It isn’t unusual during the fall to find Jen Armstrong tending to three or four athletes at a time on the sidelines, either in football practice or at Friday night games.
In the spring, E.C. Glass’ athletic trainer can be found riding around in a golf cart, shuffling between baseball and softball games, tennis matches, track events or lacrosse battles.
At Glass, Armstrong does it all, keeping roughly 700 athletes under her watch, nursing them back to health, eyeing them closely when they’re under concussion protocol and interacting with parents and coaches about the status of injured athletes each day.
Athletic trainers often stand in the shadows in high school sports. And Armstrong prefers it that way.
But she is racking up the honors anyway. Last week, she received notice she has been named one of 10 award winners in the nation for the Gatorade Secondary Schools Athletic Trainer Award.
Armstrong will serve as the representative from District 3, which encompasses high schools from Virginia, Washington D.C., West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina.
The award recognizes “certified athletic trainers who have made outstanding contributions in furthering their school’s athletic care program, while also advancing the overall profession of secondary school athletic training,” according to a letter Armstrong received from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association.
It’s the second big award Armstrong has earned recently. In December, she was selected by the Virginia Athletic Trainers Association as the 2017 Vito Perriello Secondary School Athletic Trainer of the Year, an award given out annually.
For the Gatorade award, Armstrong was nominated by Altavista athletic trainer Angela Emerson.
“We kind of get used to that behind-the-scenes approach,” Armstrong said of athletic trainers. “And I guess I pour my heart and soul into the program. But it’s not about me. … It’s about being able to help the athletes, from getting over an injury to getting back on the court and everything in between.”
Armstrong is in her 11th year as an athletic trainer at Glass. Across town at Heritage High, her friend and fellow AT Chris Hallberg has noticed a few things about Armstrong over the last few years.
“There’s very few that care about the kids as much as she does,” said Hallberg, who wrote a letter of recommendation for Armstrong after she was nominated for the Gatorade award. “She goes above and beyond for all her athletes inside and outside the classroom. That’s what stands out most about her. She really makes a difference in their lives.”
Armstrong will receive the Gatorade award at a mid-Atlantic athletic trainers’ meeting in Ocean City, Maryland in May. She will also receive an all-expenses-paid trip to New Orleans to attend the NATA conference in June.
The award comes with a $1,000 grant for Glass’ athletic program.
Armstrong also teaches Athletic Training 1 and 2 at E.C. Glass. After the school day ends, she starts preparing athletes for their days. That prep includes a variety of tasks, from taping ankles to therapeutic exercises and strength training.
The nights are sometimes long, too. There are football games in the fall, basketball in the winter, and a host of sports in the spring.
“It’s always kind of a triage,” she said. “Where is the biggest fire? What needs the most attention?”
She has been certified as an athletic trainer for 16 years. It’s a career that brought her from her home outside Pittsburgh to the college ranks and then to Glass.
She hit the ground running. After she was hired 11 years ago by then-athletic director Chip Berry, Armstrong drove to Lynchburg.
Preseason football practices had already started, so Armstrong began work her first day in town.
“You’ve got to be the bad guy a lot of times,” she said, referencing the job of keeping athletes sidelined when they aren’t completely healthy to return to action. “But along with that comes being confident and stern and loving and compassionate.”