The 16-year-old is only a sophomore, but made Overland High School’s varsity boys basketball team, which is off to a strong start during a delayed COVID-19 season.
Marzouq Abdur-Razaaq was warming up for a recent game when he jumped for a layup, came down and knew something was wrong with his knee.
The next day, he received care at school from Kyle Thorson, Overland’s lead athletic trainer.
After examining Abdur-Razaaq’s knee, Thorson wanted to have him see a doctor as soon as possible.
“I have two knee specialists. One is the Rockies’ doctor. The other is the Nuggets’ doctor. I’d like you to get in to see one of them,” said Thorson.
Seeing a doctor who also takes care of professional athletes sounded pretty good to Abdur-Razaaq.
A new trend: Health system providers serve as athletic trainers in schools
Thorson is able to give student athletes VIP treatment because he’s part of UCHealth, where many of Colorado’s top professional athletes receive care at beautiful facilities like UCHealth Steadman Hawkins Clinic Denver.
Starting in the fall, leaders at Cherry Creek Schools began using UCHealth athletic trainers to tend to Cherry Creek athletes.
“It’s a great partnership,” said Larry Bull, director of athletics and activities for Cherry Creek Schools. “The goal is the safety of our student athletes: from prevention of injuries to evaluation to making recommendations and rehabilitation for our student athletes.”
The Cherry Creek School District serves about 55,000 students and Bull says as many as 60% of high school students play a sport. Middle school sports had to be suspended during the pandemic, but Bull said district officials, parents and students all are eager to bring middle school sports back as soon as possible.
“The resources that are provided through UCHealth are helping parents and coaches. It’s not just that the doctors work for the Broncos and are nationally known. We’re also building relationships, and the trainers at the schools can make direct calls to leading doctors,” Bull said.
Medical pros who care for the Broncos, Rockies and Nuggets care for students too
With quick access to the same medical pros who care for professional athletes, students who get injured can see medical providers sooner, get the rehabilitation they need and quickly return to sports they love.
During the pandemic, it’s been especially helpful to have a relationship with health experts who can consult with school officials, Bull said.
“It’s been a real challenge and the support from UCHealth has helped a ton. The teamwork and collaboration have been great,” Bull said.
For instance, UCHealth experts helped school district officials map out safe protocols for students.
“We’re learning every day. Things change all the time. The trainers have the support they need to watch for signs and symptoms of COVID and to develop return-to-play protocols,” Bull said.
Invaluable advice during a pandemic from Colorado’s top infectious disease expert
School officials also got to meet with Dr. Michelle Barron, a top infectious disease expert in Colorado and UCHealth’s senior medical director of infection prevention and control.
“She spent nearly an hour with us, just taking questions. She really helped us understand how to keep kids and schools safe during the pandemic,” Bull said.
“It’s so nice to be able to ask questions. Do we need to disinfect balls, etc?” Bull said. “Dr. Barron was awesome. She answered so many questions and had great explanations.”
Bull said having in-house UCHealth athletic trainers has opened doors to other opportunities like health internships for district students. He expects the partnership to grow and expand when the pandemic ends.
“There are so many resources that this partnership brings to the table. We want to look at providing information to athletes and parents,” he said. “We’re talking about doing health fairs, where kids can get physicals and information on concussions. These can be one-stop shops for sports information.”
More common in Colorado for schools to team up with medical experts for athletic trainers
For UCHealth leaders, teaming up with schools has been a great fit. In other states, it’s much more common for health systems to provide athletic trainers and team doctors to school districts and their students.
But, these partnerships are relatively new in Colorado.
“This model is becoming more common,” said Mike Allen, UCHealth’s director of rehabilitation services for south metro Denver area and a physical therapist at the UCHealth Steadman Hawkins Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Clinic.
“We deliver an integrated approach with orthopedic providers working collaboratively with our athletic trainers and rehabilitation team.”
UCHealth is also partnering with Academy District 20 in Colorado Springs.
Athletic trainers help with seamless care to get students back to their sports quickly
Athletes who suffer common injuries like torn ACLs or sprained ankles or concussions can receive seamless, comprehensive care from their schools to doctor visits to physical therapy and even sports performance if they want to boost their skills.
At Overland, Marzouq Abdur-Razaaq and his older brother, Jameel Wright, a top scoring senior for Overland’s varsity basketball team, both stop by the school training room frequently.
The boys started playing basketball back when each was in about 2nd grade and both are natural athletes. Jameel is a 6-foot-1-inch point guard and put 24 points on the scoreboard during a recent game. Marzouq is a 6-foot-6-inch forward and is eager for his knee to heal so he can enjoy time on the court with his brother and other teammates.
Marzouq’s mom said the care he received both at school with Thorson and during follow-up visits at the UCHealth Steadman Hawkins Clinic Denver has been easy, fast and seamless.
“I’ve been so thankful,” she said.
Student athletes ‘so grateful for everything you do for them’
Thorson enjoys assisting high school athletes who play sports at all levels.
Talil Seals-Fisher is a 14-year-old 9th grader who plays basketball and football.
“Football is my main sport,” Seals-Fisher said. “I play safety, corner and a lot of special teams.”
During a football game in the fall, he took a hard fall backwards and crashed on his side into the ground, suffering an unusual break to his upper right arm.
Seals-Fisher is out of his cast now and playing on the freshman basketball team. Thorson works with him every day after school and before basketball practice to do strengthening exercises.
“You’re really tight. That’s why you’ve been so sore,” Thorson says as he guides Fisher through exercises and stretches.
Thorson loves sports and working with young people.
“They’re all so grateful for everything you do for them,” Thorson said.
If students get injured, UCHealth athletic trainers provide seamless access to surgeons
Athletic trainers are board certified, and just like other medical providers, licensed to work in the state where they practice.
Thorson is from Illinois and has an undergraduate degree in athletic training and a Master’s in kinesiology with an emphasis in sports psychology, fitness and nutrition.
Thorson was also an athlete himself. He played football, baseball and basketball in high school. While an undergraduate at Illinois State University, Thorson worked as a student athletic trainer for the school’s football and softball teams. During graduate school at Wester Illinois University, he served as the athletic trainer for the college’s baseball team.
While Thorson’s first love is baseball, he’s used to supporting athletes who play a variety of high school sports.
And, he loves being able to connect his players with a full team of experts at UCHealth Steadman Hawkins Clinic Denver.
Thorson remembers one girl’s mom being hesitant about taking her daughter to UCHealth Steadman Hawkins Clinic Denver — until she got there, saw how beautiful it is and met the doctor.
“When they found out that the doctor takes care of all-pro super stars, they realized he’d take good care of her daughter too,” Thorson said.
Another of UCHealth’s athletic trainers in the Cherry Creek Schools is Lisa Chenoweth. She echoed Thorson’s insights.
“It’s been a great partnership,” said Chenoweth, who works at Eaglecrest High School. “We had about five kids who needed surgery in the fall and we were able to get them in with the doctors right away. Everything is smooth and timely.
“The advantage comes down to the access we have to the orthopedic surgeons, hand specialists and others,” she said. “We’re able to get our kids the health care they need when they need it.”