Students: Look for the “Flecks of Gold”

March 24, 2015 by JordanG

By Jeremy Hawkins, PhD, ATC, ATP Director, Colorado Mesa University

In my last blog post I encouraged you as athletic training students to pay attention to the little things that help you become an athletic trainer.  Ideas included to be present, seek out opportunities, and to incorporate foundational behaviors of professional practice.  Since writing that post I heard the following story and believe it has application to your transformation as well.

Oftentimes we are like the young merchant from Boston, who in 1849 was caught up in the fervor of the California gold rush. He sold all of his possessions to seek his fortune in the California rivers, which he was told were filled with gold nuggets so big that one could hardly carry them.

Day after endless day, the young man dipped his pan into the river and came up empty. His only reward was a growing pile of rocks. Discouraged and broke, he was ready to quit until one day an old, experienced prospector said to him, "That’s quite a pile of rocks you are getting there, my boy."

The young man replied, "There’s no gold here. I’m going back home."

Walking over to the pile of rocks, the old prospector said, "Oh, there is gold all right. You just have to know where to find it." He picked two rocks up in his hands and crashed them together. One of the rocks split open, revealing several flecks of gold sparkling in the sunlight.

Noticing a bulging leather pouch fastened to the prospector’s waist, the young man said, "I’m looking for nuggets like the ones in your pouch, not just tiny flecks."

The old prospector extended his pouch toward the young man, who looked inside, expecting to see several large nuggets. He was stunned to see that the pouch was filled with thousands of flecks of gold.

The old prospector said, "Son, it seems to me you are so busy looking for large nuggets that you’re missing filling your pouch with these precious flecks of gold. The patient accumulation of these little flecks has brought me great wealth."


As I think about this story, my mind goes back to my days when I was in your shoes.  I remember either early morning or late night hours working to provide for my young family, spending all morning in class (where I occasionally fell asleep out of utter exhaustion), grabbing a quick bite to eat at lunch before heading to practice for the entire afternoon, and making the most of an evening of studying, which at least one day of the week included a 2 – 3 hour night class, before heading to bed to do it all over again the next day.  There were days when I walked out of class having just nailed a test and other days walking out being nailed by the test and questioning whether I was cut out for this.  There were long hours holding water bottles thinking that they don’t need me here for this, anyone can do this.  In other words, I often felt like the young prospector looking for huge nuggets. 

Looking back on those days, I now see things a little differently.  I remember days when things just clicked in class, when I got it for the first time.  I think of relationships I developed with my fellow athletic trainings students, preceptors, and the athletes we worked with that I remember fondly to this day.  I can still see myself stabilizing the head of a high school track athlete who missed the pole vault pit and had no feeling from the waist down—an experience that completely changed my view on my education because no matter what a classroom test said, I got that right clinically.  There were days shagging fly balls in the outfield at baseball, rehabbing with an athlete, and talking through why we do this or that while performing treatments.  In these experiences I now see the flecks of gold that made my education what it was, flecks of gold that I didn’t always appreciate at the time, flecks of gold that made me into the educator I am today.  I can echo the words of the old prospector, “these little flecks [have] brought me great wealth.” 

In conclusion, as you do the small things, don’t forget to appreciate the little moments that are helping you to become an athletic trainer.  It will be the accumulation of these little experiences, with an occasional big nugget experience, that in the end will make you who you are.  For most of us, it won’t happen overnight.  It may not even happen over the course of your formal education.  But it will happen.            

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