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Power “Serg” in Trenton: Not your Usual ATA

August 26, 2009

I gave Serg a pretty common opportunity. After I’d inquired about his childhood, schooling, professional experience—the usual—I asked the assistant athletic trainer to tell me one fun fact, one interesting thing about himself.

He paused and began to laugh, rocking back on an aluminum bench where we sat adjacent to the practice field—a pretty standard knee-jerk reaction.

Wow, I thought. That’s awfully disappointing.

See, the thing is, there’s not a whole lot that’s standard about the guy.

***

Sergiusz Monasterski—“a pretty Polish name” by his own definition—has redefined the culture of rehabilitating TCNJ’s ailing football players, preaching a tactfully aggressive approach to getting guys back in action and keeping them there.

“It’s pretty intense,” said defensive back Dwayne Amos, whose chronic hamstring injury has kept him under Monasterski’s care for a good portion of the season thus far.

Amos described his experience on injured reserve via phone interview.

“He printed out these cards with these workouts on them,” he said. “He took pictures of himself doing them and printed out instructions on these laminated cards. He’s got this whole regiment of, I don’t know, about eight medicine ball workouts. After that you’re supposed to rest for a little you go back and you do the next set and do three sets with that and then…” Amos went on, further detailing Monasterski’s methodical progression to nursing the injured back to health.

It took him quite a while.

“If it’s starting to feel better, he’ll push it up the next day until eventually you start running around on the field. He’ll test you on the sidelines to see if you’re ready to go back in he’ll let you go and start doing a little, bit by bit.”

The man they call Serg—who earned his undergraduate degree at Kean before completing his exercise science graduate studies at Syracuse—didn’t think his nouveau approach was all that innovative. He just didn’t see the sense in the old, “standard” way of doing things.

“Obviously the guys that can’t practice have to be on the sidelines but it’s useless for them to just sit there and do nothing,” he said, providing insight on the method behind the madness. “You can definitely do some kind of conditioning…specific to the kind of injury they have. If they pull a muscle, I can come up with exercises for that muscle so that, little by little, they can actually do something productive that’s gonna make them stronger, come back faster and in better shape.”

Still new to these parts, Serg believes the only test of time will unveil the extent of his impact, though he’s confident brought something special here to Trenton. “It’s too early for me to say how effective it’s going to be because it’s only my second season here. But in all the other places I’ve worked that’s pretty much their approach.”

Though stringent, even demanding with implementing the no-nonsense attitude toward athletic injury that he’s learned over the years, the man’s far from crazy.

“He’s definitely really smart about it,” Amos said in appreciation of his trainer’s philosophies. “A lot of times guys want to go in but they’re not ready to and that’s how serious injuries can happen.”

With the kind of resume he’s got, there’s no wonder why.

Monasterski’s travels—which started at 15-years old after his immigration from his native Poland—have landed him job ops at every level in competitive sports, most notably a 2006 internship with the New York Giants.

“I’ve worked around football for a while now,” he said, delivering the understatement of the afternoon. “When I came here, I pretty much knew I was going to work with the football team. I enjoy the sport. I enjoy going to the games with these guys and helping them get better.”

The lone trainer assigned to team, Monasterski’s all but solely responsible for maintaining the health of the football program. Though he’s overworked and understaffed, he—disgusted at the prospect of wasting precious time—doesn’t complain.

“Obviously you would want to have more than one athletic trainer taking care of a football team,” he said about the rare situation. “On this level you usually have at least four trainers. Unfortunately here you don’t have that luxury, so we work with less.”

At this point, Serg’s credentials are polished enough that he could take his career just about anywhere he wants. But even in lieu of his uncommon methodology, or his anomalous rehab regiments—most definitely his exceptional work ethic—none of these stand out quite the same way as his explanation for his continued labor for a small liberal-arts college in the heart of Central Jersey suburbia.

“I’ve worked with Division III schools, Division I schools, professional teams. I enjoy this level because athletes here play the sport for love.”

If it sounds too good to be true, it’s not. He’s for real.

“[Here], they’re purely doing this for the enjoyment of the sport, for the love of the game and I love working with people like that. I feel like I can relate to them more. If you go to the professional level it’s all about the money. It’s a lot of stress, it’s a lot of pressure for the players and the coaches and the staff. Division I setting is the same thing. Everyone wants to become a pro if they have the chance and it’s all about winning. At this level, it’s more relaxed and it’s more enjoyable. I choose to do this because I like it.”

***

My eyes drifted — largely due to the loud screams resonating from the linebackers, their excitement stemming from the start of the day’s 11-on-11 segment — as I patiently awaited his answer. Finally, a voice that spoke with a mild Eastern-European accent caught my attention.

“Just one?” he said, himself seemingly disappointed. “Oh, man. I wish I only had one fun thing to say about myself.”

Shoulda known better.

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