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Lakewood Ranch High student earns athletic trainer's award

Reagan Gross, who graduated in May, hopes to one day be an athletic trainer for rodeo athletes.

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It starts with comfort. 

That, Reagan Gross said, is the most important thing an athletic trainer can provide for an athlete. That includes the physical comfort of tending to the athlete's injuries as well as the mental comfort of trusting the trainer and believing everything will go OK. 

Gross, who graduated from Lakewood Ranch High in May, would know. A youth soccer player growing up, Gross suffered a handful of ankle injuries. Sometimes the trainer that attended to her would be knowledgable and Gross would know she was in good hands. Other times, like when she was at a travel tournament with her club team, Braden River Soccer Club, she would see trainers who weren't so sharp. It was not a good situation. 

Reagan Gross, here giving water to Mustangs lineman Brian Areco, was a part of the Lakewood Ranch athletic training program for two years. (Courtesy photo)
Reagan Gross, here giving water to Mustangs lineman Brian Areco, was a part of the Lakewood Ranch athletic training program for two years. (Courtesy photo)

Gross said she did not realize those experiences were bad until she reached high school. She suffered an ankle injury as a sophomore and was treated by the Mustangs' head athletic trainer Sydney Suppa. 

"She explained exactly what she was doing and why she was doing it," Gross said of Suppa. "It made me feel secure."

Gross had a friend, Juanita Diaz, in the school's extracurricular athletic training program. The student assistants in the program would help the school's regular training staff at events.

After seeing that hands-on experience, Gross decided to apply to the program in March of her sophomore year.

She was accepted and decided to quit soccer to focus on the training program. She wanted to make a difference by giving comfort to athletes at their most vulnerable moments. Gross now considers it one of the best decisions she has made.

She also considers Suppa to be one of the most important people in her life. On July 9, Gross received the Athletic Trainers' Association of Florida Pre-Professional Student of the Year Award at the ATAF's annual symposium in Orlando. Suppa was in attendance. 

"She (Gross) is everything you want in an AT student," Suppa said. "She is hard-working and dedicated but she is also an amazing person. She is genuine. She didn't shy away from anything." 

Gross said in order to receive the award, she first had to be nominated by someone — Suppa — and then go through an application process. She had to create an athletic training resume and write a 500-word essay on why she deserved to be selected. Gross' background likely stood out from the pack.

In addition to playing soccer, Gross grew up in a rodeo family. Her father, Dallas Gross Jr., competed in rodeo and traveled the world for competitions. Reagan Gross even competed in roping events herself, though just for fun. Gross said her long-term goal is to become an athletic trainer for rodeo, though if that does not work out, she is also open to working in a more traditional sport, or even following Suppa's path and working for a local high school, passing on her passion to others. 

It is a passion developed over time. Gross said in her two years in the program she has learned physical skills, like how to properly wrap a shin splint and how to put pressure on it to alleviate pain. She has learned how to talk to parents about their child's injuries.

Since the students on the athletic training team are not professionals, they are not allowed to diagnose injuries themselves, but Gross and the rest of the team do as much as they can. Gross recalled a boys soccer game at home against Southeast High last spring as one of her most trying times in the program, and one of the most thrilling.

"We had to treat somewhere between 20 and 30 injuries, some of those being repeat injuries," Gross said. "Kids just kept coming out of the game. We thought one player had broken his hip, so Sydney (Suppa) had to deal with that, and the rest of us were running around trying to get to everyone else. Some of the boys had dislocated fingers or (broken) noses. A whole bunch of them had big cuts. I was like a chicken with my head cut off, running around and checking on everyone and getting ice packs. It was an involving game, but at the end of it I felt like I had learned so much. It was fun. It taught us trainers to work as a whole team."

Gross said she plans on attending the State College of Florida's Manatee-Sarasota campus, then getting her masters degree from the University of South Florida. At the ATAF symposium, Gross said, she was able to meet many professionals in the field through Suppa's connections. She's well on her way to a career of her own, and she thanks her mother, Stefanie Gross, for supporting her decision to go into the field, and Suppa for bringing out the best in her. 

"Sydney changed my whole high school experience," Gross said. "I'm a country kid. I was involved with Future Farmers of America but I also played sports and did AT. My experience could have gone a lot of different directions, but AT became my base and I am thankful for that. Sydney has encouraged me and told me I could do this. I would not be where I am without her." 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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