From Service to SLU
The echo of a basketball bouncing on hardwood can be heard throughout Chaifetz Arena as the SLU basketball team files in for its 6:00 a.m. practice. Before the players arrive, however, another team is already hard at work, setting up the practice and preparing routines to get the bodies of the athletes ready for competition. This team has one member in particular that is no stranger to the structure and early-morning wake up calls that come with being part of a unit.
Brian Leach, a student at Saint Louis University studying Athletic Training, has an on-campus job at Chaifetz Arena. What makes Leach unusual at SLU lies is the story of how he got here.
Over five years ago, Leach made the decision to enlist in the Navy - the fifth consecutive generation in his family to elect that route. He graduated from the Defensive Language Institute in California, and was stationed to work at the National Security Agency in Augusta, Georgia. After three years, he deployed to a submarine near the Middle East. In the last year of his contract, Leach decided to return to school. Prior to the Navy, he had been a student-athlete at East Central College and briefly attended University of Missouri - Kansas City, but both he and his wife wanted to live closer to their families. Leach began to explore the possibility of Saint Louis University.
In deciding what degree to pursue, Leach was influenced by a passion for fitness and athletics, as well as by family members with medical backgrounds. He found a place where the two areas could meet: Athletic Training. Leach first arrived unannounced at Chaifetz Arena because he figured that would be his best bet to come into contact with someone that knew about the university's program in Athletic Training.
"That's just my personality," Leach said. "I get an idea and I just want to dive right in."
SLU's Athletic Training program is actually housed on SLU's Medical Campus in the Doisy College of Health Sciences, but staff members at Chaifetz Arena stepped in to help.
"The people at Chaifetz Arena immediately got on the phone and contacted the Athletic Training program," Leach said. "Within minutes, I had a meeting set up with the program director and I was heading to his office to learn more about a potential future at SLU."
"I was very excited to meet with Brian," Athletic Training Program Director Dr. Anthony Breitbach said. "I was very happy that we had the opportunity to help Brian work towards achieving his professional goals."
Before ever stepping foot inside a classroom in St. Louis though, Leach and his wife packed their bags and grabbed their passports. Leach was going to complete his first semester at the SLU campus in Madrid, Spain.
"It was an amazing experience - an amazing city," Leach says. "We were right in the middle of Madrid and had the life of the city at our doorstep."
After his military service and his time in Madrid, it was finally time to come home and complete the full transition back to being at home and living life in America.
"It can be tough," says Leach. "When someone gets out of the military, it's not just that one person adjusting to everything - society adapts to us as well. We have to adapt to each other."
Leach credits SLU for supporting his transition.
"SLU makes every effort to accommodate any needs I may have; it really speaks volumes about the university," said Leach.
"Mike Bamber (SLU's Director of Military Outreach) always makes sure I'm well connected and know my opportunities and, overall, I think SLU is a very veteran-friendly school."
In his role as a student worker at Chaifetz Arena, Leach works predominantly with the men's basketball team, helping with warm-up and workout routines of athletes, preparations for competition and identifying technique issues. This position aligns well with Brian's Athletic Training major, gaining him experience for his career.
"It's great that Saint Louis University has the unique combination of resources to help a young man like Brian," says Dr. Breitbach. "Whether it's studying in Madrid, working in the athletic program or being connected with the veteran's organization - these are opportunities that don't necessarily exist everywhere else, and we are all thrilled to see him capitalizing on them."
Brian looks forward to graduation, and hopes to find a position where he can draw upon both his interests in athletic training and strength training.
"I've thought about exploring opportunities to work in an arena like CrossFit," Leach said. "The big CrossFit competitions have athletic trainers on staff, but maybe I can bring it into the local CrossFit gyms - that way I can coach people through their strength training, but also be on staff as an athletic trainer if someone were to get hurt."
If Leach is successful with this idea for his career, it wouldn't be the typical route for an athletic trainer - but then again, typical never has been his style.