Jillian Sutton gains recognition for work behind the scenes

Sutton, the head athletic trainer at Windermere High, was named High School Athletic Trainer of the Year by Athletic Trainers Association of Florida.

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  • | 10:03 a.m. October 28, 2020
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A few weeks before the start of the 2019 football season, Jillian Sutton — now the head athletic trainer at Windermere High — found herself in a situation of life and death.

With about 10 minutes left in one of the team’s practices, Sutton decided to start packing things up, when a player came up and told her that he was experiencing some cramping. Sutton showed him some normal stretches that would help, before telling him to just sit out what little time remained in the practice.

In just a matter of minutes, those cramping symptoms escalated into something much more severe.

“One of the players came in and said, ‘Ms. Sutton, Ms. Sutton! We need your help, he’s not doing good,’” Sutton said. “He was just lying back there (on a golf cart), and he was going in and out of consciousness. At that point, we did a four-man carry and carried him into the office — he wasn’t able to walk at all. It is scary how quickly they can deteriorate.” 

In that moment, Sutton recognized he was having a heat stroke, but luckily, the training staff had what’s known as The Cold Tub — a large speciality tub filled with 50-degree water. They placed him in the water for about 10 minutes before putting him on a table and placing bags of ice onto him while the they waited for the ambulance.

The player was taken to the hospital, treated and eventually released in good health. Sutton recalls the blur of the moment and how she didn’t even have time to hesitate.

“It is like tunnel vision,” Sutton said. “That is one of a few true emergency scenarios that I’ve been in, and it’s crazy how your training prepares you.”

Photo by Phillip Pacheco
Photo by Phillip Pacheco


That moment of heroism would have largely gone unnoticed by anyone not in the program, but one of her assistants — who helped Sutton during that moment — saw it as worthy of recognition.

During the Athletic Trainers Association of Florida annual conference last summer, which was done virtually this year, Sutton learned she was named High School Athletic Trainer of the Year by her peers.

“I was completely shocked,” Sutton said. “I hear of people every year winning these awards, and even though I’m a high school athletic trainer, I never considered myself in that category.”

The unexpected accolade was recognition for a career that has been several years in the making.

Although she graduated from Boone High School, Sutton originally attended Lake Highland Prep, where she played a few sports. Although she loved sports, Sutton’s passion was in the athletic-training room, which she said was an escape from her real-life struggles.

Photo by Phillip Pacheco
Photo by Phillip Pacheco

“My parents were divorced my whole life … so I hated being home, and I was just finding every excuse to stay around at school and not go home,” Sutton said. “So I hung out at the athletic-training room, because I had my own little injuries and things like that. The athletic trainer at the time — around 2006, 2007 — was Gina Martin.

“I hung around, and she would just be that outlet and let me vent,” she said. “Then she finally said, ‘If you’re going to be here every single day, I’m going to teach you how to tape an ankle.’”

Sutton learned more than just how to tape an ankle. Martin and assistant Scott Schenker took her under their wing as a student assistant. Martin died of leukemia in 2008, but two weeks before her death, Sutton promised Martin she would become an athletic trainer.

Sutton would go on to attend the University of Central Florida  before graduating in 2015. She became an assistant athletic trainer at Rollins College — while also working on her master’s degree — for two years before joining on at Windermere High School.

Since joining the staff at the school, Sutton has gotten the chance to get to know the school’s athletes and community.

“My passion for the profession just grows every day, every year,” Sutton said. “There are plenty of parents and students who are so, so appreciative of even the little things of getting doctors appointments and utilizing the resources and the contacts I have to get them efficient and quick care. … I’m here to stay.”


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