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WINNING HEALTHY RESPECT
ATHLETIC TRAINER HELPS BREAK GENDER BARRIERS

If you've been to many sporting events around Western New York, perhaps you've noticed the customized license plate on her Ford Explorer.

Wherever athletes are using a ball, helmet, their feet or fists, you're likely to find "DR SHERRI."

Dr. Sherri La Shomb, the Buffalo Bandits' highly acclaimed 41-year-old athletic trainer, is a familiar face to professional and amateur athletes, not only around Buffalo but internationally.

"I love working with athletes so much because they have such great inner motivation," said La Shomb, who by day runs her own practice -- La Shomb Chiropractic in Lewiston. "I sometimes think I should have been born male instead of female because I have such an interest in sports."

La Shomb is serving her second tour of duty with the Bandits, nine years after having spent three seasons with the team as a student athletic trainer.

But lacrosse is just one of the games she loves.

She's gearing up for her ninth season with the minor-league Buffalo Gladiators football team. She's also worked for the Buffalo Blizzard soccer team, the Buffalo Gamblers summer lacrosse team and the National Lacrosse League's Columbus Landsharks. She's traveled the world volunteering her services to U.S. Tae Kwon Do, the Pan American Games, the International Softball Federation and the International Olympic Committee, which landed her at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, 2002 Games in Salt Lake City and 2004 Games in Athens.

The field of athletic training, not so long ago a male-dominated field, is no longer a job reserved for one of the boys. And La Shomb is one of the people who has helped kick open the doors of change.

"The role women play in the medical aspect of sports is much more recognized and accepted than it used to be," La Shomb said. "Even when I was with the Bandits back in the '90s, I wasn't always fully accepted. The players were great about it but I did get a lot of flak from fans and others about it at the time."

World traveler

La Shomb, whose love of sports began as a child in Lewiston, can call herself a three-time Olympian.

She's come a long way from the days when "I was a bit of a tom boy playing football and street hockey with the guys. I was always the one coming home with the black eye and the twisted fingers."

The 1982 Lewiston-Porter graduate played soccer and softball in high school and was a cheerleader. She played ice hockey at Ithaca College, then attended Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa.

She started her own practice in 1989 and has held season tickets to the Bills, Sabres, Bisons and Bandits since returning to Western New York.

After opening her chiropractic practice, La Shomb took courses for the required degree in athletic training at the University at Buffalo. She says it's not all that common for a trainer to also be a licensed chiropractor because separate degrees are required for each specialty. She says none of the other trainers in the NLL have dual degrees and she knows of only "about three or four" across the country who do.

"There's a uniqueness in that I can provide both training and chiropractic care," she said. "That comes in very handy if an athlete needs adjusting, which they often do."

Sterling reputation

Try to find any athlete with something negative to say about La Shomb the trainer. It's easier finding gasoline under two bucks a gallon.

When not working on patients or athletes, La Shomb has spent time teaching at chiropractic clinics, lecturing about head injuries (she sees plenty of them working with tae kwon do athletes and football players) and helping college training students get hands-on experience assisting her with her teams.

"As a trainer, she brings the whole package," Bandits captain Rich Kilgour said. "She gets all the respect in the world from us. If a trainer can make our bodies feel better, and quickly, they're doing a great job and she does that."

Said Bandits General Manager Kurt Silcott: "We pretty much give her carte blanche on all the stuff she's involved in. The players realize she's here to help them and she's all business."

Bandits head coach Darris Kilgour knows better than most athletes about the importance of athletic training. His playing career was cut short because of an arthritic hip that will eventually require replacement surgery.

"All of her diagnoses have been right on," the coach said. "With us, it's never been a gender thing. She's worked out tremendously for us and all the guys like her. She's very honest and I have all the confidence in the world in her."

Not always easy

Not every potential employer has been as open-minded as the Bandits.

There have been times she's heard whispers, even taunts, during her career.

"I've heard comments like we shouldn't have females in the locker room, even by some of the players' girlfriends or wives during my career," she said. "There was maybe a fear or jealousy there, I guess. I actually once applied (with a professional football team) for a position as an athletic trainer and was told I didn't get the job simply because I was female.

"I know that still happens in sports and it's hard to get past the stereotypes sometimes."

The NLL is more progressive than many sports organizations regarding females in the locker room. La Shomb is the second woman to hold this job with the Bandits, following in the footsteps of Heather Griffiths, who worked for the team from 2000-02. In Philadelphia, Jennifer Massey has spent several seasons as athletic trainer for the Wings.

Support at home

La Shomb says she has always received support from those closest to her.

"He's very supportive and understanding of everything I do," La Shomb said of her boyfriend of five years, former Blizzard goalkeeper Carlos Pena. "He was absolutely thrilled when I got this job because he knew how badly I wanted it. He's also very understanding when I'm out of town, as are my patients. And I'm out of town a lot."

Said Pena: "Working with a pro franchise has always been her life's dream. I will always support her. I spent 13 years as a pro athlete and I've worked around a lot of different trainers. This may sound biased, but she's by far the best I've ever come across. She really knows what she's doing."

Paying the price

Think being a trainer is all taping ankles and passing out water bottles? Not quite. It's also being in the line of fire.

La Shomb says she's part psychologist, nutritionist, dietitian and doctor, depending on the situation.

Though she weighs only about 105 pounds, she recently found herself struggling to support wobbly Bandits goaltender Steve Dietrich, who is about three times heavier in full pads. Imagine a defensive lineman leaning on a jockey after being knocked silly.

That's nothing compared to what happened on the Gladiators' sideline in January 2001, on her 37th birthday, when the football team was playing in the national championship game in Kent, Wash.

"One of the Puget Sound players pushed one of my guys on the sidelines on a late hit out of bounds," she said. "That caused a tibial plateau fracture (to her right leg) and the (medial collateral ligament) pulled right out of the bone.

"I finished the game on a pair of crutches and a knee brace because I was it, they had no other medical staff. . . . One of my offensive linemen had to carry me back to the bus because there was a big hill. It was a 2 1/2 -hour bus ride back to Seattle, then an all-night flight home on a red-eye. My leg swelled up three times its normal size and I had no painkillers."

When La Shomb arrived back in Buffalo, Dr. Keith Stube operated on her. He performed a bone graft and inserted into the knee a plate and six screws, which remain in the joint today. She was out of work for a year.

"It gave me a huge appreciation for people who have major injuries," she said."

La Shomb says she loves her private practice, even the long hours and frantic pace that combining it with athletic training often causes. Dinner on game nights often consists of a protein bar on the drive downtown. But if the right full-time training job were to come along . . .

"If given the opportunity, I would probably take it," she said. "To me, it would be the ultimate in my career. . . . The most satisfying part for me is having athletes feel better and be able to perform up to their greatest capabilities.

"You just can't have a better job than that."
e-mail:
tborrelli@buffnews.com

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