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Athletic trainer Heidi Krueger bonds with Beavers off the ice while ensuring they stay on it

So what goes into being an athletic trainer at the collegiate level? For starters, no two days are exactly alike.

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Athletic trainer Heidi Krueger never wants to see any athletes get injured, but when it happens, she's well equipped to get the Beavers back on the ice.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — It’s not often that a member of the athletic training staff gets a shoutout in a press conference.

So when Bemidji State women’s hockey goaltender Kerigan Dowhy name-dropped athletic trainer Heidi Krueger during a media availability session last season, Krueger was quite surprised.

“Having her do those interviews and then mentioning me, it was amazing,” Krueger said. “That doesn't usually happen.”

In that conversation, Dowhy mentioned how well she got to know Krueger when recovering from her grade 2 partial MCL tear. They spent countless hours together rehabilitating the injury, which enabled Dowhy to return to the ice and complete her fifth-year senior season with some memorable performances.

“We started from the beginning,” Krueger said. “She had a pretty devastating injury that lasted a while. So she was in here every day with me, whether we were doing rehab or treatments that day, and we spent a lot of time getting to know each other through that process. But she did great. She did everything that I asked, and we made a lot of progress in the time that she was here.”

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The speediness of Dowhy’s comeback surprised even Krueger, as well as BSU’s coaches.

“We got her back sooner than I was expecting, and I think that the coaches were expecting, and she got to play again,” Krueger said. “So that's the goal. That's why I'm here. And she was successful.”

Dowhy’s return set the stage for some memorable performances down the stretch, none more than her unforgettable kick save on the goal line to power a miraculous win over then-No. 2 and eventual national champion Ohio State at the Sanford Center.

“That's my favorite part,” Krueger said. “Seeing them after an injury succeed in their goals is probably the most rewarding thing that you can get. Even after her first couple games, she would skate over if we had a break or something and be like, ‘Heidi, did you see that? I didn't have any pain!’ Those little wins, that's why I'm here.”

‘No day is the same’

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Athletic training isn't all hands-on -- Bemidji State's Heidi Krueger also has plenty of paperwork and planning to complete.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

So what goes into being an athletic trainer at the collegiate level? For starters, no two days are exactly alike.

“No day is the same, that's for sure,” Krueger quipped. “A lot of it is doing (evaluations) from either the practice before or the game before, trying to diagnose what is wrong. Coming up with a plan to get them back on the ice or to keep them on the ice is a big thing. Making rehab protocols, doing any treatments to get them back. Along with all that is paperwork, the fun part of the job. Any first aid things, making sure all the emergency equipment is ready and necessary for the day.”

It’s a comprehensive undertaking, and one Krueger thinks is underrecognized and underappreciated at times.

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“I don't think a lot of people know what goes into this,” Krueger said. “Between (equipment manager Toby Palmiscno) and I, we're usually the first ones here and the last ones to leave. So there's a lot of time that goes into this that people don't realize.”

There’s also a requirement for athletic trainers like Krueger to have a masters degree, demonstrating the depth of knowledge required to perform the job.

“Athletic training in general changed a couple years ago to be all master’s (required),” Krueger noted. “So all athletic trainers from now on will have a master's degree. That's a big part.”

Additionally, Krueger is responsible for injury prevention. She works with athletes to build up their bodies and prevent ailments that could be on the horizon without course correction.

“I had one (player) sent to me that had some shoulder issues,” Krueger said. “So a prehab is doing rehab before an actual injury is there. We're either stretching muscles to get a greater range of motion, or strengthening muscles so we have stronger smaller muscles that they maybe don't focus on in the weight room to stabilize something. And then get that full range of motion back, get it back pain free and strong.”

Perhaps most importantly, she tries to convince players that they should not fear her – after all, she’s there to keep them healthy, which has the added benefit of lessening her workload.

“At the beginning, I feel like a lot of them are scared of me because they don't want me to pull them from practice or games,” Krueger said. “But I try to stress in our meetings that I don't want them hurt. My job is way easier if nobody is hurt. But if it were to happen, I would rather know right away so we can get on top of it.”

Christian Babcock is a sports reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer. He trekked to Bemidji from his hometown of Campbell, Calif., after graduating from the Cronkite School at Arizona State University in 2021. Follow him on Twitter at @CB_Journalist for updates on the Lumberjacks and Beavers or to suggest your favorite local restaurant.
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