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“It’s My Gastrocnemius!”

An athletic trainer approaching an injured athlete at Westwood High School in Blythewood, South Carolina might hear this:


“It’s my gastrocnemius muscle!”


That’s because Westwood High Schools has one of the strongest sports medicine programs around. Its led by a certified athletic trainer, Heather Johnson.


Johnson, a recent guest on the Anatomy in Clay® Learning System podcast, brings a mountain of experience.


Johnson earned a Bachelor of Science from the University of South Florida, where she worked with the soccer, baseball, and football teams. Johnson was one of six graduate students in the country chosen to take part in a new program that placed Certified Athletic Trainers in the military.


After two years at Ft. Jackson in Columbia, under the auspices of the University of South Carolina, the program was considered a success and Johnson was hired full time. She remained at Ft. Jackson for three more years. Next, she took a job with Midlands Orthopedics and Neurosurgery where she functioned as both an Athletic Trainer and cast technician, working with all walks of life.


Since taking over the Sports Medicine program in 2018 at Westwood High School, and right through the COVID pandemic, Westwood Sports Medicine continued to grow. Westwood Sports Medicine became one of the few schools in the state to offer the industry-recognized American College of Sports Medicine Personal Training exam to advanced students.



In April of 2022, Westwood Sports Medicine made history. The program became the first and, to date, only school in the state to induct members into the National Honor Society of Sports Medicine.


Johnson spends half her day teaching and the other half working with athletes and supporting both practices and games—football, volleyball, track, cross-country, baseball, softball, soccer, golf, and tennis.


Johnson has one clear rule with the students in her sports medicine classes.


“You can’t learn an injury,” she said, “until you know where it is. You can't tell me what's wrong if you don't know what you're looking at.”


That is, the specifics of the bone, the ligament, the joint. “I break it down by body part,” said Johnson. “We'll start with learning, reviewing the bones and going over muscles and ligaments and then really starting to add to it and get to the details.”


Saying “outer ankle” isn’t good enough, she says, you must know “lateral malleolus.”


Recently, Johnson tapped Perkins grant money to buy the Anatomy in Clay® Learning System Models. She also attended a professional development in Texas to learn how to use them in the classroom.


Building anatomy with clay, it turns out, went over well.


“It really helped me be able to see the anatomy and where it truly is,” said Rachel Brown, who joined Johnson and fellow student Ella Boston on the podcast. “Because looking at … 2D is one thing, but being able to actually physically touch it and like manipulate the clay to see how the structures run together—that was a total eye-opening experience for me and it helped me to learn about the anatomy, learn like where each part is and actually see and feel it. As we all know, like anatomy all runs together and it's all on top of each other, but having to actually place it starting from scratch, sort of on top of what is where, that was helpful to see how those structures are interconnected and function together.”


Austin said she didn’t consider herself “super artistic” and was concerned at first about building anatomy with clay. But Boston said she bonded with her model, which she named Casanova Douglas. “I've never been the type of person to just hear something or like see it and be able to do it. I have to physically put hands on something. I think that's the best way to learn.”


Last fall, Boston said she hurt herself doing a cartwheel and all the studying paid off in an easy self-diagnosis.


“I don't know that I would have been able to like, like accurately describe where my pain was or like what was actually hurting,” she said. “But I know after I went through this class I was like, ‘oh that's just my hamstrings and PCL (posterior cruciate ligament).’ So like I know where it is, I can apply the knowledge. And I think that's like a super important skill that I've gained from doing this whole experience.”


There is a lot more from Rachel, Ella, and their teacher Heather Johnson on the podcast and we hope you will check it out!

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