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Former athlete understands his PT clients

It’s an old saw among physical therapists: An athletic injury leads to a fascination with rehab and the field of sports medicine. For Garrett Kendall ’13, it was a fairly mild concussion he suffered while playing lacrosse in high school. “I didn’t lose consciousness or anything,” he says, but his doctor did take the old-school “rest and dark rooms” approach to his recovery.

While he was recuperating, Kendall starting thinking about athletic training as a potential career. While still in high school, he shadowed the trainers who worked with the Greenville Drive, a minor-league baseball team in his hometown-du-jour of Greenville, South Carolina, and fell in love with the idea of helping other athletes get back on the court, field or pitch.

“The whole idea of treating people that are athletes, and how that can be beneficial and how that can affect recovery and all that stuff, intrigued me,” he says.

Kendall did wind up an athletic trainer, after playing lacrosse and earning a degree in exercise science at Wingate. But treating athletic injuries primarily at the point of contact, rather than dealing with the aftermath, left him somewhat unsatisfied. So in 2017 he decided to go back to school, entering Wingate’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program. He joined a growing group of Bulldog undergrads who go on to health-sciences graduate programs at their alma mater.

Now a third-year student in the program, Kendall is nearing the end of a long road that started a decade ago, when he was looking for a place to feed his two passions: lacrosse and sports medicine.

Growing up, the Kendalls moved a lot. Indiana, California, Texas, even Paris, France. Kendall’s father, Brad, is a human-resources executive who was relocated every two or three years while he moved up the corporate ladder. “I was always the new kid,” Kendall says.

The outgoing, confident Kendall adapts well to new situations, but at Wingate he cherished the small-school vibe and day-to-day familiarity. He liked running into the same person a couple of times during the day. “People always talk about, ‘It feels like a family,’” Kendall says. “I feel like that gets thrown around a lot around here. But it’s true.”

Wingate also gave him an opportunity many other schools wouldn’t: to both play a sport and be an athletic trainer. Athletic training is a demanding pursuit. If you’re working with a particular sport, you’re expected there when they practice or play. The hours are long, and many schools know the schedule doesn’t work for athletes.

Wingate is a rare exception, but you have to be self-motivated. “Athletic-training class starts at 8,” Kendall says. “So I’d have morning practice, then class until sometime after lunch, 2 o’clock, then hit my (lacrosse) practice, and then go to another practice in another sport to get hours in. In the offseason my main focus was another sport. Weekends were consumed with getting hours at other events. It was busy, to say the least.”

Kendall managed to find time to serve as the president of the Student Athletic Advisory Council and be a member of the Presidential Council, while performing well enough on the field to be team MVP as a senior.

All of that busyness has served him well now that he’s in grad school. Kendall worked as an athletic trainer for a couple of high schools in South Carolina for a few years, but he felt like he wanted to play a larger role in bringing students back to full fitness. “I just thought in the long run, with physical therapy, you get more time with people,” he says. “Wingate was obviously my No. 1 choice, because I loved undergrad here.”

Kendall’s time-management skills have served him well during graduate school, with its demanding schedule of classes, studying and clinicals. Most of the book work is behind him now. He’s in the home stretch, doing clinical rotations, including a stint over the summer in Texas with Exos, a sports-performance outfit with some heavy-hitters among its clientele. “Ten of the top 15 NFL draft picks trained with them,” Kendall says.

Only about one in seven applicants gets in the program, so Kendall was pumped to be selected, especially since he’s eyeing a career in athletic PT. Being a former athlete, he says he gets how sports become an extension of an athlete, and how devastating it can be to sit on the sidelines because of an injury.

“You see people at their lowest point, I think,” he says. “They know, ‘I’m a soccer player.’ That’s what they identify themselves as. When soccer’s taken away, they kind of lose themselves a little bit. There’s more than just the medicine sometimes. I can understand the work you go through to do it. I can understand how injuries affect your feeling of not being around the team.

“And when it comes to professional athletes, that’s their livelihood too. If they can’t perform, they can’t play, they could get cut and they won’t make any money.”

Sounds like the new kid already has the perfect bedside manner for his chosen pursuit.