BOULDER — Shannon Aberton has been front and center for nearly every major athletic event in recent memory at Boulder High School.
The veteran athletic trainer has been caring for the school's student athletes for the past two decades. In a surprise celebration of her 20-year anniversary before last Thursday's boys basketball game, Aberton entered to a Boulder High gym filled with Panthers athletes wearing shirts that read, "We love Shannon."
Evidently, taking care of the same school's student athletes for 20 years, which is an uncommonly lengthy stay at a single institution these days, is a good way to form lasting relationships. And more than the countless broken bones and bloody noses she has patched up over the years, Aberton will remember moments like Thursday's for the rest of her life.
"Those are the things you'll never forget," Aberton said. "Obviously the big wins stick out, you know, state championships and beating Fairview in anything is always a plus. The losses stick out, too, because you see those kids devastated after working so hard and you never forget the looks on their faces."
The halls at Boulder High have become Aberton's second home and she has shared in the experiences of many an athlete to have come through them.
Most of those experiences have been good. For example, Aberton became so close with 1999 graduate and volleyball standout Jessi Betcher and her family that she even has a stocking at their family home around Christmas time.
But then of course, her Boulder High relationships often force Aberton to share in the dark times. It's impossible for her not to feel for current Boulder students and alumni when tragedy, like former running back Todd Jones losing his father and being hospitalized after a car accident last Thursday, strikes the community.
"TJ was quiet but also extremely tough, so he made my job easier," Aberton said. "He's a good kid and I'm terribly sorry to hear about his father. But it's great to hear that he'll be OK and it's been wonderful to see how the Boulder community has rallied around him."
A 42-year-old Utah native, Aberton attended St. Mary's Academy in Colorado during her prep years. She graduated in 1995 with a degree in kinesiology from the University of Colorado-Boulder, where she also worked as a student trainer.
After college, she took a job at Flatirons Physical Therapy and was quickly paired with Boulder High in August of 1996. A year later, Boulder Community Health got the Boulder High trainers' contract so Aberton moved over to Boulder Community Health so she could stay with Boulder High.
"When I started at Boulder High, I was 21 years old," Aberton said. "Just the people that I've met throughout the years have made me love my job. Boulder High has become my family and I've never felt that I should leave. I'm lucky to enjoy what I do, where I do it."
In Colorado's Class 5A, a school's athletic trainer only travels with the varsity football team. So they are most often the only trainer available at every sport's home games, making them also responsible for treating any injuries to opposing players.
On top of treating competitors on both sides, in 2014 Aberton also started BVSD May Madness, an annually-held competitive community tournament that raises money for kids that can't afford healthcare. Funds from the tournament have already helped ensure that every athletic trainer in the Boulder Valley School District is equipped with a defibrillator.
"She's seen a lot of student athletes come through these halls," Boulder athletic director Ed Hartnett said. "We're very lucky to have Shannon. She's been here for two decades and that's unheard of in this day in age. She has developed relationships with the students, faculty and staff, and the parents, and her quality of care for our student athletes is unparalleled."
In sports, the relationship between athlete and trainer is sacred. At Boulder High, the trainer is more than just a staff member. She's family.