The Profession and Parenting: Strategies for Making it Work - Cathy P. Supak

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With the long hours and odd schedules Athletic Trainers (ATs) have, it can be a challenge to balance work and family life. In this series, we will present stories about ATs who were able to successfully juggle their professional and personal lives, and we feature real stories from AT parents who “make it work.”

Cathy P. Supak, LAT, ATC, outreach AT, raised a family during her successful athletic training career. Now, she takes a look back and shares how she made everything work.

Board of Certification: What’s your current role, and how long have you been with your employer?

Cathy Supak: I’m an outreach AT at Houston Methodist Clear Lake Hospital. I have served as an outreach AT for the past 27 years. Since 2016, I have also been with Pasadena Independent School District (ISD). Prior to that, I worked at Clear Brook High School in Clear Creek ISD for 23 years. I plan to retire in July to spend more time with my family and parents.

BOC: How did you start a family during your career?

CS: My husband, Ray, and I have been married for 33 years. We both grew up in large families and helped take care of our younger siblings, so having children was important to us. When our first child, Amanda, was born, we decided I would stay home with her. Two years later, our son Cameron was born.

Being a mom is the best and toughest job, but it has given me a better perspective when communicating with parents once I returned to being a full-time AT. Before marriage and children, I worked as a high school AT and taught 4 academic core classes. I returned to full-time employment when Amanda was 4 and Cameron was just shy of 2 years old.

BOC: How were you able to balance your personal and professional life after having children?

CS: Finding the right job setting as a mother of young children was imperative, and I was blessed to find a hospital outreach program for schools.

Over the past 27 years, the amazingly supportive supervisors and hospital administrators ensured the work-family balance for me and the other ATs. For example, initially, ATs assisted in physical therapy (PT) clinics before heading to their assigned schools each day, but then the schedule changed to being at the schools full time with alternating early and late arrival times. This wonderful schedule revamp allowed me time on my late arrival days to see the kids off in the morning, volunteer at their school, drive for a carpool and even catch up on household duties. I credit the flexibility in my job and my husband’s unconditional support as the reason I have found a good balance in parenting and being an AT.

In addition to being a rock star supportive spouse, Ray is an industrial safety engineer who keeps chemical plant and refinery workers safe. Fortunately, Ray’s job has been an hour’s drive from our home 85% of the time. However, during one project, located 4 hours away, Ray drove home on Tuesday and Fridays to pick up the children from after-school care, prepare dinner and check homework while I covered night games. He would depart at 4:00am the following morning.

BOC: How old are your kids now?

CS: We have 2 grown children: Amanda, 31, is married and lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is a clinical dietitian for Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota. Our son Cameron, 29, is an ordained minister and serves as Pastor of First United Methodist Church in Marlin, Texas.

BOC: Are you involved in any activities outside the home?

CS: Gardening, especially tending to our front yard full of azaleas. I truly enjoy taking landscape photography and occasionally playing a round of golf.

BOC: Can you share from your experience balancing being a parent and an AT?

CS: I was always looking for opportunities to find time to spend with my kids or as a family, such as delivering lunch, spending a few minutes visiting one-on-one or switching coverage of games to attend 1 of the kid’s events. When possible, during halftime of high school varsity football games, I would step outside of the locker room to catch the kids’ marching band performances.

Our children also learned about the resourceful and dependable network of ATs—how we take care of each other and our families. Since we live just 30 miles from the Texas Gulf Coast, evacuations for tropical storms and hurricanes are regular part of our life. A major hurricane approached in August of Amanda’s high school senior year, just days before taking the SATs. In the midst of evacuating to Austin, I reached out to a high school AT in that area who collaborated with their school counselor to get Amanda’s testing site changed. Thankfully, Amanda took the test as scheduled. I have never forgotten that act of kindness and professional courtesy of total strangers.

BOC: While raising your kids, what were some strategies you used to make your profession and parenting work?

CS: The strategies changed as the kids got older, but 1 of the best decisions we made was to live close to my job/school so the kids would be in the same school district. They attended feeder schools and eventually the same high school where I was an AT. The proximity allowed me to respond to emergencies and catch school functions when Ray was away on business travel.

Another strategy was choosing a private home babysitter over daycare when the kids were younger as there was a lower caregiver-to-child ratio, home-cooked meals and more flexible drop-off and pick-up times.

We also set and stayed consistent with morning and evening routines. Simple tasks such as picking up toys daily, setting the table and maintaining regular bath and bedtime taught them responsibility, independence and stability. As our kids grew, so did their responsibilities to help around the house. Once homework was completed, it was placed in their school backpacks and placed by the front door. No morning chaos searching for items as the bus was coming down the street!

Until our kids were able to drive, they could choose to participate in 2 non-school activities. Limiting activities helped teach them time management and, as parents, we could manage providing support to these activities with our work schedules. Allowing them a choice for their activities worked for our kids, and we’ve met other parents at school and out-of-school activities, leading to forming carpools—a huge timesaver for all involved.

BOC: How did you approach daily opportunities that arose as an AT and at home? How did you make them balance?

CS: We were able to achieve a balance through thoughtful planning and scheduling of work and extracurricular activities—that way we ensured that 1 of us was always in attendance at band concerts or scouting events, and that homework was done nightly. Since we didn’t have family close by to assist, we had to depend on each other. Also, having the flexibility at work to switch games or shifts and being able to hire dependable and responsible high school students— usually the child of a coworker, teacher or coach—to babysit or drive our kids to an activity, helped me focus on my AT responsibilities without sacrificing my role as a parent.

BOC: What is your greatest achievement as an AT?

CS: Probably being at the right place at the right time to assist with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Emergency Medical Services (EMS) was delayed and there was no automated external defibrillator (AED) available! Thankfully, a bystander volunteered to assist with chest compressions so I could continue doing breathing until EMS finally arrived. The victim didn’t respond to EMS AED shocks but was revived by the emergency room physicians and staff. He survived because of the work of each person that assisted in his care—a true team effort!

BOC: What is the best part of your day?

CS: Checking in with students who are on the cusp of returning to their sport as their recovery wraps up. Their enthusiasm to rejoin the team and continue a passion is inspiring.

BOC: What advice would you give a fellow ATs who might be struggling to balance their career and parenting?

CS: My favorite quote is “Remember the days are long and the years are short!” The struggle of balancing career and parenting is not unique to ATs, but we are fortunate to have the opportunity to help and encourage our own kids and countless more as they navigate injury, rehab and life. We speak “teenager.”

This article was originally featured in 2019 summer “Cert Update” as a part of a series.

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