COLUMBIA — Greg Nagel can’t talk right now. He’s too busy doing "damage control."
It is 3:10 on a Wednesday afternoon, and Nagel is standing amid a crowd of injured high school athletes. The ceiling hangs low above him. One ice bath tub, two stationary bikes, and three treatment beds limit whatever space is available in the Rock Bridge athletic training room, located in the basement of the gymnasium.
But Nagel is more focused upon the surgery he is performing than the claustrophobic’s nightmare around him. He cuts the callous off the foot of a soccer player with a few deft cuts of a scalpel. Next, Nagel moves to a football player and assesses a Grade 1 ankle sprain in about 20 seconds. Finally, he switches rooms and helps another athlete with back pain.
“It’s easily over a 40-hour week,” Nagel said. “Including events on Saturdays, I work about 55-60 hours (each week).”
This bevy of strains, sprains and pains has become organized chaos for him. His work is such a rush that he has nicknamed it "damage control."
“There’s moments where it appears like that (it’s overwhelming),” Nagel said. “But you know it’s going to be busy when you come in. You just take it one at a time. It’s a terrible cliché. But you don’t want to miss something serious.”
He sees about 40 athletes over the course of an hour as the Rock Bridge athletic trainer. And this is a normal day for him.
Some cases are simple, like providing a heat pack for an aching muscle. Others are more complicated, like the rehabilitation of Okoye West, a lineman for the Bruins’ varsity football team.
West suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee on Sept. 19 in a game against Jefferson City. He rehabilitates with Nagel and is expected to return Friday for the Bruins’ road game against Liberty High School.
West credits Nagel as a big factor in helping him through the process.
“The hardest part of my rehab has been getting through the pain,” he said. “I couldn’t do this (rehab) if I went to a doctor’s office. He’s right there with me.”
Nagel misses very little while monitoring West’s rehabilitation. He watches how far West lifts his heels while running, his range of motion while pedaling a bicycle, and his ability to push off his leg in agility tests.
Nagel remembers everything he sees so he can keep track of improvement during the next session.
While he may not be fazed by the workload, there are others who are.
“Greg is overworked – no doubt about it,” said Jennifer Mast, the Rock Bridge athletic director. “It’s truly amazing to watch him work. I don’t really know how he handles it.”
Late-night cram sessions in college helped Nagel get used to long hours.
Nagel earned a bachelor's degree in food science and nutrition at MU, while working two jobs. He attended class in the mornings and worked as part of the MU athletic training staff in the afternoon. He would grab a fast-food dinner and work until 9 at night at Columbia Regional Hospital as a physical therapy tech.
“I’d do homework until midnight or 1,” said Nagel, who earned a master’s degree in exercise science at Central Michigan University. “Whenever I had a paper due or a test, I stayed up. I pulled an all-nighter about once a week.”
He worked with Rex Sharp, then MU’s head athletic trainer and current assistant to the athletic director. Nagel credits the hands-on work he did with the Tigers' baseball, basketball, and football teams as to why he can handle the multiple rehabilitation programs of every athlete each day.
“I just have a good knack for remembering the injuries,” Nagel said. “If I assess an injury with my hands and eyes, I can remember it. Names are sometimes a bigger challenge, but I do learn them.”
Even though the number of hours takes away from his time to fish and hunt, Nagel enjoys his job for what it allows athletes to do.
The rehabilitation process “is a big thing about this job,” he said. “When you get them back (healthy), that’s a lot of the pay. You get a thanks and a smile. That moment is why I’m doing this.”