by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC
Rodney Christensen’s planned stay as athletic trainer at Kansas City Kansas Community College was scheduled to be a short one. “Two years maximum.”
Now, 23 years later, he’s headed for induction into the KCKCC Athletic Hall of Fame Friday, Nov. 15.
“Turned out to be a good place to work,” Christensen said. For both KCKCC and Christensen.
A one-man operation in his first 10 years in the position, Christensen has elevated the KCKCC athletic training program to one of the most respected not only in the Jayhawk Conference but the entire Midwest, not the least of which is the Big 12 Conference.
Working each year with approximately 185 KCKCC student athletes, Christensen has overseen the health and well-being of upwards of 2,500 men and women athletes. That doesn’t include the number of major league, NFL, professional track and field athletes and four-year college athletes he’s worked with at various times of need.
During his tenure, the KCKCC athletic training staff has been expanded to include assistants Jordan Williams and Kylie Heim in order to provide the ultimate in safety for the student-athletes.
“We’re pretty progressive and aggressive with the safety approach,” Christensen said. “We like to rehabilitate someone back as quickly as possible but still with their safety and future interests in mind.”
“I believe we have one of the strongest athletic training programs in the nation, which is a direct result of Rodney’s dedication and skill set,” KCKCC athletic director Tony Tompkins said. “He has done an amazing job in serving our student-athletes, continuing to go above and beyond in aiding our student-athletes in both injury recovery and prevention.”
Christensen’s stature, however, extends not only through the Kansas City area and the state but that area encompassed by the Big 12 Conference.
For 10 years, he’s been host athletic trainer for the Big 12 men’s basketball conference as well as six NCAA tournaments – two men’s Elite Eight and two Sweet 16’s each for men and women. For the last four years, he’s also served as a medical observer for the Big 12 football conference.
“When Rodney came to us as the championship trainer, it was clear from the first meeting we were not in just good hands, but great hands,” Big 12 senior associate commissioner Tim Allen said. “Well-respected by all of the training and medical staffs of the Big 12 membership, he is the consummate professional and makes the job of our staff and schools much easier.
“From the outside looking in, the collegiate basketball community views the Big 12 championship as the best of its kind. Rodney just makes the championship better. There isn’t an athletic trainer or team physician who doesn’t breathe a little easier when they walk into the championship training room and see Rodney and his staff ready to help. And the fact that he is liked by everyone makes the relationship even better.”
Park University used Christensen’s experience as clinical preceptor instructor for the athletic training education program for 15 years. When it was dropped, Christensen took over the same position at Saint Mary University in Leavenworth.
Athletic training, however, was not at the top of his career goals growing up in Atchison and playing American Legion baseball.
“I was always interested in medicine and wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon,” he said. “In high school I kept statistics for the football team and remember during the playoffs an athletic trainer came to the school and caught my eye. My junior year at the University of Kansas, I gave up being a doctor. I had changed to physical therapy when a friend who was going into the athletic training field got me involved with KU’s athletic training program and I ended up working with swimming and diving, some football and in my fifth year, women’s softball.”
He earned a Bachelor of Science in exercise science with emphasis in athletic training and certification by the National Athletic Trainers Association in 1995. Two years later, he received a master’s degree in sports psychology and sports administration from KU while working in athletic training at Baker University in general athletics, baseball and men’s and women’s soccer. In addition to being a certified athletic trainer, Christensen holds more than a half-dozen certifications in various health areas.
Changes in safety, prevention and recovery have multiplied in recent years.
“The quality has always been there but we’ve done a lot of research to do better,” Christensen said. “Concussions, for instance, are treated nothing like when I first started. Rehabilitation has changed dramatically. And in the next 5-10 years more changes will come.”
As part of the KCKCC program. Christensen has three physicians on call, two family and one orthopedic specialist.
“We really have good medical resources at major hospitals and great doctor support,” he said. “I would not be here without the support of so many, the administration, the coaches. They made it possible to develop a good program.”
During his years at KCKCC, Christensen has worked with three athletic directors, seven basketball coaches, four volleyball coaches and was in on the start of the women’s soccer programs. At the same time, KCKCC has had two national championship women’s basketball teams and volleyball and men’s soccer teams in the national tournament. Several of his students have gone on to careers in athletic training and related areas.
“Winning is always nice and I’ve worked with a lot of really good student-athletes but seeing them succeed and go on to better things and then come back and share their stories and successes is really special,” he said.
The induction of Christensen and volleyball All-American Blair Russell will come between the women’s and men’s basketball games in the opening round of the Keith Lindsey Classic on Friday, Nov. 15. Tipoff of the women’s game is scheduled for 6 p.m.