One trainer, many teams: healing Cabrini’s final athletes

By Jason Fridge
December 5, 2023

Lea Blackburn is the new head athletic trainer for Cabrini athletics. She is stepping into a major role supporting student athletes in their final campaigns. Photo by Jason Fridge
Lea Blackburn is the new head athletic trainer for Cabrini athletics. She is stepping into a major role supporting student athletes in their final campaigns. Photo by Jason Fridge

Lea Blackburn joined Cabrini’s athletic training staff in August 2022. Just over a year after arriving, she’s now the last trainer standing to lead Cabrini athletes through their final seasons. Working closely with the field hockey and softball teams, she was one of four full-time trainers operating out of the Dixon Center’s athletic training room.

Blackburn came to Cabrini from West Chester University, where she spent two years working with their men’s athletic teams. She settled in right away and found her home in the Cabrini athletic family, forming a tight bond with her colleagues and planning to stay at Cabrini for the long term. And then the school announced its upcoming closure.

“My initial reaction was sad,” Blackburn said. “My fiancée and I had just signed a lease to move up here right before the news broke. It was really upsetting because I definitely would have been here for a longer period of time.”

At first, Blackburn and the other trainers planned to ride things out for the final year. While others reached out with offers, they wanted to be there for Cabrini athletes. The fall season started with all four still on staff spreading out duties between the sports that were in season.

As the months passed, the other trainers were presented with opportunities that they couldn’t pass up. One by one the core four separated until there was just one. Blackburn now has the responsibility of head athletic trainer and manages all of the training room’s operations.

“It’s been a lot,” said Blackburn. “It’s obviously really stressful management-wise because a lot falls on me… It’s great to have the help of Kate [Corcoran] finding per diem athletic trainers to come in and help out when we have multiple teams practicing because I can’t physically be in two places at once.”

Riding solo

The training room is normally a lively atmosphere regardless of the time of year. Athletes from different sports come in to get their individual treatment, stretch, or just converse with the many personalities filling the room.

Blackburn keeps this atmosphere alive, but it has not been easy adjusting to such different circumstances.

“The hardest thing for me has been not having people in here to bounce ideas off of,” said Blackburn. “When it comes to athletic training, you’re seeing so many different injuries every day so it’s always helpful to get a second pair of eyes on everything. It’s been lonely more than anything, it was such a good environment when the four of us were all in here and now I sit in here by myself for most of the day.”

Despite the challenges she’s faced with the increased workload, Blackburn knew she needed to stay with the athletes she spent the last year getting to know. It’s the thing that always gave her something to look forward to every day: the relationships.

“Truthfully, I stayed for the athletes,” said Blackburn. “Those second-year relationships with athletes are just so much different than the first year. You get to know each other so well and I always look forward to that second year where you’re expanding on those relationships. That was a big reason why I wanted to come back.”

The human element

McClintock carries the ball over the midline in a home match on Edith Robb Dixon Field. Photo via Cabrini University Flickr.

Blackburn knows her role goes beyond taping ankles and assisting with treatments; she’s a source of support and consistency that athletes need when dealing with the rigors of their sports.

Morgan McClintock just finished up her junior season as a midfielder on the field hockey team. Midway through, she fractured her femur and missed a full month of action. Blackburn stepped in and guided her through the recovery process.

“When I found out the extent of my injury, she kept me in high spirits and gave me her undivided affection even as the only athletic trainer at Cabrini,” McClintock said. “It was not definite that I would be back by the end of the season, but with the physical therapy she did with me I was able to return one last time with my team. She cares about the athletes’ both physical and mental health, which is one of the most special things about her.”

Blackburn says supporting athletes through these injuries is the unwritten part of the job that matters most to her.

“Throughout the year I get to learn about people before they get injured and be that person that’s there for them when they do need someone,” said Blackburn.  “I’m not only the person who knows how to medically deal with them, but I can calm them down in those traumatic situations because I know them as a person.”

Sophomore men’s lacrosse player Sebastian Tobias echoed how helpful Blackburn’s presence has been for student athletes.

“She’s always there for our practices and gives each athlete’s problem extreme attention and care despite how many things she is now overseeing,” said Tobias. “She’s even personally helped me through a handful of injuries over my time here at Cabrini. We’re really lucky to have her.”

While Blackburn only has one winter sport to manage at the moment, help is on the way. She mentioned that a new travel athletic trainer is joining the staff to assist in preparing for a busy spring. Regardless, she hopes she can continue to positively impact student athletes during Cabrini’s final months.

“I hope I can be remembered as someone that cared about the athlete themselves along with all of the medical things,” said Blackburn. “So many of our athletes I would genuinely consider as friends. You don’t get that everywhere.”

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Jason Fridge

I am a junior Digital Communication/Social Media major with a Sports Communication minor. I grew up in Lynnwood, WA north of Seattle. Involved on campus at Cabrini as a Student Ambassador, SAAC (Student Athlete Advisory Committee) executive board member, play-by-play broadcaster for Cabrini athletics, and a player on the Cabrini lacrosse team. Aspire to go into sports broadcasting and dream job would be working for a sports franchise/media company either as on-air talent or behind the scenes media member. In my free time I enjoy exercising and can usually be found walking around Wayne listening to a good podcast about sports or history!

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