St. Louis is nationally renowned for its barbecue, baseball and beer. From June 26-29, it will also play host to the 63rd National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA) Annual Meeting and Clinical Symposia. Founded on the roaring Mississippi River, St. Louis is often referred to as the "Gateway to the West," symbolized by its most iconic structure-the Gateway Arch. Soaring to a height of 630 feet, it is the tallest man-made monument in the United States and centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.
The NATA conference will be held at the America's Center Convention Complex, a sprawling site that includes the Edward Jones Dome, home of the National Football League's St. Louis Rams. Built in the heart of downtown, the complex enjoys close proximity to the Arch, numerous hotels, restaurants, bars and shopping destinations, as well as Busch Stadium, home of Major League Baseball's defending champion St. Louis Cardinals. In fact, the team has won 11 World Series titles overall, second only to the New York Yankees in baseball history.
Attendees wanting an up-close look at the largest river in the country will also find plenty of entertainment options on the water, including helicopter and riverboat tours.
Marje Albohm, MS, ATC, president of the NATA, will be coming full circle when she returns to St. Louis for the conference. Now approaching the end of her second and final two-year term, Albohm initially took the reins of the association in 2008, the last time NATA's annual conference was held in the Gateway City.
"I've been to several of our meetings in St. Louis and I think the ease of a big Midwest city is very attractive," Albohm told ADVANCE. "I enjoy seeing the Arch and taking that ride up to the top to view the entire city and the river. Another really cool thing that attendees can do is tour the Anheuser-Busch Brewery. And of course, St. Louis is home to Busch Farms, where the famous Clydesdales are stabled."
As much as Albohm is a fan of St. Louis, she is even more enthusiastic about the conference itself.
"I think our whole annual convention educational program is the best that it's ever been," she shared. "There are advanced tracks, mini courses, peer-to-peer discussions and special topics. So we've worked very hard to vary the format of educational delivery to meet the needs of our athletic trainers today in their various settings and keep in mind their various ages."
One of the focal points of the meeting is J & J Day on June 28, Albohm continued. It is named after one of the conference's founding sponsors: Johnson & Johnson.
The beautiful St. Louis skyline at twilight. (Courtesy David W. Preston/Copyright St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission.)
"That is a highlight because of the program, presentations and keynote speaker. The featured presentation this year, and we are just thrilled about this, will be given by American Medical Association President Peter Carmel, MD. His topic is health care reform and its impact on athletic trainers. That is one presentation every single ATC at the meeting should attend."
The same day features NATA's honors and awards presentation, which includes a record-setting, 16-member induction class to the organization's Hall of Fame.
"Following that is our Johnson & Johnson keynote speaker, J.R. Martinez," added Albohm. "He is a veteran who suffered extreme injury, with burns over 80 percent of his body, during his deployment in the Middle East. He has come back to full function and is probably best known for his participation on the TV show, 'Dancing with the Stars.'"
Albohm was also quick to point out attractive offerings on the other days of the conference.
"For instance, on June 27 we have a key topic, 'Strategies for ACL Injury Prevention,' presented by one of our leading researchers, Sandy Schultz, PhD, ATC, CSCS, from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro."
There are also manual therapy and neuromuscular training sessions, Albohm continued, as well as sessions on concussion throughout the meeting.
"We have physician presenters along with our educators and clinicians in some of the highest-level programming that we've ever had. Ron Courson, PT, ATC, CSCS, from the University of Georgia, will be providing new emergency care competencies with his presentation team. These include advanced techniques in better managing the emergency situations that we see with physically active people and athletes."
Changing of the Guard
The conference will be momentous for Albohm personally as well, with her officially stepping down as president after four years of leadership. The president-elect is Jim Thornton, MS, ATC, PES, director of sports medicine at Clarion (PA) University.
"On J & J Day, we have a general session for all of our members, a state of the union presentation by me, and then a changing of the guard where I pass the baton over to Jim and he will have his inaugural presidential address," explained Albohm.
Thanks to recently changed organization bylaws concerning officer election, Thornton will actually be the first NATA president who is limited to a single, three-year term.
"We think that's better because these are basically volunteer positions," noted Albohm. "So if you had a full-time job already, now you have two full-time jobs and that can be a hard workload to manage. One three-year term is perfect. You need that time to get into office and used to how things work. Although Jim has been on the Board of Directors, it's still a learning curve."
So with her tenure as president coming to an end, how would Albohm describe the current state of the NATA and its immediate priorities?
"I'm excited about where we are as a profession and professional association," she stated. "We have more than 35,000 certified athletic trainer members. And our membership numbers are going up, with a large influx of students and young professionals. Of course we carefully track these numbers to look at trends. While other professional associations are losing members, we're gaining them."
Albohm has seen ample evidence of high energy and attendance levels through traveling to district meetings around the country.
"For example, I went to San Diego in April for the Far West Athletic Trainers Association conference and that had almost 1,000 attendees, breaking the record for their largest turnout ever. Athletic training is alive and well and so is the NATA. I think our activities as a professional association are so strategic and focused on how to position athletic trainers in this evolving health care model. We are right on target in where we are headed and our efforts to grow the profession and association."
The NATA does not have an official past president position, but Albohm is certain she will continue to maintain an active role in the association.
"For more than 35 years I've been involved in the NATA and I will definitely maintain that participation in the future."
But first, there is the 2012 Annual Meeting and Clinical Symposia, offering one final opportunity for Albohm to embrace her role in leading the athletic training profession.
"I just think it's going to be an amazing conference," she concluded. "We've had record numbers at our previous two annual meetings in New Orleans and Philadelphia, with more than 10,000 people each time. So hopefully we'll get enough attendees in St. Louis to set a new record."
Brian W. Ferrie is managing editor of ADVANCE and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org