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Athletic trainer enhances performance

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The crowd is on its feet as chants erupt from both sides of the stands. With the game hanging in the balance, 12 seconds remain as the Palo Alto basketball team sets up its final offensive effort. As the clock ticks down, a layup is contested, and when the buzzer sounds, one player is left facedown on the court, clutching his ankle. 

Immediately, athletic trainer Justine Iongi (known as Ms. E to students because her last name is pronounced E-on-gee) rushes onto the court, medical bag in hand, ready to tend to the injury.

Students and coaches say athletic trainers like Iongi play a crucial role in promoting the health and wellness of student athletes in a school setting. They work to prevent, diagnose and treat injuries, as well as provide education resources to help athletes maintain their physical fitness. 

Iongi attended San Diego State University where she received her bachelor’s degree in science and athletic training. She later obtained her master’s degree at San Jose State University. And since Iongi came to Paly in 2015, she’s made connections with countless players and coaches. 

Junior Richie Ogawa, defender on the varsity soccer team, said he often arrives at the training room before practices and games to ensure he remains healthy. He occasionally goes after practice to alleviate tension in muscles and tendons. 

“If I hadn’t gone to Ms. E, I’d be stiff as a stick,” Ogawa said.

Besides treatment, Iongi helps student athletes become more informed about injuries and how to prevent them. 

“She’s definitely helped me improve my knowledge by talking about what part of the body a treatment affects and what stretches you can do,” Ogawa said.

Iongi said she also collaborates with coaches, physicians and other healthcare professionals to ensure the best possible care for student athletes. 

Sophomore varsity basketball player Jorell Clark recently started going to the training room before games and practices for a reaggravated hip injury that cut his freshman season short.

“If I didn’t go to Mrs. E, I would say that (my injury) would be a lot worse than it is right now,” Clark said. “She’s really kind, helpful, and she gives me the right options, and the treatment is great.”

After going to Iongi for treatment and asking for advice, Clark said he takes injuries more seriously. 

“I’m more cautious with things,” Clark said. “But even after I’ve recovered, I still might do some of the treatment that she’s given to me (to) make sure I stay healthy.”

Senior Mert Yanar, a forward on the varsity basketball team who transferred from Pennsylvania to Paly at the end of his sophomore year, contributed to a league championship last season. 

Lately, Yanar has been stopping by the training room before practices and games.  “With my back … the one day that I didn’t see Ms. E, I couldn’t practice for more than 15 minutes before it started bothering me,” Yanar said. “But once I started seeing Ms. E again, with her (nerve treatment) and her exercises, I feel like she allows me to get on the court as fast as possible, and I definitely feel like she helps my recovery.”

Junior Torii Kaleba, a varsity track and field athlete, said she often went to see Ms. E before practices and got taped up for shin splints, which is caused by repetitive stress on the shinbone and the connective tissues that attach muscles to the bone. 

“She’s really helpful,” Kaleba said. “She talks me through what exercises I should do, as well as informing me of how everything affects one another.”

Iongi said she enjoys positively impacting the school by ensuring the health and well-being of student athletes, as well as promoting a culture of safety and excellence in the athletic programs.  

Iongi said, “My favorite part is (seeing) all the student athletes, especially those who have come to me struggling with injuries, finally on the top of their game and succeeding in their sport.” 

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Tyler Wong
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