A few years back, Carson High School’s head athletic trainer Adam Hunsaker never thought he’d have to worry about a rabies outbreak on campus.
It was such a “random, off-the-wall” incident to see a mouse, or perhaps a vole, scramble from underneath a stadium during halftime of a girls soccer game and have a player pick up a creature from the sidelines.
“One of our soccer players thought, ‘What a cute little rodent,’ so they picked it up and it bit her, drew blood on her finger and she ended up spiking the animal down, and it ended up dying right there on the field,” he said. “So I’m going over and rinsing (her finger) out, and as I’m treating this wound from an animal bite, it dawns on me we just had an employee bit by another rodent-type animal not two days ago that tested positive for rabies.
“So now, I’m like, oh my goodness, do I need to worry about rabies here?”
Before the mouse bite, Hunsaker recalls a member of Carson High’s security personnel was bit by a bat. The bat was captured and tested positive for rabies, and the employee had to be vaccinated against the virus. In the meantime, Hunsaker scooped up the dead animal from the soccer field and called Carson City Health and Human Services, which referred him to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I had to keep the specimen and someone from a lab in Reno came and collected this dead rodent,” he said. “It tested negative, and that meant that our athlete didn’t have to go through that testing.”
In 10 years in sports medicine, Hunsaker has seen the unusual and the inspiring at Carson High School as the site’s head athletic trainer — and elsewhere.
Hunsaker is employed by Carson Tahoe Health through a partnership with the school district.
On campus, he has worked with athletes to overcome their lack of self-confidence on the field or injuries that kept them out of the game, supported the school’s football team to multiple 5A North playoff appearances, and served as a constant source of encouragement in training sessions, practices and games.
“I really enjoy it, especially the kids,” Hunsaker said. “They’re growing, they’re having a lot of fun and to see them having these ‘aha’ moments like I did when I was a teenager and in the classroom, too. … I like seeing them finding their niche and what they’re successful at.”
Hunsaker is employed by Carson-Tahoe Health and stepped into a teaching role with CHS covering chemistry in the morning and works as an athletic trainer later. He has a master’s degree in sports medicine from the University of Utah. He and his wife Rachel live in Carson City with six children.
Hunsaker said he enjoys the community relationships because it provides students connections to local physicians when they’re in need of care.
The toughest part of the job, he said, is watching a student being dragged off a field kicking and screaming, either out of competitive drive or sheer pain. But it can be a “fine line” between recommending a player stop competing or competing through the injury.
“I don’t like to prop up the fighting-through-injury athletes so much because I like athletes to take the time to heal and get better, but we’ve had some athletes who won regional championships,” he said.
He referred to some “awe-inspiring” moments, including a Carson High quarterback’s game against Bishop Manogue. Hunsaker said he finished the season on a torn ACL, then went on to play baseball and pitch in college.
WORKING WITH PARENTS
Helping students also means working with the parents, Hunsaker said.
“(The students) are minors, so the parents have to be involved,” he said. “There’s the overprotective ones, and I’ll say, ‘This is a minor sprain, we’ll take them out for a couple of days,’ and they’ll be like, ‘Are you sure? Maybe I need to take them in for an X-ray.’
“Then, on the flip side, and these are the ones that surprise me the most, I might be like, ‘This is a pretty significant injury, we need to start some rehab,’ and they’ll be like, ‘No, we’ve got to get through the season, can we get this done?’”
Hunsaker also has been excited to see the Carson City School District and Carson High School give its support to students trying to make a difference on a larger scale. In June, Gov. Joe Lombardo signed Senate Bill 80 created by CHS graduate Stella Thornton after her work in partnership along with mentors such as Hunsaker addressing Return to Play policies for students who have experienced concussions or head trauma to help them in the classroom and on the field.
Hunsaker, who will serve on the NIAA’s Sports Advisory Committee, said SB80 has been heavily amended and still has to wait on recommendations from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and State Medical Officer before it will be fully implemented in schools but said Thornton’s legislation will help to streamline processes for student athletes who are told they have to miss time from the classroom due to sports injuries.
Hunsaker said he’s thankful for the time he’s served in Carson City, with Carson Tahoe Health and at CHS.
“It’s been an awesome time,” he said. “This is a great community to be in. … It’s kind of fun to be in a small town and go around and know people and seeing those kids at work and growing up.
“We recently gave birth a year ago and one of the managers that came through Carson High that helped with the football team is now a nurse in the maternity ward at Carson Tahoe, so to see her there the day my baby was born, she was a student there. You see it more in a place like Carson because we do have that small-town feel to us still.”