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Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
Current Issue: February 17, 2003
Volume 38, Number 14

COE’s McGowen patches ‘em up at Winter X Games

By Carolyn Gonzales

McGowen comforts a Winter X Games participant on the slopes in Aspen.At UNM, Susan McGowen trains athletic trainers. For sports cable network ESPN, she’s the director of sports medicine. Recently she spent five days in Aspen, Colo., heading up a 20-member medical team providing assistance to 280 athletes from around the world participating in ESPN’s Winter X Games.

As head of the Department of Physical Performance and Development in the UNM College of Education, McGowen teaches students that teaching athletes to avoid injury is as critical as treating injuries. The Winter X Games, she said, offer her students, and other interns, exposure to sports not seen at collegiate or high school levels.

The Winter X Games are truly Xtreme: all kinds of snowboarding competitions – superpipe, X, and slopestyle; Moto X – motorcyclists performing stunts off snow jumps; ski slopestyle, and snow cross/snowmobile racing.

Just because they’re extreme athletes doesn’t mean these masters of the snow get hurt more often than other athletes, McGowen said. “These athletes are professionals. They are the best of the best,” she said, adding that the average age is 26 and that many of the injuries she and her crew treated occurred during training, not competition.

“We took care of 77 injuries, but only two broken bones and a few knee sprains. We had an assortment of strains, contusions and a few minor concussions,” she said.

McGowen said that the X games have a strong commitment to preparation, but risk can’t be eliminated. “It’s up to me to prepare myself and my staff for it,” she said.

Her crew, which included trainers, physicians and other certified athletic trainers, came from across the country.

McGowen brought four senior students along – Diana Padilla, Felipe Mares, Adrienne Kelley and Sara Briggs. “Clinically, it was a wonderful,” Padilla said. “The experience exposes you to a setting where everything happens quickly, you respond and your confidence builds.” Another benefit was seeing and treating different kinds of injuries than those normally seen in a collegiate or high school training room.

Although the student interns were new to the X scene, McGowen wasn’t. She’s served as ESPN’s director of sports medicine since 1995. She’s wrapped and taped injuries at Winter and Summer X Games as well as Timber Sports and Dog Events – dogs earn medals for jumping off piers into the water. She’s worked fly-fishing and bass competitions and will be working the Global X Championship in San Antonio in May. She’ll also be preparing a crew to travel to the Canadian site of the games.

Her break with ESPN came in St. Louis in 1994 when the U.S. Olympic Festival came to town. “I practically papered the vice president’s office with letters and my resume so that I could do sports medicine for the festival,” she said.

The man who hired her is now ESPN’s executive director of the X games, Jack Wienert.

“He’d lived in the athletic trainer’s basement when he was a Missouri Tigers football player. He understood both the passion and compassion of athletic trainers,” she said.

During the interview he explained that the X games required incredible coordination and skill. The event was both vast and overwhelming and whoever was to be in charge of athletic training needed a plan of attack. Wienert asked her, “How can you eat an elephant?” Her response, “One bite at a time,” cinched the hire.

Originally from Indiana, McGowen lettered in four sports in high school: track, cross-country, volleyball and basketball. She earned her bachelor’s of science and became a certified athletic trainer. After discovering she enjoyed mentoring athletic training students, she went to Syracuse and received a master’s in education. This past August, she earned a Ph.D. in sports administration from UNM.

“Sports is still a man’s world,” she said, but added that now 52 percent of the membership of the National Athletic Trainers Association is female.

McGowen said there are still doors to break down and lines to cross.

“Through teaching, I can pave the way for younger students. That drove me into education,” she said.