MINNEAPOLIS -- Who is the professional sports athletic trainer? Who are these behind-the-scenes heroes that keep our favorite athletes' bodies running smoothly?
They're sports mechanics that keep the engines revving of big-time and big-money athletes. They're guys like Greg Farnam, head trainer of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who's a humble guy, yet a key spoke in the Timberwolves' wheel.
A 1988 graduate of Pine River High School, Farnam went on to serve four years in the Air Force. After his military stint, Farnam moved on to attend St. Cloud State University.
Farnam originally wanted to be a physical therapist, but St. Cloud State didn't offer such a program. After taking an athletic training class, Farnam was hooked.
"I knew I wanted to do something with sports," said Farnam, "but yet I enjoyed the medicine aspect and the science behind it all.
"When I decided that training was what I wanted to do, pro sports was where I wanted to go. I wasn't sure of the path to get there, or how long it would take, but I set it as a goal."
In college, Farnam gained valuable experience in athletic training. He served as trainer of the Huskies' football team for two seasons, the men's basketball team for one season and the track and field team for a season.
When the Timberwolves conducted training camp at St. Cloud State, Farnam received his first glimpse of his future employer as he was able to help out as a student volunteer.
After graduating from St. Cloud State in 1997, Farnam landed a two-year internship with the Timberwolves, but after the first year of the internship, NBA owners locked out the players for more than half of the 1998-99 season.
"I wasn't sure I was coming back for the second year of the internship," Farnam said. "No one was even sure there'd be a season. The team ended up hiring me after the lockout as an assistant trainer. I worked as an assistant for two years, then the head trainer retired.
"Having been with the Timberwolves already really helped me in getting the job. They were familiar with me and my work ethic."
The top job priority for Farnam is taking care of and treating injuries. He's also in charge of arranging all travel plans for the Timberwolves. For example, on April 3, the Timberwolves hosted the Memphis Grizzlies at the Target Center, then flew to Denver after the game to take on the Nuggets the following night. It's Farnam's responsibility to make sure that all plane, bus and hotel arrangements are in order for the team.
"My role is to make sure it's a safe environment for the players and to make sure that they're healthy enough to get back out on the court," Farnam said.
But, as he points out, it can sometimes be difficult to tell a player they're not ready to play.
"Guys want to get out there so bad and sometimes their injuries won't allow them to do that," Farnam said. "I have to hold them back, which can be pretty hard to do."
Timberwolves head coach Flip Saunders believes Farnam plays a key role in the team's overall success.
"Greg does a lot of the other things as far as his communication skills and having a pulse as to where the team is at," Saunders said. "He can tell how tired guys are, whether it's OK to go with a hard or soft practice. The advice he gives our coaching staff is just as important as what he does from a medical standpoint."
One of the biggest challenges Farnam faces is juggling time between work and family. With two young children, Nolan, 3, and Mae, 4 months, it can be difficult to be away from home. But, as Farnam points out, the support he receives from his wife, Tiffany, makes the time apart easier.
"Without that support system at home, it would be impossible to do this job," said Farnam. "My wife supports me and understands what I do and the travel demands I have."
As far as working with some of the young stars of the NBA, like Kevin Garnett and Wally Szczerbiak, Farnam sees a side of the athletes that most people don't get a chance to see.
"They're all really good guys and they all care about other people and the people doing work for them," Farnam said. "I'm so close to the situation, I just see them as another athlete that I deal with.
"They're human, just like everyone else, but the way our society is, they're looked at as huge entertainers. I see the human side more than anyone else would."
In a young career already filled with many memories, Farnam said his most memorable time with the Timberwolves was their first playoff series against Seattle. He also said his trip to Australia with the U.S. basketball team for the Goodwill Games was near the top of his list.
"Every year getting to the playoffs is a big thrill," Farnam said. "When we get to the second round of the playoffs or the NBA Finals, then those will be the next big memories."
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