Ah, the life of an athletic trainer.
Let's see, he's the guy who gets a front-row seat to all the games and rarely does anything more than stand up and stifle a few yawns during timeouts. Occasionally he'll get some free TV time when he wanders out on the floor after a player falls down and skins his knee. If a player does get injured, a team doctor is close by to take over. Otherwise, the trainer just sits there and enjoys the game.Yeah, right.
To be an athletic trainer these days you must be part travel agent, part economist, part chauffeur and part counselor as well as an expert in the usual trainer duties, such as taping ankles, treating injuries and rehabilitating athletes.
Meet Gerald Fischer, the trainer for the No. 6-ranked Utah basketball team. He's one of the best in the business, at least according to Ute coach Rick Majerus, who calls him "a great guy" and "the perfect college trainer."
For the most part, Fischer just blends into the background during Ute games, except when a player gets injured, which usually only happens every few games. But Fischer's job, which is 99 percent behind the scenes, is vital to the success of the basketball team.
His main duties include evaluating injuries, giving emergency first aid when required and rehabilitating athletes after injuries. He also helps "train" two dozen student trainers, who mostly assist with other sports such as swimming, gymnastics, soccer and volleyball. With all his various duties, Fischer says games and practices are "probably the easiest times for me."
Fischer's job gets especially interesting when the basketball team hits the road, which is where the Utes have been for four straight weekends, at Colorado Springs, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Houston, Laramie and Fort Collins.
"My role, especially when we're on the road, is to take as many distractions away from the coaches as possible so they can concentrate on coaching," he said.
Fischer's responsibilities on road trips include everything from waking the players to arranging for meals to doling out per diem money to procuring transportion for the players to enforcing curfew to handing out airline tickets to making sure the players get to the right places on time.
"I'm kind of like their mom, I guess," he says with a smile.
A typical day on the road starts with the wakeup calls, followed by breakfast and study hall. On non-game days, practice is usually in the afternoon or evening and Fischer must tape each player's ankles beforehand. Fischer also must find a place for dinner and often gets tips from Majerus, who knows the best restaurants in every WAC city.
Curfew is usually 11 p.m., but Fischer never finds any empty bunks and he's not too worried about players crawling out the windows after he leaves. "There's not a bad egg in this group," he says of the Ute players, who are able to be on a more casual basis with him than the coaches.
If players are sick or in pain, Fischer isn't able to dispense drugs to his athletes, contrary to popular myths. The strongest drugs he's allowed to give are Advil and Pepto-Bismol, and he must get a prescription from a doctor if something stronger is required.
Fischer was born in East Berlin of German parents, a few years before the Berlin Wall went up. Still, there were barbed wire fences across the city and East Berliners weren't allowed to take suitcases or possessions across the border for fear they wouldn't return.
Fischer's parents could see what was coming and wisely got out of East Berlin for good when he was just three years old. While he doesn't remember the experience, he was told he was placed in a baby carriage, riding high on a pile of family belongings while everybody in his family wore an extra pair of clothing as they walked across the border for good.
The Fischers, who were LDS converts, emigrated to Salt Lake and Gerald learned both German and English so well he speaks fluently in each language without an accent.
He started his training career at College of Eastern Utah and after three years moved back to his home town to work at the University of Utah training room under Bill Bean, the U.'s director of sports medicine. Bean, who has been at the U. for 23 years and is the main football trainer, used to do every sport at the U., but turned the basketball over to Fischer six years ago. Fischer helps with football until basketball starts in October and is usually busy until late March.
He enjoys working alongside Majerus, who is known as a demanding coach who can be difficult to work with. But Fischer says the coach "treats me really well" and adds Majerus is one of the only coaches who actually says "Thank you" on a regular basis for the work he does.
Majerus can't say enough good things about his trainer.
"He's very good at diagnosing and treating injuries and he errs on the side of caution. He has a good relationship with the kids and they really like him. I have the utmost confidence in him."
Both Majerus and Fischer say one of the big reasons they get along so well is that they know how to stay out of each other's way.
"I'd never want Gerald to call a play," said Majerus, "but I'm sure he'd never want me to tape an ankle."