Power Couple

This special husband-wife team has done it all.

By Kenny Berkowitz

Kenny Berkowitz is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning.

Training & Conditioning, 14.7, October 2004, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/tc/tc1407/powercouple.htm

For 15 years at the University of Kentucky, Al Green and Sue Stanley-Green were a team, dealing with everything from dislocated knees to multiple personality syndrome. From 1982, when Green first hired Stanley, to 1997, when they left for jobs outside the university, they worked side by side, day after day. As the head athletic trainer, he was primarily responsible for emergency care. As associate head athletic trainer, she was in charge of rehabilitation. Now, after a combined 54 years in the profession, they’ve become the first husband-and-wife team inducted into the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Hall of Fame.

"Being inducted into the Hall of Fame has been a huge honor for each of us, and to be inducted together has just been incredible," says Stanley-Green, MS, LAT, ATC, Assistant Professor of Athletic Training at Florida Southern College. "When something like this happens to you, it’s a great thrill. But when it happens to your spouse at the same time, the feeling is indescribable."

"Going into the Hall of Fame together just made sense," says Green, MEd, LAT, ATC, EMT, Clinical Services Coordinator at Kessler Rehabilitation Centers in Lakeland, Fla. "We’ve been a team for over 15 years, and everything we’ve accomplished would have been impossible if we hadn’t been working together."

Growing up, neither had ever met an athletic trainer, much less thought of joining the profession. Green had been a high school athlete, competing in baseball and football until a broken arm sent him to the sidelines. There, he became the student manager of the football team and used his Boy Scout merit badge in first aid to help take care of injuries. He went on to major in physical education at the University of Michigan and to get his master’s degree from the University of Arizona at a time when there were only two graduate athletic training programs in the entire country.

Going to college at Ohio State University, Stanley had considered becoming a doctor and had shadowed a physical therapist before a chance meeting led her to OSU athletic trainer Linda Daniel. With Daniel’s support, Stanley was allowed to observe legendary football coach Woody Hayes and his staff at work, and was immediately hooked, realizing that athletic training would give her an opportunity to balance her interest in medicine with her love for athletics.

She and Green had met briefly in 1979, when he was an assistant athletic trainer at the University of Michigan, and she was a physical education major at OSU. (They still joke about it: She remembers the meeting, but he doesn’t.) Three years later, after Stanley had completed her master’s degree at Purdue University and was working as Assistant Director of Intramural Recreation Services at East Carolina University, they met again.

He was Head Athletic Trainer at the University of Kentucky, and she was interviewing to become Assistant Athletic Trainer. The rest, as they say, is history. For the next 15 years, they spent virtually every day together in the athletic training room, becoming great friends, and marrying in 1993. Along the way, they learned to complement each other’s style, with Green, who also works as an emergency medical technician, handling emergencies and Stanley-Green concentrating on rehabs. They also pushed each other to grow with the changes in the profession.

"Over time, our skill sets as athletic trainers have expanded tremendously," says Stanley-Green. "Where athletic training used to be about taking care of injuries, it’s now about the total care of the athlete—which could mean nutritional counseling or dealing with psychological issues, or so many different things. If our athletes had a problem, whatever it was, we either dealt with it ourselves or referred them to someone who did."

Along with adding to their skills on their own, they’ve learned from each other. Green credits Stanley-Green with teaching him about teamwork and becoming more assertive in his communication with coaches. Stanley-Green credits Green with teaching her about tolerance and the benefits of patiently waiting to reach her goals. They agree that their partnership has helped raise the bar for each of them, and improved the care they’ve given their athletes.

"In everything he does, Al goes above the call," says Stanley-Green. "He always does things well, even when he’s working in an area that’s new to him. He’s got an attitude that no job is too big or too small, which is something I’ve always admired in him. He covers everything with the same intensity and the same desire to do well."

"Sue is the exact same way," adds Green. "If she’s dealing with a rehab, she’ll do whatever it takes. If she’s dealing with academics, she’s going to make sure to create the best experience for her students. She goes above and beyond the call to make sure her students get first-rate care and a first-rate education. It’s a matter of being willing to do the hard things, and always wanting to be the best."

