Title: Steve “Doc” Risinger receives national honor
When notified he'd been named the nation's Distinguished Athletic Trainer for 2000 by the National Athletic Trainers' Association , Anderson University's Steve Risinger reacted with typical humility. He failed even to mention the fact to his own family until a month before the ceremony, and then it wasn't to brag. It was just to let them know they'd all be taking a trip to Nashville, Tenn., for the NATA's yearly meeting.
"I was pretty humbled by it, really," Risinger said, as though any humbling was ever necessary. "A lot of athletic trainers out there do a great job, and I'm probably a little young to receive the award, really. But to have an award like this given to you by your peers says a lot to you. The thing that runs in my mind is that it's really not just mine. My assistants are constantly covering for me when I'm going, and just keeping things running. To get these awards .... I really have to share it with my whole staff."
Such sentiment is pretty typical of Risinger, a man who has spent time on the training staffs of the Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts but who won't really talk your ear off until you mention his alma mater -- AU. And asked what drew him to choose athletic training as a profession, Risinger barely hesitates before offering his reply.
"You just have a desire to help people do better," he said. "To help people perform to the best of their ability. I've always enjoyed that, and most of the athletes seem very appreciative of that help."
Risinger has been the head trainer at AU for 26 years. When he started, he was one of a handful of small college trainers nationwide. Universities hadn't completely opened their eyes to the advantages a full-time trainer could provide. Things have changed plenty since then. Now nearly every school, large or small, not only has a full-time trainer but a full-time staff.
It's just one of the many advances Risinger has been on hand for, or has brought about himself.
He got involved with athletic training as a high schooler in Vienna, Ill. When the school brought in a new basketball coach, he asked if Risinger would have any interest in athletic training. Intrigued, Risinger agreed. What he found was something of a mentor. The coach had studied at Southern Illinois University, home of one of the country's foremost trainers -- Bob Spacklin.
"Bob Spacklin was really ahead of his time," Risinger said. "I learned a lot through him."
When it came time to choose a college, Risinger went with his heart. He had ties to the Church of God, and Anderson seemed like a good destination for him.
There was no official athletic training curriculum at that time so Risinger had to "take things I thought would help me, and hope that was the right thing to do."
Around that time two people entered his life that would greatly impact his future career. The first was a man named Carl Quincy, the head trainer for a small college in Ohio. Through Quincy, Risinger met Wayne Rudy, then the head trainer for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Rudy offered to allow Risinger to come out and work with him in Kansas City. It was a decision Risinger wouldn't regret. His NFL life proved to be somewhat charmed. He was with the Chiefs for the AFL-NFL merger and the opening of Arrowhead Stadium in 1971. It was the latter that provided Risinger with one of his most vivid memories.
"I remembered the first year Arrowhead Stadium opened up," he said. "At AU we were used to crowds of maybe five or six thousand. That thing seats 75,000 fans. Walking onto that field was just a phenomenal experience."
And it was just the beginning of Risinger's NFL fortune.
During his tenure with the Bears he met luminaries such as George Halas, Mike Ditka, Dick Butkus and Walter Payton. He made his first trip overseas -- for the first American Bowl in London. And he was also a part of Chicago's Super Bowl XX championship team -- for which he received a championship ring.
"I think that's something most players want the opportunity to do -- work in pro sports," Risinger said. "I did it, really, just for the experience of doing it. The first time I did it I just thought I was there to help these guys out. I thought it was an interim thing. Before I left, the head trainer asked if I'd like to come back again next year. I said, 'Sure.' That continued on for about nine years."
All the while, Risinger was involved in his most valued projects -- anything having to do with his hometown. He was instrumental in founding what would become the Carl D. Erskine Rehabilitation & Sports Medicine Center, an institute that hires local athletic trainers.
Still, his greatest joy seems to come from the day-to-day grind. He truly enjoys his job -- and that alone should make him worthy of a national award.
"When you walk in that door each day, you never know what you're going to see," Risinger said. "At the college level, you always have new faces. There are always different people walking. The things I enjoy the most are the relationships I develop with the athletes, my students and my staff. That's what really makes it fun."
And it's a big part of what made Steve Risinger the nation's best athletic trainer this year.
---George Bremer is a staff reporter for the Anderson Herald-Bulletin.