KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Olympic performances seen on screen are the end result of years of preparation, and that includes rigorous training and medical care. One Park University graduate has seen years of experience as an athletic trainer pay off at the Games.
Kansas State professor Phil Vardiman first learned the art of athletic training at Marshall High School in Missouri before studying the craft at Park U.
"After I graduated from Park, I got a graduate assistantship at Oklahoma State University, where I was the athletic trainer for the track and field team, as well as football," Vardiman said.
He feels his collegiate experience helped him climb the ladder before getting an Olympic call.
"I went and did two weeks, at the Olympic training center, and then was allowed to go travel with USA Track, my first trip was to Russia with the race-walking team," Vardiman said.
That was his first-ever trip outside the United States, but it wasn’t his last. Vardiman was present for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Summer Olympics as a trainer for the American track and field team.
"It’s not a paid position. And so this is all volunteers so when these folks go and you see them, it's, it's, it's a great opportunity, but they're all volunteers," he said. "And so I think that that is a hallmark of the United States. In that, you know, in the heart of the volunteer and what they do."
Vardiman does his work behind the scenes, off-camera as people across the country watch the world’s best go for gold.
"As an athletic trainer, one of our primary focus is to prevent a lot of injury," he said. "And so going into the Games, you know, we're not necessarily around those athletes all the time, so we have to really go into a situation and just understanding and knowing where those athletes are right then and there."
Even more so this year, with fans, family and friends watching Tokyo 2020 from home, trainers are more important than ever in these Olympics.
"I think some of our role is this staff would be to kind of help and support those athletes and kind of be that voice of familiarity because you really bond tight in a foreign country, so it's a pretty cool experience," he said.
Vardiman is watching Tokyo 2020 from home, too. He’s teaching summer classes in Manhattan, preparing a future trainer for a possible Olympic trip of their own.
"Just being receptive to those new ideas can really take you far. And you can bring that back and share that with others around you," he said of what he teaches his students, paying it forward and preparing the next member of a behind-the-scenes team of craftsmen and women. "Athletic trainers, chiropractors, massage therapists, sports nutritionists, physicians, they all are part of our sports medicine team and we work together as this integrated unit, and it's really amazing."
Vardiman is the head of K-State’s athletic training program in Manhattan. With precision and attention to detail needed to succeed in the profession, athletic trainers are just one ingredient to a winning recipe for an Olympic athlete.