From a difficult dismount to a painful plié, gymnasts and dancers put their bodies through a lot. Akron Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine recently launched a new gymnastics and dance outreach program to keep these competitors in step.
Certified Athletic Trainer Sheila Schrack currently visits 5 gymnastics facilities and dance studios every other week. She cares for a wide range of athletes – from elementary school through high school, boys and girls. “I help the athletes with stretches, exercises and injury prevention,” she said. “If a child comes to me with an issue, I’m never going to say ‘You’re fine.’ He or she is going to get at least 3 exercises.”
If a gymnast or a dancer has a more serious injury, Sheila makes referral and follows the patient’s progress along the way. “We have a big network of experts and specialists who can help kids get back to doing what they love,” she said. “When a child has an issue, I can ask a doctor for advice or refer the patient’s family to the right physician.”
The most common problems Sheila encounters in older dancers and gymnasts are back problems and overuse injuries. “Kids don’t have an off season anymore,” she said. “They put a lot of time into dance and gymnastics. It’s important to teach them to rest without stopping the activity.”
In younger kids, Sheila encounters growth plate injuries in the arms and legs. “You have to treat a child’s body differently than you would an adult because kids’ bodies are still growing,” she offered. “They’re not just miniature adults.”
While physical healing from an injury is important, Sheila is mindful of the psychological component. “If athletes are sidelined with injuries, I find creative ways they can still be involved but not hurt their bodies,” she said. “For example, a gymnast with a leg problem can work on the bars – just not dismount. A dancer with an injury can run the music. Even if they can’t perform at 100 percent, there’s something they can do to stay in the environment they love.”
Sheila competed in gymnastics from ages 7 to 17, until knee problems forced her to stop. She transitioned to coaching gymnastics, then judging – and finally became the parent of a gymnast. “Once gymnastics is in your blood, it’s with you forever,” she quipped. “But all of that experience is beneficial in the outreach program. Whether it’s the gymnast, coach or parent, I can relate to their perspectives because I’ve been in all of those roles.”
The gymnastics and dance outreach program is off to a good start, and Sheila enjoys interacting with the kids. “They keep me young, and they’re so appreciative of my time and attention,” she shared. “It’s a growing trend to find athletic trainers in performing arts centers. I’m happy Akron Children’s Hospital is ahead of the curve in offering athletic training services to local dancers and gymnasts.”