, who is married with two children. “That’s what we’ve been doing since the beginning of the pandemic, working as a team to determine how to set things up. We’re working as a team to best adapt to the situation.”
From both sports, Trask learned mental focus. She works four 12-hour shifts a week. “It can be mentally draining,” she said. “But that comes back to sports. You can train and train and train and be physically ready, then there’s the mental piece. Can you handle it? And the piece that keeps you going is your focus.
‘In sports, our focus was to play as a team and our goal was to be successful. It’s the same today, work as a team and take the best care of our patients we can give. Whether it’s in the ED or Labor and Delivery, we want to make their experience a positive and successful one.”
Trask knows there is a long way to go in combating the coronavirus outbreak. But having been a competitive athlete, she is ready.
“That’s the competitive piece,” she said. “We want to come out on top of this.”