By Brett Marshall
In the 1939 classic movie, “The Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy discovers a way back home to Kansas after being whisked away in a tornado along with her little dog, Toto.
Mattie Silva can certainly understand the feelings of finding home, that being Garden City and Garden City High School, where she graduated in 2012, the last class to walk down the graduation ailes at the old high school on Main Street.
Today, Silva can be found in the afternoons and evenings at athletic events in which Garden City High School Buffaloes teams compete.
A Certified Athletic Trainer, Silva works for St. Catherine Hospital which is contracted with GCHS to provide a full-time trainer at the school for all sports.
It’s a job that she now thoroughly enjoys and in which she has been entrenched since 2017 when she graduated from Washburn University in Topeka with a bachelor’s degree in science and athletic training.
“It is something that I’ve dreamed about since I was in high school and went through a series of athletic injuries,” Silva said recently on a quiet early afternoon while sitting at her desk in the GCHS athletic training room on the lower level of the gymnasium area. “I had several injuries in high school and got involved as a student athletic trainer and became very interested in how to rehab from injuries and then how to help prevent them, too.”
Silva said it was her injuries throughout her high school career – ACL, meniscus (both knees) – that first introduced her to athletic training.
“I was doing my rehab and therapy with Cassy Boyd (Sandhill Orthopaedic) and I thought it was so cool all the things she was doing,” Silva said. “She was watching sports, and being part of the team and was helping people. I thought it was pretty neat stuff if a person couldn’t play.”
During her four-year career at GCHS, Silva played volleyball (freshman/sophomore), tennis (junior/senior), basketball (freshman/sophomore/junior), track (freshman) and soccer (senior). It was in her senior year that she first determined her full interest in athletic training, being a student athletic trainer for football and the winter sports with Boyd before playing soccer in the spring of her senior year.
“Just the wide variety of skills that it takes was really of interest to me,” Silva said. “You can be the jack of all trades.”
In her role, Silva can evaluate injuries and how to treat them as well as illnesses, can respond to emergencies with the EMS and nurses, she said.
“They’re all tied into one set of responsibilities,” Silva said.
She also evaluates muscular and skeletal potential injuries and has used her education that covers chemistry, biology, general medical and science-based curriculum that provides for the general care and prevention of injuries.
Today, Silva works under the guidance of Dr. Clay Greeson, an orthopaedic surgeon at St. Catherine Hospital, who also can be found walking the football sidelines on Friday night of home Buffalo games.
“It’s really comforting to know you have somebody with his experience in sports medicine right there with you,” Silva said. “He deals with sports injuries and you get reassured when you talk to him about the diagnosis and then treatment plan. We have a protocol that we follow with the trainer being overseen by the doctor.”
When she graduated from Washburn in the spring of 2017, she heard that Boyd was going to retire from her position at GCHS to return to the family farm and raising a family.
“Cassy told me about it and I applied for it,” Silva said. “I had taken my board certification exam and was going to graduate. It was the most perfect timing. It seems surreal to be back here where I went to high school. At the same time, I always had this picture of seeing myself coming home. But I didn’t know that it would be a possibility that soon.”
Her interview process went through the St. Catherine Hospital network and not GCHS, yet in the end it all worked out perfectly for Silva.
“Working with the student athletic trainers and helping our student-athletes makes everything worthwhile,” said Silva, who works a usual 40-hour week of afternoons and evenings at GCHS. She is at most home events and travels with the football team for away games in the fall.
Many of the coaches and athletic director Drew Thon are people she knew when she was a student at GCHS.
“Communicating with them is a lot easier since I’ve known them for such a long time,” Silva said. “Several of my classmates are now coaching here, so that’s pretty cool to be here with them. It just makes the communication that much better when you know people. It’s been a great environment.”
Silva said the hardest part of her job is when she hears about injuries that are more intense, and in which she can’t do much to assist the recovery and rehab process.
“Sometimes, there’s just not much you can do to help,” she said. “You build relationships and see them (coaches, athletes) every day. It’s not all strictly business. It’s the best job I could have dreamed of.”
Unlike Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, Silva didn’t have to click her heels three times to find her way back home. All she had to do was demonstrate her skills as a fully certified athletic trainer, something she had learned so well when she was a student at GCHS. Home has and always will be where her heart is.