What are the chances of a sports writer running into another person from Roswell — in Albuquerque — as both people are doing their jobs? Small world, two weeks ago that happened as Gateway Christian baseball team was finishing up playing their game at Rio Rancho High School.
Rio Rancho athletic trainer, TJ Fails, sat in his chaise with his sunglasses on smiling on the warm, sunny day. He noted how he was living the dream and getting paid to do what he loved to do — be an athletic trainer.
Fails loved playing soccer for coach Clyde Williamson and played baseball also. He graduated from Roswell in 2000. Fails shared how he got his start in his current job, by taking a sports medicine class taught by Roswell football coach Steve Willis.
“He was part of the early foundation in soccer that we built,” former RHS soccer coach Williamson said. “He played at Roswell for four years and worked hard. He was the type of kid that was going to be successful at whatever he made his mind up to do in life.”
Willis told the students that took his class that being a sports trainer was a growing field and not a bad way to make a living. Willis has had other students go on to become athletic trainers, as well. Willis stressed that trainers help athletes maintain and get into peak condition and prevent injuries also.
“I told my students,” Willis said, “they’re always going to be athletes who get sick or hurt. There’s more to being a trainer than what it looks like, and it’s not a bad way to make a living. TJ always liked the scientific part of it. He was fascinated by how injuries affected the body.”
Fails liked taking Willis’ class so much that he enrolled in the University of New Mexico and earned his bachelor’s degree in athletic training. After graduating, he went to Texas for a few years before getting a master’s degree in health and kinesiology.
After graduation, Fails returned to New Mexico and found a job at Cibola High School for six years. The job opened up at Rio Rancho and he has been there for six years. Fails acknowledges that as an athletic trainer, he makes a teacher’s salary at whatever level he’s at and a stipend as well. He is a school employee and teaches some athletic training classes also.
Fails has often worked the state baseball games and some of the other sporting events that are at Rio Rancho.
“This is what I started out wanting to do,” Fails said. “My family has always been supportive of me in this field. I just kept going with it. My brother, Jonathan is in the medical field as well.”
Fails acknowledges that while he was a student/athlete at Roswell, he watched current Roswell athletic trainer, Lisa Sandoval. For anyone wanting to go into the field, he recommends they be strong academically in biology, science and take some emergency medical services (EMS) courses. Fails encourages anyone interested in being an athletic trainer to shadow a professional and if a high school offers an athletic training program, to sign up.
The thing that Fails likes about the athletic training field is that it is a growing field with a lot of demand. The room for growth is more than even he could have imagined when he first started in it. He noted that all high schools are required to have certified athletic trainers to provide quality health care for the athletes.
“Athletic trainers are athletic trainers,” Fails said. “They are certified nationally and have a bunch of tests they have to pass. Once someone does that, they can work at the professional level. Getting up to that level is more about who you know and networking.”
Fails stresses that there are athletic trainers in the military, businesses, health care facilities and firefighter facilities, as well as the police. He recommends to anyone interested in becoming a trainer to check out the National Athletic Trainers Association or go to nata.org to check out the website.
Fails chuckled to himself about how small the state of New Mexico is to run into someone from there as he is working a game.
Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or email@example.com.