By Grace Pointner 

The way Tricia Deter is wired changes the game. As a trainer, she is intentional. She is resilient. She is smart. She works behind the scenes and never asks to be center-stage. With power and grace, she carries her athletes through wins and losses, never failing to give wisdom or kindness.

But who is Tricia Deter? More than the sum of her professional skill and talents?

Some professionals in health care are accused of lacking a personal connection to their patients. But every person served by this trainer calls her “mom” and trusts her with their physical and mental health. Who is this person who has defied the stereotype of their profession? 

How it all began

If you walk through King’s Arena in the SRC at Wheaton College, you’ll find yourself in a long hallway that leads to Wheaton College’s training room. Surrounded by ice baths, K-tape, ointments and perpetual injuries works Tricia Deter. For the past nine years, she’s been keeping Thunder athletes in good health with her huge smile, brilliant medical abilities, and charming bedside manner. But couldn’t this description be given to many physicians or athletic trainers? What makes Tricia more than this? 

Tricia attended Olivet Nazarene University, finishing with a double major in exercise science and athletic training with the intention of being an athletic trainer someday. Having grown up playing sports, the “athlete mentality” was not hard to understand. The work-ethic of a trainer was equally familiar. “I enjoyed sports,” remembers Deter, “but if an athletic event was happening I would catch myself watching the athletic trainers to see what they were doing when someone got hurt.”

Using Mountain-Dew bottles to help her injured friends after a bankruptcy in her high school left the teams without a trainer, Tricia seemed to find her passion. “I learned to enjoy the care-taking process,” said Deter, further explaining her time working for Olivet Nazarene in different clinicals and for various sports teams. 

However, college proved to be intense. 

“From sophomore year to senior year, you work in clinicals and you only have six weeks off during the year. So your entire year is spent in classes and clinicals. We put in more time as athletic trainers than the athletes did,” explained Tricia.  

“We had to make sure classes were done at 2:00 p.m. everyday. So I would start class at 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning and I’d take class until 2:00p.m.. As soon as class was done I went straight to clinicals. I never wore normal clothes to class; I was always in my athletic training gear. I’d be in clinicals from 2:00 until 7:00.” 

Although Tricia never gave up on what she knew she loved, her ability to see beyond the hours of work was hard. “College was a very different experience for me than for my friends,” Tricia clarified, “They’d all get mad at me because I wouldn’t be able to go do things with them.” The time commitment was so intense that the program put limitations on how many hours the students would work two years after Tricia graduated. 

The repercussions of this schedule, however, help explain the lack of emotional ability trainers seem to have. Indeed, with less time to socialize and with classes that focused on the human body as an object to heal, not personally invest in, Tricia’s awareness of mental health was next to none. 

“We did not talk about the mental health of an athlete,” Deter explained, regretfully remembering the learning curve she went on when she began working for Wheaton. “We did not readily discuss mental health in school; it wasn’t a thing we were aware of. We weren’t warned that our patients could fall into depression if they tore their ACL,” Deter said, “I had to learn about these things very quickly and on my own.” 

However, Tricia realized the hole in her education prematurely and with time to fix it. Because of a year spent studying at a community college, Tricia got ahead in her studies leaving room in her schedule for an extra minor in Psychology. Although she was not intentionally combating the disadvantage in emotional awareness pervading the medical world, it did give her more of an idea of the mental battle athletes go through. Struggling through the intense classes, Tricia remembers regretting the decision to study psychology at the time, but feels deeply grateful for it now. Understanding the human mind is precious and, in conjunction with her upbringing, has given her to nurturing edge needed to succeed so immediately in her job at Wheaton. 

But according to Tricia, the importance of her education pales in comparison to the importance of her upbringing.

Background is everything 

“My nurturing mindset it more from my background— my family. It’s kind of everything,” Tricia revealed, explaining that she “was a middle child growing up, so ‘serving’ was a given. The oldest and the youngest always got their way, so I just had to help where I could.”

