Saturday, August 21, 2010

North County Times-Advocates for Injured Athletes

COMMUNITY SPORTS: Son's neck injury prompted Carmel Valley woman to try to help high school athletes

BY GREG BALL - For the North County Times North County Times - Californian | Posted: Wednesday, August 18, 2010 4:20 pm | 1 Comment | Print

If Beth Mallon had her way, every high school athletic contest and practice in San Diego County would be held under the watchful eye of a certified athletic trainer. After all, she believes that the actions of one such medical professional saved her son's life.

Mallon, a Carmel Valley resident, is the mother of former Santa Fe Christian lacrosse player Tommy Mallon, who last May broke his neck on a routine hit during his final high school game. After spending months by her son's side while he negotiated a seemingly endless series of medical treatments, she has turned her attention toward making sure other families don't have to endure what hers has.

"This isn't what I imagined myself doing for the rest of my life," said Mallon, 49, who worked in the medical field before raising her children. "It isn't what I had pictured myself doing, but I think there was a bigger plan for me than I realized. Anyone that's gone through a traumatic injury with a loved one ... we felt like we had to be a resource to help others."

To that end, Mallon has founded an organization called Advocates for Injured Athletes, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting student-athletes, promoting sports safety and providing essential support, guidance and resources to injured athletes.

Among the organization's initial goals is to campaign for all local high schools to have a certified athletic trainer on site for every game or practice involving a contact sport. Its secondary aim is to educate coaches and administrators on the importance of CPR training and preparing emergency plans to handle potentially catastrophic injuries for situations when an athletic trainer isn't available.

When Tommy Mallon was injured, athletic trainer Riki Kirchhoff was on site working for Santa Fe Christian, and insisted that the fallen lacrosse player stay down on the turf and be immobilized. His mother later learned just how valuable Kirchhoff's presence was.

"Had she not been there on that day, we're pretty certain that Tommy could easily have died from getting up," Beth Mallon said. "We are so grateful that the athletic trainer was on the field that day. Now that we've been given this miracle, so to speak, we feel that we want to carry this forward and hopefully help protect other athletes."

Mallon's organization has held multiple clinics this month in which she has spoken to local club sports organizations and high schools about the need for athletic trainers and emergency preparedness. She emphasizes during those discussions that an athletic trainer -- whose job is to help prevent and treat athletic injuries -- is significantly different than a personal trainer, weight trainer or any other trainer, and is uniquely educated to handle situations that other trainers may not be. She also aims to urge coaches and administrators to question whether their athletic trainers are certified, as California is one of a handful of states that don't require certification.

"The absolute goal would be to have a certified athletic trainer at every high school and having coverage at all the contact sports," said Kirchhoff, who works closely with Mallon on her new initiative. "That's our top priority."

Nearly 15 months after Tommy Mallon's injury, he has recovered to the point where he has been able to enroll in classes at USD this semester. He has traveled to Sacramento with his mother to speak on behalf of a bill to protect high school athletes from injuries like he suffered, and he has worked with national organizations with similar missions to that of Advocates for Injured Athletes.

"The athletic trainer's decision on that day saved my life and saved my neurological function," he said in a statement to the National Athletic Trainers' Association earlier this year.

For now, Advocates for Injured Athletes is a small, community-based nonprofit that Beth Mallon is funding completely through donations via its website, She hopes to expand it to reach all corners of San Diego County and, eventually, make it a national effort.

"If we touch one person, one family, one kid, one parent or help one coach, we will have done our job," she said.

Copyright 2010 North County Times - Californian. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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