In their years at Kentucky, some of the most memorable challenges have also been the unlikeliest, both on and off the field. There was one student-athlete with multiple personality syndrome, and others who suffered from severe eating disorders. There was an athlete who was paralyzed with a vascular spinal tumor, and had to learn to walk again. There were athletes who died of gunshot wounds, others who were suicidal, and one who was struck in the head by a hammer during the Kentucky Relays and fell into a coma that lasted until his death 16 years later.

"Our challenge on the track at that moment was keeping him alive, which we did," says Green. "We had done a lot of training for emergency situations, and when it happened, everything in our catastrophic plan went off like clockwork."

"It brought together so many of the things we’d told our students about," says Stanley-Green. "We had grief counseling available for the team, for the person who threw the hammer, and for all of us. It was a real life lesson about all the things that go along with catastrophic injury."

Looking back, even the common injuries provided new challenges, like the back-to-back Saturdays when two offensive linemen severely dislocated their knees. Along with a cheerleader, a walk-on athlete, and the registrar’s 16-year-old daughter, that made five knee rehabs going on at once, with Green and Stanley-Green working the most memorable rehab club in their career together.

"They were a remarkable group in terms of supporting each other," says Green. "Any time you have athletes in rehab, there’s going to be a down period, where they either sink back or reach a plateau, and that can be depressing. The neat thing about these five were that they wouldn’t let each other feel down, and Sue was great at coming up with things for them to do."

To keep them motivated, Stanley-Green initiated a series of ball exercises, which was a new idea at the time. She harnessed the natural competitiveness of the offensive linemen, setting daily, weekly, and monthly goals for each of them to reach. And in her most memorable lesson, she learned the importance of giving her athletes a chance to talk.

"We try to listen to our athletes, and one of the things we’ve learned is that this injury may be the worst thing that’s ever happened in their lives," says Stanley-Green. "We allow them to be upset about that, to be angry, to be a little depressed. And I saw a difference when we started treating them that way, validating the fact that this is a really lousy thing that happened to them. That was a real learning process for us, because we saw people who couldn’t let go of their anger, and it was getting in the way of their rehab. If we couldn’t get them through those stages, we learned to send them for professional counseling.

"We also made the athletic training room a safe place for them to go," she continues. "If they wanted to complain about their coaches, if they needed to yell, if they needed to cry, our training room was a safe place. Developing that trust made the rest of our work much more effective."

Outside their work together, they’ve continued to pursue independent projects. Stanley-Green has provided coverage for USA Basketball, taught classes in first aid for the American Red Cross, and given workshops on drug and alcohol abuse. Green has served as medical director for the Bluegrass State Games, taught CPR for the American Heart Association, and spent years as a volunteer firefighter.

At the same time, both have been dedicated to giving back to the profession. Stanley-Green currently serves on the board of directors for the NATA BOC, and has been president of the Southeastern Athletic Trainers’ Association and a member of the NATA board of directors. She has received the NATA’s Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer Award, the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine Excellence in Athletic Training Award, and the Southeastern Athletic Trainers’ Association Award of Merit. Green is the chair of the NATA’s public relations committee, and is the former president of the College Athletic Trainers’ Society and the Kentucky Athletic Trainers’ Society. In 2001, he was named the NATA’s Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer and Polk County’s Firefighter of the Year.

"There’s an old saying, ‘Never confuse having a career with having a life,’" says Green. "We used to joke about that, because in our case, our careers were our lives. We have so much passion for the profession that our lives have revolved around our work, and to a degree, they still do."

Since moving to Florida in 1999, they’ve taken jobs that allow them to spend more time with their eight-year-old daughter, and to strike a new balance between home and work. As an assistant professor and the director of the athletic training program at Florida Southern College, Stanley-Green trains the next generation of athletic trainers, while Green works as clinical services coordinator for Kessler Rehabilitation Centers, organizing coverage for 14 high schools in the Tampa Bay area. They keep up with their hands-on athletic training by covering occasional high school and college contests, but both miss the closeness of working on a daily basis with their athletes and with each other.

"I’m proud of the way we took care of the athletes," says Green. "The fact is that we didn’t bow to coaches, and that we provided care, not just for the injury, but for the whole person."

"We both can look in the mirror today knowing that we did everything we could for the athletes," says Stanley-Green. "We’ve held each other in check, didn’t allow the other one to slide, and made sure to live up to each other’s expectations. I honestly think that working together has made us much better professionals, and I know that it’s made us better people."