When Ashley Labrador talks about her role as Brien McMahon’s athletic trainer, she focuses on relationships, communication, and trust.
The school is, she said, “a big family.”
“I wouldn’t be able to do my job without the kind of relationships that I have with not only the student-athletes, but also the coaches and staff at McMahon,” Labrador said. “McMahon really is a family-oriented community and everybody has each other’s backs. Being able to go to (the coaches) and have them trust my decisions makes everything easier.
“We all have to work together and that’s true in life, too.”
In that case, the whole McMahon community has something to celebrate.
Labrador was selected as the 2021 Most Valuable Athletic Trainer of the Year by Training & Conditioning, a trade magazine and website. She was nominated by McMahon athletic director John Cross and was told about the honor earlier this summer.
She said it came as a “complete surprise.”
“I was really taken aback by it,” Labrador said. “I’m just one of many athletic trainers and we’re just doing our jobs to help make a difference without really expecting that recognition. It’s truly an honor to be nominated and to win it.”
The Senator’s athletic trainer since 2014, Labrador is a full-time employee with Innovative Health and Rehabilitation, and is outsourced to Brien McMahon. Innovative also provides training services to Norwalk, Stamford and Westhill high schools.
McMahon football coach Jeff Queiroga said Labrador is a staple of the McMahon community.
“Ashley’s a friend and she’s somebody who embodies the spirit of McMahon,” Queiroga said. “My players love her and gravitate to her, and there’s a high level of respect for her. I’m sure it’s the same with all the other programs.”
A graduate of Lyman Hall in Wallingford, where she played soccer, basketball and tennis, Labrador said she was inspired to get into the profession after dealing with several injuries.
“It really sparked my interest,” Labrador said. “And it’s a way for me to not only be around sports, but also have a means of giving back and trying to help make a difference. It’s my calling and I’m trying to do my part.”
Labrador admits the nature of the job is its unpredictability.
“It makes it interesting because you don’t know what to expect,” she said. “In order to be prepared and to be able to handle situations when they do arise, you just need to rely on your education and your experience.”
That came to the forefront in 2018, when a parent at a junior varsity game suffered a seizure, turned gray and began foaming at the mouth. The parent had stopped breathing by the time Labrador reached her.
Labrador began administering CPR and, during the second round of compressions, the parent came to.
“I had heard of situations where people freeze in times like that,” Labrador said. “So relying and being confident in my skill set and my knowledge and background, it worked out for the better. I was able to apply everything that I’ve learned to be able to have the outcome that we had.
“It could easily have gone in the other direction and I know of athletic trainers who have experienced when the outcome isn’t positive. But we still try to do our best to achieve that positive outcome.”
Joe Madaffari, McMahon’s athletic director at the time, commended Labrador’s actions in the Hour.
“You know how to execute it, but to actually do it, you have to be in the situation and sometimes that’s kind of difficult,” Madaffari said. “But just to react and to help an individual I feel is outstanding.”
Labrador said earning the recognition from Training & Conditioning is appreciated, but it’s also a bittersweet moment.
In January, 2018, the same year she was able to save an athlete’s parent, her father, Felix Oblena, died from cardiac arrest at his home in Hamden while Labrador was at a basketball game in Norwalk.
“We all try to make our parents proud,” Labrador said. “It’s reassuring to know, as an athletic trainer, the recognition is out there, but at the end of the day, I just hope my dad is looking down and he’s proud.
“Even though I wasn’t able to do that for my dad, I still try to make a difference for people in their lives.”
During the past year-plus, Labrador’s role has taken on even greater importance, as teachers and students navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
Part of that was using the school’s SportsYou platform to communicate with the kids, motivating them and giving them at-home workouts. She even presented monthly challenges to both the athletes and coaches.
“I’m always trying to encourage the kids to not only do something for the team, but also for themselves,” Labrador said. “I was trying to challenge myself even and inspire others to do the same.”
Working at the high school level has been gratifying, Labrador said, because the student-athletes are at an age where they take her advice and learn.
“It’s really about trying to build a level of trust and respect with them,” she said. “So you’re in a position of a teacher where you’re trying to develop and guide them to a successful and empowering kind of future.”
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