by Mina Johnson
After 32 years in the business, SUNY Geneseo head athletic trainer Sharon West has decided to put down her medical kits and open a new chapter – retirement. A native of Livonia, N.Y., West is a small town person who always knew she wanted to return home after completing her masters at East Carolina University.
Since beginning her tenure in 2003, West has undoubtedly made an impact on Geneseo's student-athletes. Prior to working in the Knights athletic department, West spent a year working as a high school physical education teacher and athletic trainer before coming back up north to be an athletic trainer at Hamilton College.
West left Hamilton after 20 years with a vision that did not necessarily include athletic training but of opening a bed and breakfast near her hometown. However, former Geneseo athletic director and good friend, Marilyn Moore, had something else in mind for West.
"I really debated if I had any more athletic training in me when I was moving back to Livonia and was making plans to open a bed and breakfast in the area," recalled West. "Marilyn called me because she knew I was leaving Hamilton and asked me to come to Geneseo part-time. I took the position thinking that was all I was going to do – work part-time."
West absolutely loved the hours because it allowed her to run her bed and breakfast, which was located just above Conesus Lake. After three years, the head athletic trainer position opened up and, after some thought, West knew she couldn't turn it down.
"Initially, I had no thoughts of taking the job. One day during a drive back to Hamilton to visit some friends, I called Marilyn and told her we had to talk about the position because I just realized athletic training is what I was meant to do. I interviewed, got the job, eventually sold the bed and breakfast and I have been here full-time ever since."
For West, being an athletic trainer was always about the student-athletes. Being able to watch them mature and see what they became after they left Geneseo was one of the most gratifying aspects of her profession. She recently discovered that one of her former athletes at Hamilton has a daughter that she worked with on the Geneseo women's basketball team.
"The students are what really made this job interesting. Obviously you like to see them succeed on the field, but it was always really great to hear about their success after they left Geneseo. One of the highlights of this job was when former student-athletes came back to visit and told me their current career was inspired by what they experienced in the athletic training room. It's really rewarding to feel like you played a part in their life."
Speak with anyone who has ever worked with or been around West and they will tell you she is one of the most selfless people they have ever met.
"Sharon was always someone who did it for the student-athletes and never wanted to take credit for what she did. Sharon felt she was meant to go above and beyond for the student-athletes and do all that she could to make their experiences better," said assistant athletic trainer, Jeremie Stearns.
Stearns added that West helped him grow as an athletic trainer by giving him a different perspective on the profession. While Stearns took a bit of a technical approach, West showed him how to be more personable and add personality to the position.
Additionally, assistant athletic trainer Emily Ondrejka will forever be indebted to West for hiring her and can also attest to her selfless character.
"Sharon took the time to get to know the student-athletes by connecting with them and really listening to their stories. She was fun to joke around with and could always put a smile on your face. I really enjoyed working alongside Sharon and she gave me my first job right out of grad school so I will always be grateful for that opportunity."
West made an impact not only in the athletic training room, but through coordinating special events as well, a duty she added to her job title to further incorporate the campus and the community into athletics. During her time at Geneseo, she gave the term a whole new meaning for the athletic department. Faculty recognition ceremonies, the annual Veteran's Nigh recognition and the fan-favorite Teddy Bear Toss at hockey games are just scratching the surface when it comes to events that West helped organized over the years.
"All of our department's special events have been wonderful to work with, especially since we always did our best to keep it local in Livingston County. To know we impacted many veterans, families and children in our community is a really special feeling."
When asked about some of the most memorable highlights of her career at Geneseo, West had a tough time because she truly loved it all – the student-athletes, the coaches, the atmosphere, the everyday games and the championships.
"I drove out when our women's cross country team won the National Championship in 2003 and that was really exciting. No matter what team was playing for a championship, they were all equally rewarding and special to me because I got to see all that they accomplished. I really liked the freedom that I had in this position. We're inside, outside and moving around – I was never doing the same thing because there was always a lot to see and do."
Looking ahead to her retirement, West says she will devote her time to gardening, antiquing and travelling, but part of her isn't quite sure if she is ready to part ways with the job that she often used as an escape from all of the ventures she tackled in her "free time."
"Leaving the job will certainly be an adjustment because sometimes I used to come back to work to have a break," joked West. "I'm just the type that always enjoys having a million things going on at once. However, the open weekends and nights will be especially nice because I will have time to spend with friends and family."
West is currently enjoying the sunny skies in Florida, where a friend of hers owns a co-op and told her to stay as long as she'd like. "I have no schedule at all for the trip and that is what's exciting to me," said West.
A 2014 graduate of Syracuse Univeristy, Mina Johnson is in her first year as an Assistant Director of Athletic Communications and Media Relations.