New athletic training facilities are a real breakthrough

By: Nick Dawson

Gary Nicholson has seen plenty of changes in his 35 years as PLU’s athletic trainer. Perhaps the biggest change came this summer when the former squash court – located next to the athletic training room – was converted into additional athletic training space.

In addition to doubling the amount of training room space to approximately 1,500 square feet, the remodel created private offices for both Nicholson and assistant trainer Jen Thomas ’98, ’99, thus meeting federal student privacy requirements.

When Nicholson first came to the university back in the early 1970s, the athletic training facilities were hardly adequate. The training room was in what is now the Division of Movement Studies (physical education) equipment room. There was barely space enough for a small inadequate ice machine, a whirlpool and two tables used for taping and treatment. The only access was through the men’s locker room. A hole was eventually cut for a door leading into the hallway to allow access for female athletes. Still, the space was lacking.

When the weight room moved from Olson Auditorium to the newly constructed Names Fitness Center in the 1980s, the athletic training room moved into its old space, the training room’s current location. The small space served the athletic training needs for the better part of two decades until this summer’s remodel.

Now there are separate areas for training needs such as taping, and for injury rehabilitation and treatment. Despite that, the athletic training space is still too small given the size of PLU’s athletic and club sports programs. The training department is similarly understaffed. Adding more staff is the first priority, and the athletic department hopes to meet that need by next school year.
Nonetheless, the additional athletic training space has been well received by the training staff, student-athletes, and faculty and staff who stop by for treatment.

“If you look at it, it’s not a lot of space. But I couldn’t imagine before this year how they did what they did with that limited space,” said senior Sean McIlraith, a football player who has been rehabilitating a knee injury. “It’s nice to have separate areas for taping and rehabilitation, and we’re able to spread out more.”

Football alum comes full circle as a team doctor

By: Nick Dawson

Mark Mariani says his Tuesday afternoons in the PLU training room are the highlight of his week.

When Mark Mariani showed up in 1994 as an unrecruited walk-on to the Lute football team, little did he know that his PLU experience would come full circle. A dozen years later, now Dr. Mark Mariani has returned to help the athletic training program.

Mariani, a 1998 PLU graduate, went on to graduate from the University of Washington Medical School. After establishing an orthopedic sports medicine practice with Multi-Care in the Tacoma area, Mariani returned to his PLU roots at the start of the 2006 school year. Since that time, he has provided his services to the school’s athletic training program, establishing a regular Tuesday afternoon schedule. As the “team doctor,” he also attends a number of PLU athletic events throughout the year, offering expertise when it comes to athletic injuries.

Mariani participated in football during the 1994 and 1995 seasons, though only in the role of a practice player. When he realized he wouldn’t see much playing time on the field, he took on the role of a “servant warrior,” an individual who helps with the program in any way that he can. “My experience at PLU was pretty special and football was a large part of that,” Mariani said.

Medicine was one of two career paths he considered when he first came to campus. “I had dreams of being a basketball coach, but medicine just called me,” Mariani said. “In my (medical) training, sports medicine became an increasing influence on me.”

Once his practice was established in Tacoma, Mariani and his wife, Erika (Olson ’97), saw the athletic program as a perfect outlet for his desire to influence the lives of college students. “My wife and I have always had a heart for college students,” he said, “so to come back to where we started is a dream.”

Gary Nicholson, the school’s longtime athletic trainer, and Jen Thomas ’98, ’99, the assistant trainer, are both happy to have Mariani as part of the team. “It’s taken a load off of Jen’s and my shoulders,” Nicholson said. “He understands how we do things, and he understands sports because he played sports.”

Mariani is living the dream. “My Tuesday afternoon in the training room is the highlight of my week,” he said. “It’s challenging, but it’s fun.”

Photo Top: It is still close quarters in the athletic training room, but its near doubling of size has given PLU’s student-athletes much-needed space to receive treatment.