When Aimee Miyazawa first received word she had been selected to work the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, this fall, her first reaction was sheer excitement.
Then she read the dates of the games: Oct. 14-30. “I saw that the dates of the games were right in the middle of volleyball season,” Miyazawa said. “So I didn’t know if I was going to be able to pull it off, but the KU athletic department has so much support and knows this is a big deal for KU and for us, as a staff, so they found a way to make this happen.”
Miyazawa, MS, LAT, has served as the certified athletic trainer for the University of Kansas volleyball team since the 2005 season. Since then, she has been directly involved with the everyday operations of the Jayhawk volleyball team, attending every workout session, practice and match over the past seven seasons. Although she couldn’t be happier about the opportunity to work for her country, she can’t help but miss her team during the heart of the Big 12 Conference season.
“It’ll be pretty tough leaving them,” Miyazawa said. “But I’ll still be following them while I’m out there. I’ll be getting updates so I know what I’m coming back to. That’s the most difficult part, knowing that we’re in season and we’re playing right now, but (KU Graduate Assistant Athletic Trainer) Maggie Mountsier will handle it with no problem.”
Before she landed at Kansas, Miyazawa was hired to serve a one-year internship with the Olympic Training Center fellowship in Colorado Springs, Colo., working in their sports medicine facility. Miyazawa earned her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Northern Colorado and went on to receive her Master’s degree from Nebraska-Kearney, but it was during her year at the OTC that she got her start her true initiation with volleyball. In addition to networking and gaining experience in a wide variety of sports as each team would bring different camps through the OTC under her watch, Team USA women’s volleyball was her primary focus.
During that year, she was also heavily involved with USA wrestling and USA weightlifting. Not only did she gain exposure to nearly every sport that competes in the Olympic Games, she also laid the groundwork for her future. After she accepted the job at Kansas, Miyazawa kept her connections with the OTC. Although it wasn’t right away, those connections came in handy.
“After you’ve been certified in the profession for five years, you can apply for the U.S. Olympic Committee Volunteer Medical Program,” Miyazawa said. “You apply and then get called to go to one of the Olympic Training Centers for a two-week rotation. Then, you’re evaluated by the staff there. While you’re there is basically a two-week long interview where you’re working with the athletes and doing your thing and they’re evaluating you.”
Miyazawa explained the volunteer program being tiered in a way that the newest volunteers are sent out on two-week stints at smaller-scale events. If they do well in that setting, the volunteers are then bumped up to the next tier of medical professionals that are eligible to be selected for high-volume, high-profile events such as the Pan Am Games. Those who succeed there are moved into the elite pool that can be considered for use in the Olympic Games – a goal for Miyazawa. “London 2012,” she said with a smile.
Until then, Miyazawa will work the 16th Pan American games, held in Mexico for the third time since the games began in 1955. Guadalajara joins the long list of foreign locations that her career has awarded her. This summer, Miyazawa went with the Jayhawk volleyball team for a seven-match trek over Italy. She’s also worked events in Turkey, Thailand, China, Korea, Sweden and the Dominican Republic.
This time, however, will be on a much larger scale as 42 countries will be participating in the prestigious games that are second only to the Olympics in size. Although Miyazawa will work solely with Team USA, that still represents nearly 650 athletes.
“Starting with just the number of athletes, I think there are around 5,500 athletes competing from 42 different countries,” Miyazawa said. “What we’re doing with Team USA is setting up a clinic so all the Team USA athletes can come and utilize this environment.”
As Miyazawa explained it, the Team USA set up is basically one gigantic, fully-integrated sports medicine clinic. Along with the certified athletic trainers, the clinic will staff physicians, massage therapists, physical therapists and chiropractors. She is confirmed to work with women’s indoor volleyball, but could also work with the men’s team as well as keeping regular hours staffing the Team USA clinic. The staff will also use the opportunity to help each other out and learn from each other’s experience in one of the most prestigious environments in sports.
“It’s a pretty big deal, but we’re all going there for the same reason,” Miyazawa said. “The other trainers I’ll be working with and I were all selected because of our experience; we’ve traveled internationally, we’ve worked with this caliber of athletes before, so we’re kind of getting thrown all together. But we’re all going for the same reason – to help the Team USA athletes. We’ve been in similar situations before so we don’t think we’re a big deal.”
Miyazawa worked right up to her departure time, as she was on hand for KU’s match against Texas A&M last Saturday and will return in time for the Jayhawks’ home match against Missouri on Nov. 2. Prior to taking off for Mexico, Miyazawa was thrilled about the new experience that lies ahead in Mexico, but knows she will be happy to return home to the unique situation that is collegiate athletics and the Jayhawks that await her.
“There is definitely a difference,” Miyazawa clarified between working in collegiate athletics and working internationally. “If you look at all of the other countries that are there competing and how they are structured, nothing is like how it is in the United States. Here, you can go to college and you can play sports at the same time. In most other countries, it’s separate. You can go academics or you can go athletics, but there is no mixing of the two. It’s really kind of cool to come back and see our athletes have to opportunity to do both.”
The Jayhawks will play their first match without Miyazawa as they travel to Columbia, Mo., to face rival Mizzou, Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. The match will air on FSN Kansas City, and an audio broadcast will also be available free of charge on Jayhawk All-Access (kuathletics.com/allaccess) with Kyle West on the call.