When Austin Schmitt was in elementary school, he visited the practice facility in Mankato to cheer on his favorite Minnesota Vikings players at their training camp.
This summer, the Augustana senior experienced the other side of training camp as an athletic training intern. As an intern, he learned all about being a trainer in the biggest scene in football and worked alongside his favorite Vikings players.
He began in late July during training camp, which is a structured practice that fans can come watch. He stayed for all three weeks and into the preseason.
“Seeing these people you’re watching every day, people you cheer on and actually being able to work with them is just a surreal experience,” Schmitt said.
He worked with four other interns seven days a week, with 10 to 12 hour days on weekdays. Treatments with the players started at 7 a.m. This is when Schmitt learned about more specialized equipment, asking the athletic trainers about modalities and different therapeutic exercises.
“Every day, you always have people come into the training room ready to work, and that’s why I love athletes is because everyone’s always ready to work, ready to get better throughout the day,” Schmitt said.
Interns for the Vikings work on small-but-vital tasks, like setting up the field and giving out water, but gain educational experiences from working with the athletes.
“It’s not all glitz and glamour. It’s a lot of hard work involved, early mornings,” Augustana head athletic trainer Brian Gerry said. “A lot of it is doing these unseen tasks.”
After morning treatments, the interns set up the field and equipment in the training area, stay to help with walk-through practice, and then head back to the training room to see drop-ins.
“[When] you walk past them the first day, it’s like you’re kind of in schock,” Schmitt said. “But after that, I think that was the coolest part of the experience is being able to work with them because you see that they’re actual people and not just someone who plays a game.”
After lunch, they would restock from the morning and set up for regular practice. Around 2 p.m. Schmitt worked at regular practice in his assigned physician group. He and the other interns led the charge on combating heat illness by keeping the athletes hydrated or giving out cold towels.
Gerry, who had Schmitt in two classes, said he helped Schmitt connect with the Vikings because he’s hard working and genuinely interested in helping athletes.
“He’s also a former high school athlete himself,” Gerry said. “He understands how athletes work and function and the things they have to go through so he really relates well to them.”
Schmitt chose to go into athletic training primarily to support athletes. After completing Augustana’s 4+1 athletic training master’s program, he plans to either enter a physical therapy doctorate program or start working in sports athletic training.
“I know how important playing the game is to athletes in general, so when that’s gone sometimes, it’s really difficult for them,” Schmitt said. “So, I think helping people get back to what they love doing is why I love doing it.”
Schmitt sad he hoped working with the NFL would help him test out whether this type of position would be a good fit for him in the future and learn about differences between working with adult professional athletes from the high school and college athletes he’s worked with in Sioux Falls. As for the Minnesota Vikings, Schmitt’s internship may not be his last time with the team.
“I’d love to go back to the NFL,” Schmitt said.
And, of course, no pro football internship would be complete without a couple game days. Schmitt worked with the athletes on the sidelines at a home game and one at Kansas City. He said he enjoyed traveling with the team because it’s such a different aspect of being a trainer.
The Minnesota-native has always been a Vikings fan, from being in the stands at training camp in third grade to now on the sidelines.
“Obviously, I’ve always loved sports; I love watching the NFL,” Schmitt said. “This has always been in the back of my mind. I just wasn’t sure when I’d get that opportunity.”