Student volunteers are getting a shot at working with real-life athletes this week while the U.S. Figure Skating Junior Championships are in town.

Emergency and trauma technicians, nurses and athletic trainers in training are standing by at the Salt Lake Sports Complex just in case all the jumping, spinning and twirling goes wrong, which is sometimes inevitable when ice skaters are involved.

"Ice is not a forgiving surface," said Kim Dimino, president of Salt Lake Figure Skating. She said although they hope nothing goes wrong during the weeklong competition, "it's always best to be prepared for when it does."

The event staffs multiple health care workers to care for athletes should any injuries happen, but also for the various services such professionals provide. The opportunity to volunteer at a nationally recognized event, even if it's mostly a waiting game, gives students more than hands-on experience.

T. Lucas Willson, an athletic training student at Weber State University, said he "couldn't buy the seats you get there." Knowing that every experience he has gets him closer to the real thing, Willson volunteers for every athletic event that he can.

"It's a neat environment, not at all like you'd expect," he said. "It's not often that you get to work with world-class athletes on a personal level." In past experiences, Willson has made his volunteer opportunities work to his advantage, networking and getting to know other professionals in his field.

Dimino said the top four skaters from each regional championship held around the country gather for the final competition in the top-bidding city. Salt Lake City was chosen for this year's event, "giving competitors a rare opportunity to skate at an official training venue used for the 2002 Olympics," she said. Volunteers this year were recruited from Westminster College's community nursing program as well as WSU's athletic training program.

Volunteer experiences augment classroom and clinical training. Students get various experience working clinical rotations, but working as volunteers allows students to focus on specific areas of emphasis.

"We encourage students to choose volunteer opportunities that fit their interests or future career goals," said Valerie Herzog, director of WSU's athletic training program. "If they are uncertain about their future career path, volunteering helps them discover which fields are a good fit."

As someone who has played baseball and other sports his whole life, Willson said he knows how to treat athletes and looks forward to working with them full-time when he graduates. The volunteer time also counts toward the required 200 hours per semester of practical experience and 20 hours per semester of service learning that Willson needs to graduate.

Salt Lake City is the last stop this year for the junior ice skating competitors, and as they've been training all year long, the added stress of the competition and increased training often set the stage for more injuries. Most often, medical personnel see ankle and knee injuries or other chronic conditions, but occasionally athletes have endured more serious accidents.

The students are supervised by certified professionals throughout the week, and Gold Cross Ambulance has promised to provide full-time first aid care for the entire event. Dimino said they have to be attentive and keep an eye on multiple athletes who are on one of the two ice rinks at any one time.

"Sure there's a whole lot of time spent waiting," Willson said about staffing previous events. "But you have to be able to go from being in a regular, relaxed and hanging-out mood to a high-intensity situation where every move you make can make or break you and who you're working with."

The situation allows him to be a "jack of all trades, because you never know what you're going to get," he said.

The figure skating event is in town until Dec. 1 and volunteers are asked to be on site from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day. Willson took time off from school to be there for the sometimes long days.

"I wouldn't miss it," he said. "I love being there for people."


E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com