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By Amy Kern, IU Health System Health Solutions Communications Consultant
Early on, Candace Clayton has had a passion for sports, science and learning. As a student athlete at Broad Ripple High School in Indianapolis in the early 2000s, she was active in volleyball, basketball and softball―earning nine letters in four years. As a student athletic training aide, Clayton soaked up all the knowledge she could on the subject. She particularly enjoyed drilling her athletic trainer with questions during her weekly visits to the school. What Clayton didn’t know at the time is that very athletic trainer would one day be her boss at IU Health.
“Even back then, I could tell she was a young woman who would be driven to succeed in whatever career she pursued,” says Kathy Sparks, leader of Sports Medicine Outreach, IU Health. Sparks and Clayton stayed in touch over the years as Clayton’s journey took her to Purdue for an undergraduate degree and onto Steven F. Austin State University in Texas for her master’s. While she enjoyed her initial role at Hanover College, she felt a strong pull to get home and give back to the IPS district that shaped her. Now employed with IU Health on Sparks’ team, Clayton has found what she calls her “second home” as a state licensed and nationally certified athletic trainer for Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis. “My dad, godfather and cousins all went to high school there,” she says. “It feels like where I am supposed to be.”
Clayton approaches each day with optimism and curiosity and likens athletic training to a puzzle. “We have to put the pieces together to figure out what’s going on at the core of the injury,” she says. “Then it’s about making the best recommendation for that particular athlete and their specific injury―whether it’s specialized testing, PT, ortho or getting back on the field.” In a nutshell, Clayton explains, it’s about advocating for her athletes. Now in her fifth year with IU Health, Clayton graduated her first full class of student athletes last year. She draws on her past experience to help current students, some whom affectionally call her “auntie.” “I have empathy for them. I remember asking the same questions,” says Clayton. “I try to bring good vibes, be encouraging and uplifting.” She also oversees her own team of student athletic training aides―the bandage brigade―who keep student athletes hydrated and provide small tape jobs and wound care during games. Sparks, who has dedicated 30 years to growing the field of athletic training to increase access to healthcare for inner-city public schools, is thrilled to “finally” have Clayton on the team. “It’s an honor to have had an influence,” says Sparks. “I have no doubt Candace is doing the same.”