Entrenadora atlética: KNPE grad student volunteers AT for Mexico handball team

Catrina Sanfilippo
Catrina Sanfilippo

Catrina Sanfilippo long has understood the value of mentoring, something that continues to influence her career path.

Now the certified athletic trainer and current graduate student in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education is reaping the benefits of networking.

Thanks to a contact from her current freelance gig with ATI Sports Medicine, Sanfilippo volunteered in August as an athletic trainer at the 2021 Nor.Ca. Women’s Handball Championship hosted in Illinois by the North America and Caribbean Handball Confederation.

“I had a reference reach out to me and say, ‘Hey, I have a friend who is looking for an AT for this event,’ ” Sanfilippo says. “I didn’t even know what handball was. I had to look it up.”

And, because the team from Mexico traveled to Elgin without its own athletic trainer, Sanfilippo became its de facto entrenadora atlética.

“Most teams have their own AT, or what they call in other countries a physiotherapist, so I just covered if they needed help with an injury,” says Sanfilippo, who earned her NIU bachelor’s degree in Athletic Training in 2019.

“Mexico was the only team that didn’t bring someone,” she adds. “I was on the bench with them. I had an interpreter; that was pretty cool. You have to be very patient if it’s hard for you to say what you want in the very simplest terms for the translator. It was a very cool experience.”

Sanfilippo, who is pursuing her M.S.Ed. in Kinesiology and Physical Education with a specialization in Pedagogy and Curriculum Development to earn her teacher licensure, expanded her professional network in the process.

“I got to meet a doctor from Puerto Rico. I helped another team with first aid and being an extra hand when injuries occurred,” she says. “I met the U.S. team’s athletic trainer, and she actually connected me to one of their coaches who runs clubs in the Elgin and Chicagoland area.”

Catrina Sanfilippo (back right)
Catrina Sanfilippo (back right)

Volunteering also offered lessons.

“It gave me a lot of experience with diversity and to talking with people from all over – from Greenland, Mexico, Puerto Rico and obviously the U.S. – and learning to adapt. I think that’s big in teaching and in athletic training: How would I interpret if the interpreter wasn’t there? I could just communicate with my hands. I’d figure it out,” Sanfilippo says.

Her NIU education helped, she adds. “I definitely think our professors prepared us well to be in a diverse experience,” she says. “They prepared us to have confidence to be in a different environment and to put ourselves out there and to be confident in our skills.”

When the call comes again for her expertise at a future handball event, she’ll welcome the opportunity.

“I’d definitely do it again,” she says. “It was a really cool sport to watch. These girls are really tough.”

Logo of the North America and Caribbean Handball ConfederationSports are essential for Sanfilippo, who also holds a health endorsement and a certificate in adapted physical education.

“I have the typical AT story: In high school, I was an athlete – I played soccer and ran cross country – and I was injured all the time and found myself in the AT room, where you could heal your body through the right movement and exercise,” says Sanfilippo, who grew up in Franklin Park and graduated from East Leyden High School.

“For my senior year, I gave up running cross country to shadow the athletic trainer, who also happens to be my mentor. I got lucky,” she adds. “She told me that athletic training is very demanding, that you might want something that is little more stable, so it’s good to have a master’s in something. I am following the advice she gave me to get a master’s.”

Teaching makes sense.

“I’ve coached swim lessons for six or seven years, and I love working with kids. I’m that person who walks into a grocery store, and there’s a little kid crying, and I’ll just look at them and make them laugh,” Sanfilippo says. “I just have a calling to be with kids and teaching, so I’m probably going to be teaching P.E. full time and also doing what I’m already doing.”

Catrina Sanfilippo and the team from Mexico.
Catrina Sanfilippo and the team from Mexico.
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