All of Tricia’s cousins were younger than her and often needed taking care of. “I’ve always been the care-taker in most of my friendships too, so that’s just how my mind is wired. I’d rather help others than be vulnerable and be the one needing others to help me.” 

“I’m a 2 on the enneagram, so I wanted a job where I need to be needed, that is the reality,” Tricia said, acknowledging her deeper more sentimental love for her job. Because of her childhood, she understands the plight of an athlete from being one and the challenge of being a coach because of her parents. Thus, Tricia realized her ability to connect to the world of athletics in more ways than one and did what she needed to do in order to serve with knowledge and love.

Graduating Olivet and then grad school with an education in athletic training and psychology landed Tricia with her first job at Wheaton College. At the age of 24, she became the Men’s Soccer and Women’s Basketball athletic trainer. But there was still a gap of experience and the mental exhaustion of an athlete needed more care than Tricia initially bargained for.

And so the learning curve began. 

The X Factor” 

With hundreds of different injuries to deal with in each season, Tricia quickly discovered that with each injury comes a different person and thus a different approach to the healing process. Although this takes time and energy, she has proven her excellence because of her ability to individualize each athlete.

Junior soccer goalie Hasten Biddlecome commented,  “Tricia is able to know your specific injury, know what to do about it and she always has time for you whenever you need to come in. I think that’s the ‘X-Factor’: she doesn’t have to be reminded what hurts for you, she already knows. That’s what makes her the best trainer.”  

But Tricia emphasized that the difference also lies in how Wheaton College typically functions. “Wheaton College is a different place. It’s like a family here,” Tricia explained.

“We invest in the athletes because the reality is if you don’t trust someone they’re not going to tell you what’s really going on with them.”

Tricia discovered the importance words play into how their healing process will go. If an athlete is pushed too far, or not far enough, the physical restoration can be damaged. “Trainers are known for being aggressive. We have to get people back to sport as fast as possible and as safely as possible. So you really have to know your athlete, and they have to trust that you’re putting them in a position to succeed and not fail.” 

Teammate of Biddlecome, Drew Cammerano added, “Tricia always speeds up the healing process and helps me read my own body and understand what’s ‘ok’ to push through and what’s not.”

Tricia is a trainer, a teacher and a mentor, going “far beyond what the expectations are,” according to Biddlecome. 

Biddlecome continued saying, “she’s a trainer and her job is to keep us safe and healthy, but I think she embodies that person that you can go talk to as well.” Indeed Tricia has adopted the title of “mom” for players like Hasten and Drew, listening to the events of their days with empathy and wisdom.

Cammerano said, “not being from Wheaton, my parents aren’t around much, so Tricia has taken that ‘mom’ role for me. There have been a lot of times where I needed advice on life—soccer related or not—that Tricia has been all ears. She’s not only listened but cared about what I was saying and cared about what her response was. She’s helped me more mentally and emotionally through prayer, support, advice and encouragement that my entire athletic career would look very different if she wasn’t part of it.” 

Biddlecome similarly commented: “I can be physically able to do anything on the field, but if I’m not mentally there then I’m not going to be playing to my full potential. She’s ‘open arms’ to any topic— homework, relationships and school.” 

Tricia has changed the game inside the training room, and thus on the field. Leading the crew of athletic trainers in knowledge and compassion, she has been a light to everyone who has needed care in that back hallway in the SRC. With complete humility and grace, Tricia has revolted against the storyline critics write about biomedicine. Instead of phony bedside manners, Tricia lavishes love, advise, care and even home-baked cookies to the athletes she works with. 

With an intense education and a perfectly suited family background, Tricia has gained the trust of hundreds of student athletes, changing their lives, making them run again and then attending their weddings years later. 

And so, what is the answer to the riddle? 

Tricia deter is the head athletic trainer in the training room hidden behind the SRC and she will continue to change students lives with her quiet brilliance, charming smile and tender love for the Lord.

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