By Nick Sarantis, ATC, CSCS
August 2001 in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania and I just left my first physical therapy appointment for low back and adductor (groin) pain. This was my first experience in sports medicine sadly it was not my last, and now thankfully I can say that I am involved in sports medicine every single day.
My name is Nick Sarantis and I am the Director of Sports Performance for Baptist Sports Medicine. For the coming months I will be writing articles on sports medicine, sports performance, and personal training topics. This first article will describe my journey from a high level athlete to athletic trainer and now to my current role on the sports performance side of things, while giving a background and what made me the clinician/coach I am today.
I was a soccer player, I did not just play soccer, but I was a soccer player I was consumed and defined by the game. School was not my favorite thing in the world, but it was something I knew I must succeed in to further my soccer career. I played high school soccer in a suburb of Philadelphia where the softball and baseball fields intersected with the soccer pitch. The center circle was used each November for the huge bond fire held before the big Thanksgiving Day football game. Needless to say facilities were not up to par from a soccer standpoint, but not up to par from an injury prevention standpoint either. I played club soccer for various clubs throughout the area, traveling, and playing 3-4 times per week. Soccer was life and I was ok with that. My junior year of high school is when I first started to feel pain in my adductor as well as my low back. Various doctor and physical therapy appointments told me nothing more than a strain and should clear up in a few weeks’ time. Eventually it felt good enough for me to play, and I was able to have a very successful high school and club career. Before my freshmen year in college my parents got me a personal trainer at a local gym to get me stronger. This is 10 years ago now so the training was based on body building principles with muscle group splits each day. Movement patterns were not trained, and come to think of it I cannot even remember doing a squat yet alone a hang clean. This was my first introduction to the weight room and strength and conditioning.
College soccer took me to Farleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, NJ. It was a 2 hour drive from family and friends, and they had made it to the elite 8 of the NCAA tournament the year before, the fact that they wanted me to play there, I was sold. Made it through my first and only preseason camp of my career healthy and that transferred over to a starting position the first week. It was a highly successful year from a team standpoint having a national ranking as high as #8, however we were upset in the NCAA tournament. By the end of the year my adductor and lower abdominal region were feeling weak and painful. I went to multiple doctors referred to me by my athletic trainers and they told me nothing more than a strain or maybe some tendonitis. Back to physical therapy weekly as well as rehab with my athletic trainers daily. This was during the offseason so the combination of rest and rehab I felt back to normal after 2 months, perfect timing because spring soccer was starting soon. Due to my injuries I never had time for strength and conditioning, and it was not a huge priority at the University at that point. Played very well the first few games, and then again the pain returned rendering me to 75% of the player I could be. During this time I started to realize that FDU was not the school for me, so I started to explore my transferring options. The University of Louisville and I immediately made contact and I was on my way there for my recruiting trip. After standing in the middle of Cardinal Park’s field I was sold, and was enrolled for summer class starting in July.
Preseason camp was about to begin and we had to get our annual physicals. I revealed I had pain in my adductor area, and after being poked and prodded by a few doctors I got my first anti –inflammatory injection (cortisone). Due to the trauma of the shot I was held out of the first week of preseason practice, which left me playing catch up to the rest of the squad. It was not until about a month into the season and after daily rehab with my athletic trainer did I start to feel close to 100%. With my physical conditioning improving and pain decreasing my play was getting back to where I felt like it needed to be and my playing time started to increase. My first game back was 60 minutes against Ohio State in an overtime tie, which led me to be packed in ice for the next 2 days. I recovered in time for the next match and played well, but the maintenance of keeping my body going was starting to become overwhelming. The season ended with me in pain and frustrated with both my body and my play. Spring season led me to another round of doctors visits, MRI’s, X-Rays anything that could potentially lead to a diagnosis. An arthrogram MRI of the hip was ordered to look for an acetabular labrum team. An athrogram MRI is when contrast dye is injected into the joint in question which can help show a potential cartilage tear. I remember standing in the athletic training room HOPING that it was torn! I just wanted to know what it was, I really did not care how bad it was, I just want to know. But alas it was negative and I was devastated. My mind started to wonder am I just being a wimp? Am I really in pain? Do my coaches and team mates think I am just faking this whole thing? So off to the next doctor and we started to talk about a potential athletic puablga or “sports hernia” injury, and all the symptoms were right on target. Pain and weakness in the aductors, pain in the lower abdominals, pain only during exertion, pain subsiding when at rest but would return with activity. Check, check, check, check, check. However at this point there were 2 surgeons in the world renowned for this procedure, one was in Munich, Germany, and luckily the other one was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. To Philadelphia I went to be examined by Dr. William C Meyers who had operated on many of the best athletes in the world. He had already reviewed my diagnostic pictures and he did a quick hands on exam of me and he was convinced that I was suffering from an athletic pubalgia on the right side. I was scheduled for surgery the very next day. I was elated, excited, thrilled, happy anything you can think of that someone had found what was wrong with me. I could have cared less about the surgery, I was just excited to be fixed. Surgery was a breeze he made a 3 inch horizontal incision in my lower abdominal wall and proceeded to fan out internal sutures over the micro tearing put a band aid over the cut and I was going home. Standard rehabilitation protocol would allow me a full recovery in 3 months, just enough time to get back in shape for preseason. The rest of the spring and summer was spent rehabbing and trying to get back in shape for the season. I had an offseason strength and conditioning program provided to me from the strength and conditioning coaches at Louisville which is very comprehensive. However the biggest issue for me that I was still limited from many of the exercises due to pain, or due to doctors recommendations.
