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Achieving AT Goals Amid Challenges of SMA

Kurt Beach, ATC is an outreach Athletic Trainer (AT) practicing at Springfield High School in Holland, Ohio. He has been a certified AT for 23 years. He loves his career and said, “Getting athletes back in the game by making them better after an injury and being able to save people’s lives as a member of a health care team is so rewarding.”

Growing up Beach felt most at home as an athlete and was inspired to pursue a career in athletic training from working with his high school’s AT. Just before college, Beach was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a rare form of muscular dystrophy. His physician told him to consider a desk job, but with no other desires, he continued to pursue a career as an AT.

The biggest impact of SMA for Beach has been the physical challenge. He began losing his ability to run and climb stairs beginning in his mid-20s. After his diagnosis, Beach was going to the gym six days a week to try to keep his muscles and endurance but gave up playing sports to avoid getting hurt.

In fall 2018, Beach covered a road running event, helping patients as they crossed the finish line. This event, coupled with a burning desire that something was missing in his life, inspired Beach to run a race of his own. He was connected with the Project Athena Foundation and their Keys to Recovery Event, which includes a 120-mile, three-day event, biking and kayaking from Key Largo to Key West,Florida. His initial thought was to participate and walk in a 5K, but in November 2019, he headed to sunny Florida to prove something to himself.

After crossing the finish line of the difficult event, Beach realized what was missing from his life. “The one thing that I had given up on [to not get hurt, causing him to become less active], was actually the one thing that pushed me to fight my whole life, and that was the essence of an athlete. I felt for the first time in 26 years the feeling of what an athlete was again,” Beach said. And now, he feels like he can relate to his patients more as an athlete than when he first began practicing.

Since then, he has started putting challenges (races) that many would never think of trying on his calendar, including completing Keys to Recovery two more times, doing a 75-mile bike race in one day, and finishing a 5K with his daughter. “It gives me the drive to keep trying to push myself beyond what I ever thought I was capable of,” he said. Beach has been involved with the Project Athena Foundation where he shares his story of determination with athletes, demonstrating how he has walked the walk.

His condition has played a big part in all his life decisions, from his social life to marriage and having kids. He kept his diagnosis a secret for many years. “I was afraid of letting people know that I had a disability,” said Beach. “But the more I came out about it, I was surprised at how receptive people were.” He’s had to learn to adapt and ask for help in certain situations (i.e., help getting an injured athlete off the field). With a drive to overcome challenges, Beach has accomplished much, including being the first AT to receive the Chuck Ealey Undefeated Spirt Award and publishing his first book, “Searching for Every Step: Finding My Purpose Living with Spinal Muscular Atrophy.”

Beach’s advice for other ATs is to live life to the fullest, even amid hard times and struggles. “When an opportunity comes to you don’t let that opportunity pass you by. Even if you don’t think you will complete it or succeed, keep trying. [The patients] we work with day in and day out, even if they fail at times. It’s the true champion athlete that never gives up even when times get tough. [They] know that no matter victory or defeat that they have done whatever it takes to try to win the battle.”

This article was originally published in the 2022 winter “Cert Update” newsletter.

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