By Beth Sitzler
Athletic training is a profession built on relationships. Just as important as the relationships ATs build with their patients are the ones they build with each other. NATA is often a conduit for these relationships, providing members with opportunities for collaboration, connection and a sense of belonging. This Be NATA blog series highlights various AT relationships and the role NATA played in these connections.
Sometimes you find someone with a similar mindset, and you just click.
While attending the University of Nebraska at Kearney in 2011, Zachary Olivarez, MS, LAT, ATC, said he was a nontraditional student, entering the athletic training program after serving in the military.
“In my peer group of my cohort, I was the old man of the group,” he said. “So, I just kind of just naturally flowed toward the [graduate assistants], since they're all older, and Jordan and I just hit it off.”
Jordan Stithem, ATC, was a GA at the time and noticed that although Olivarez was just getting his feet wet in athletic training, he was mature and had an impressive work ethic. The more they got to know each other, the more their respect for one another grew, leading to a mentorship and then to a friendship.
“We both played sports in high school, and he’s from western Nebraska and I was from Kansas, both rural-ish areas,” Stithem said. “We shared a lot of the same values and treated other people the same way. I think that helped our friendship.”
“As a young athletic training student going through the program, having him as a mentor, I would follow in his footsteps,” Olivarez said. “I’ve seen other people who are kind of degrading to other ATs, but it was never that way with him. He always treated you like a human being; it didn’t matter if you’re a student, friend or whatever. That was another reason why I gravitated toward him.”
After graduating, life took Olivarez and Stithem in similar yet different directions – both ended up in the secondary school setting, with Olivarez located in Wyoming and Stithem in Nebraska. Thanks to technology, Olivarez and Stithem have been able to stay connected despite their physical distance. Whether snapping a photo from the sidelines during games or while enjoying outings with the family, sharing the small moments has allowed them to remain close – and ensured they have someone to turn to during the “big moments.”
“It's nice to be able to have a friend and it’s not always about athletic training,” Olivarez said. “You can step away and send goofy memes and all that other stuff. It's another way of decompressing, too. It doesn't always have to be about work.
“[But] if something major were to happen, I know I could call him and be like, ‘Dude, you're not going to believe what happened. I need somebody to talk to.’ I know that I could call on him, and he’ll be able to help.”
As they’ve grown in their careers, the duo has also found time to give back to the profession. Olivarez is currently serving as the president of the Wyoming Athletic Trainers’ Association, and Stithem serves on the Nebraska State Athletic Trainers’ Association Secondary Schools Committee.
“Now, he's the president of Wyoming, so him having that knowledge, anytime I have questions, we’ll message back and forth,” Stithem said. “Being able to have that relationship – just having that network – has been key. I’ve been able to see how they’ve handled secondary schools out there, and kind of build off that and bring in new ideas to Nebraska.”
While technology has kept them connected, Olivarez and Stithem have found the opportunity to catch up in person during the NATA convention.
“We were both in Philly [for NATA 2022] and it was nice to get to hang out and catch up,” Olivarez said. “When you go to [the NATA convention], it can be so overwhelming. I knew like five people, other than the District Seven Board of Directors. So, it was nice to meet up with Jordan and see him.”
In addition to connecting to each other, they said the NATA convention has allowed them to connect to others in their athletic training community.
“It’s been eye-opening, getting outside of my bubble, meeting different people from around the U.S. [during the NATA convention],” Stithem said. “It’s good to hear how the secondary school setting is different throughout the U.S. The way we handle certain things in Nebraska isn’t the same way they handle them in Louisiana. Just being there and being open to those conversations with other people, and not just sitting in your hotel room – the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized those conversations are more important than most of the stuff there.”
“I think that’s where being an extrovert comes in,” Olivarez said. “You have to be able to go out and just talk to people and not be afraid. You have to make those connections and build those bridges.”
The duo said as they both become more involved with service and giving back to the athletic training profession, they look forward to making time for an annual meetup.
“Hopefully, we can make [the NATA convention] a yearly get-together and, hopefully, we can add more and more people to our group,” Stithem said.
No matter your setting, you have a home within NATA. Your membership opens the door to problem-solving resources and connects you to our global athletic training community. Be NATA and join or renew your NATA membership by Dec. 31. Don’t let finances get in the way of membership. Contact Member Services through email or by calling 972-532-8897 to learn more about how we can help.