MILFORD - “I grew up playing sports so I fell in love with athletic training when I realized I could combine my passion for sports and helping others,” said Julia Luft, who has been athletic trainer at Jonathan Law since 2011. “It is always fun to travel with the teams during post season. They like the support and seeing familiar faces. The playoff atmosphere is always more exciting than the regular season.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, winter sports were cancelled on March 10 and that playoff experience was taken away.

Luft, a Norwich University (VT.) graduate, felt for the athletes.

“It was such an abrupt ending and those athletes were devastated,” Luft said. “They went from playoff mode to nothing. They didn't know they had played their last game the night before (March 9).

“I think people forget the mindset of a high school athlete and to these kids, their world and what mattered most to them was ripped away from them. Playoff mentality is that anything can happen, and these kids never got their shot.”

The spring season was curtailed before it started on May 5.

“Everyone remained in this standby mode, hoping something was going to happen,” Luft said. “I sympathized with the kids. I couldn't imagine losing my senior year to something so unexpected like this.”

Luft was also impacted by the pandemic. Because her company (Rehabilitation Associates) is an outpatient physical therapy company and an essential service, it remained open.

“What was thought to be a few weeks disruption soon had no end in sight,” Luft said. “My focused shifted from the high school kids to worrying about my family. How to keep them safe from this, how to maintain normalcy for my little ones, thoughts about when will things go back to normal.”

Luft is taking precautions now that the fall season was okayed.

“I make sure I am as protected as I can be,” she said. “I keep my work shoes and jacket at the school, wear N95 mask when interacting with kids (if they are unable to wear a mask for whatever reason, I have a face shield that I will put on), using hand sanitizer very frequently and making it a point to wash my hands as often as possible.”

Luft believes that earning an athlete’s trust is important.

“Some kids have a mentality that they are weak when they have to see an athletic trainer or that they will have to sit out if they come to see me,” Luft said. “So, I have to overcome their hesitation and show them that I am on their side. It is explaining to them what I can offer to them and that my job is to help keep them playing their sport safety.

“Sometimes, it is as simple as teaching kids how to properly stretch a muscle, effective recovery after a challenging game or helping them to realize how important proper nutrition and hydration is.”

According to Luft, the key to getting athletes to listen is respect.

“I tell them they can be upset and frustrated with what I have to tell them, but that at the end of the day, I am looking out for their health and safety. They know my door is always open to any conversation. I also tell them that respect goes both ways, I will always be honest and help every kid to the best of my abilities.”

william.bloxsom@hearstmediact.com Twitter: @blox354