FREDERICK — During Shea Rasmussen's career as a collegiate athlete, an athletic trainer at Nebraska Wesleyan University once told her she was "one of the lucky ones" because she had never suffered a major knee injury.

Now an athletic trainer at Front Range Orthopedics & Spine, the Longmont native is contracted with Frederick High School. Over the course of this past school year alone, Rasmussen watched as five athletes at FHS, four female and one male, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in one of their knees.

That staggering occurrence of such a devastating sports injury prompted Rasmussen to take a proactive approach to preparing the school's female athletes to better avoid injuries like ACL tears that are far more common in girls than boys.

"It's well known that females are more likely to tear their ACL than their male counterparts," Rasmussen said. "Basketball and soccer athletes are even more likely. Then Frederick did not have a good year in terms of ACL tears so I decided that we needed to do something about this."

Teaming up with Frederick athletic director Leroy Lopez, Rasmussen held a kickoff clinic at the school a month ago to educate student-athletes, coaches and parents about the higher instances of ACL injuries in female athletes as well as some differences in physiology and training that are believed to be the root causes. She now hosts several hour-long workouts a week that are open to anyone looking to learn more and participate in workouts geared toward injury prevention.


Advertisement

The ACL tear, which is 4-6 times more likely in female athletes than in males and most often occurs in non-contact situations, is the primary focus of the training. The workouts are based in strengthening the posterior chain and core - quadriceps, gluteus and abdominals - and neuromuscular training to improve proprioception, which is training the body to better know where it is and how it moves in space.

Teaching girls at Frederick how to more effectively strengthen the lower body from a holistic viewpoint, including lots of dynamic stretching and single-leg training, Rasmussen also hopes to help them correct muscular imbalances that are common causes of injury and help teach proper form and technique for running, jumping, landing, cutting, deceleration and other dynamic movements.

"Once girls hit puberty, they completely change," Rasmussen said. "I'm just trying to give our female athletes the strength that they need to move correctly and not put themselves in that provocative position where they can tear their ACL."

Rasmussen said she is also trying to change the popular mindset that makes girls resistant to weight lifting because of a belief they will bulk up like boys do. Rather, she wants high school-aged female athletes to approach strength and resistance training with the idea that it is necessary to remain healthy and to perform better at their sport of choice, and that anatomically and physiologically they are simply different than males. Her program, which is a supplemental regimen in addition to programs run by the girls' sports teams of choice, currently focuses on those things. But as the participating girls grow stronger, Rasmussen plans to expand the training to include more sport-specific training that focuses on agility and plyometrics.

Three weeks into Rasmussen's program, about five or six girls attend regularly. She and Lopez hope the group will continue to grow and aren't opposed to athletes from other schools attending. Whoever shows up, their primary goal is to provide female student-athletes a means by which they can help avoid injuries that might cause them to miss out on seasons of high school sports or college scholarships, or potentially leave them at higher risk of re-injury for the rest of their lives.

"We had a bunch of ACL injuries this year on the girls side," Lopez said. "I've always encouraged my coaches to get the girls in the weight room and to build those muscles so that they don't have those reoccurring ACL injuries. That's always been one of my emphases because girls are more prone to those ACL injuries. This year, we've had more ACL injuries than I've seen in my athletics career and that kind of hit me in the face that we need to do more, offer more and give them some program support to try to combat that."

Brad Cochi: cochib@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BradCochi