Preseason camp was upon us and I was not back to 100% yet. I spent preseason still mostly rehabbing and training on the side trying to get back to 100% without further injuring myself. 3 games into the season we were playing the University of Cincinnati and I was inserted into central midfield at half time, and I would never leave the field again that season. I felt great, I was playing great this is what I had worked so hard over the years to get, to be playing Division 1 soccer at a high level. It was a fantastic season personally and I was so excited to build upon my junior year to have a great senior year. We went through a coaching change which brought many good things, but lots of adjustments for all involved. Our weight training programs were becoming more functional and more soccer specific. I was getting myself in great physical shape in the weight room while also staying on top of my groin injuries. Spring season rolled around and about a week in a felt a similar feeling in my right groin that I was all too familiar with. I tried to play through the pain which left me unable to perform well, in pain the compensation led to pain in my left side as well. After communicating with Dr. Meyers again, back the to the surgeon I went. This time he cut open both sides and repaired athletic pubalgia injuries on both sides. This time however the rehab protocol was advanced so that I could try and be back playing in one months time. Dr. Meyers and I communicated daily on my rehab plan, and although I started running sooner, and passing a soccer ball sooner, it was still 3 months for me to feeling anywhere near 100%. So again I missed most of preseason camp which as the senior team co-captain I hated more than usual. However this time the pain never really went away. So I started to receive monthly cortisone injections into the scar tissue in my groin to help me deal with the pain. It helped me get back on the field and was able to play at high level for a few games. As the season wore on my body continued to break down and I was unable to perform close to where I thought I should be. Then finally in a practice about half way though the year I fell on my outstretched arm, heard a pop, a crack, and a crunch and my senior season was finished. Tests revealed a torn labrum in my shoulder which would require surgery.
My soccer career was a love and hate relationship on a daily basis. I loved the game so much and everything it had given me, but I also hated it because of everything it had done to me. The amount of time it took me to get my body ready for a practice or game left me burnt out. However in my junior year I finally realized what career I wanted to follow: Athletic Training. I completed the appropriate pre requisites and off to the University of Arkansas I went to complete my masters degree in athletic training. It was at this time that I was able to match the book knowledge that I was reading about with all the experiences that I have had in the past. I worked with multiple sports while I was there and saw a variety of injuries and techniques to dealing with them. I also observed the strength and conditioning coaches work on a daily basis as well which again showed much different techniques then I used back in high school.
With my degree in hand I accepted the job to be the athletic trainer for Oldham County High School employed through Baptist Hospital Northeast. I was responsible for over 500 athletes on an annual basis to fix injuries, implement rehabs, everything and anything the athletes would need to be able to perform. During this time however I quickly realized that as a high school athletic trainer that I did not have time to implement injury prevention techniques. Once I got the athlete healthy enough to practice, he or she was back at practice and we would never get the chance to find out what truly caused that injury. This frustration led me to complete my Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist test (CSCS), and I started to do strength and conditioning training on the side for athletes that were looking for extra work. Great results led me to work with Baptist Sports Medicine on implementing a sports performance area in the new clinic located in Baptist Eastpoint. Now I am the Director of Sports Performance for Baptist Sports Medicine building faster, stronger, quicker, more powerful and healthier athletes. Through all my experiences and education I am able to connect with athletes and their current experiences based on my past. My goal is to give athletes all the information and techniques that I did not have and really was not even around 10 years ago. Continue to check for articles and posts related to all sports medicine, sports performance, and personal training topics.
Nick Sarantis is the Director of Sports Performance at Baptist Sports Medicine. He is a certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) and a certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Athletic Training Association and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He earned his Master’s degree from the University of Arkansas and his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Louisville. While obtaining his Bachelor’s degree, he was a co-captain and starter for the University of Louisville Men’s Soccer team. For more information: www.BaptistSportsMedKy.com.