Part-time Pro: Iron Mountain’s Jungwirth works occasionally as Bengals trainer
As the plane flies away, the deafening sound of its engines fades and gives way to the cheering of 80,000 people at Lambeau Field.
It’s hot. It’s loud. It’s gameday.
Somewhere on the Cincinnati Bengals sideline across from the Green Bay Packers is an Iron Mountain resident who, save for a chance encounter at a national convention years ago, wouldn’t otherwise be there.
Jon Jungwirth, a certified athletic trainer at Bellin Health, stands among Bengals’ players, coaches and staff with a pack clipped around his waist and a water bottle in his hand. The water isn’t for him on the 97-degree sunny afternoon at Lambeau, the hottest-ever game at the hallowed stadium. The water is for the players around him.
On this sweaty Sept. 24 afternoon, Jungwirth was a trainer for the Bengals, sporting all-black attire, including shoes, pants and a polo.
“I’ve known the head athletic trainer (Paul Sparling) for the Bengals for years,” Jungwirth said, explaining how he came to find himself on the Bengals sideline, adding that over the years he has gotten to work for a day as a team trainer “when the Bengals come to the NFC North opponents.”
Jungwirth met Sparling at the National Athletic Trainers Association Convention at St. Louis in 2008. The two struck a friendship that has spurred offers for Jungwirth to join the sidelines when the Bengals visit Midwest NFL cities.
The National Football League rotates its schedule every four years, which has allowed Jungwirth to visit every NFC North stadium since he’s helped the team, except for the Minnesota Vikings’ new grounds, US Bank Stadium, which Jungwirth plans to see when the Bengals play there Week 15, on Dec. 17.
Jungwirth, 42, holds a master’s degree in athletic training from Illinois State University and is a certified National Academy of Sports Medicine-Performance Enhancement Specialist. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Jungwirth’s presence on the Bengals’ sideline alleviates the hectic travel schedule of an NFL team. It simply saves the Bengals from including one more person in its travel itinerary, especially when some stuff are unable to attend a particular away game. About 140 people including players, coaching and support staff from NFL teams travel to away games.
“It’s just another set of hands in the locker room, in the training room and on the field,” Jungwirth said.
Ideas to take home
The hot day in Green Bay against the Packers necessitated trainers like Sparling and Jungwirth to work at the top of their own respective game. They had to stay ready to deal with injuries, but mostly keeping players hydrated and cool. Jungwirth said the opportunity to join the sidelines affords him an experience that directly impacts how he treats student-athletes at local schools. Through Bellin Health, Jungwirth works as a trainer at North Dickinson County School and Niagara High School in sports ranging from basketball and volleyball to football and track and field.
“Obviously it’s an extremely high-level athlete. It’s the big show. Some of these game days in the NFL is what America’s watching. You just kind of take away and watch how they treat different injuries,” Jungwirth said of the gameday NFL experience. “The interesting thing is injuries are the same thing whether it’s a professional athlete or high school athlete. I just try to apply some of the techniques. They have some exposure to newer gadgets and some of that stuff. But injuries are the same for high school athletes and professional athletes.”
Jungwirth said things like choices of tape and where to apply different kinds of tape on athletes are among some of the treatment examples he’s learned while working with the Bengals, and has used at local sporting events.
“There’s different taping techniques, different types of tape for different applications or locations on the body,” he said. “You want to have some strength with this tape, but you don’t want to cut off circulation. There’s different kinds of tape from watching their head athletic trainer taping different joints with different kinds of tape. I never thought of taping a joint that way with that kind of tape.”
Close to stars
The closer you get to the field, the less a barrier exists between you and the players. TV presents players as abstract — viewers only know how a player looks, and there is zero interaction. Most fans at a stadium see more or less a figure with namse and numbers on their jerseys, but they’re there in person, yet still no interaction. Jungwirth runs onto the field during timeouts and stands shoulder to shoulder in the presence of the NFL’s most popular players, asking if they need water, or in other cases, tying their shoes. While he was at first star-struck by seeing some of these popular players, the face-to-face interactions he’s had working with players has more or less made him comfortable with being around the star players.
“They’re people. I think the biggest thing that we see is how these people are high-profile and they’re looked up upon and made big stories of. But what it all boils down to is, they’re people,” Jungwirth said. “You can relate to them. They’re people, they’re just extremely talented at throwing the football or they’re big and strong — blocking and catching a pass. They’re blessed with certain abilities and talents that we don’t have. They’re people too.
“Coming out of that tunnel, just as a person helping that team, is an adrenaline rush,” Jungwirth added. “It’s a thing you’re blessed to have an opportunity to have done that. I’ve done that.”
When he jogs onto the field during a timeout, Jungwirth said he is only thinking of his work. But there are times he said when he takes in the moment — being on the plush turf of Lambeau Field.
“Don’t trip,”?Jungwirth said with a laugh about what he’s thinking in moments like that. “The roar of the crowd. Granted you’re on the losing end of it, but it’s awe-inspiring, motivating, all the emotions you would ever think about.”
Love for the Packers
Being a lifelong Packer fan as an Oshkosh, Wis. native, Jungwirth said being at that Sept. 24 game, the hottest game in Lambeau Field history (89-degree game-time temperature), added to his family’s Packers fandom. His father and grandfather attended the coldest game in Lambeau Field history — the Ice Bowl — the 1967 NFL Championship between the Packers and the Dallas Cowboys. The game-time temperature was minus-15 degrees.
“My grandfather has had season tickets since Lambeau was built,” Jungwirth said of the family’s Section 102, Row 8 seats. “He had season tickets at the old City Stadium. That’s how my dad and grandfather got to go to the game.”
Despite all the access he’s had working NFL games, Jungwirth said he doesn’t see himself changing his career path towards becoming an athletic trainer in the NFL. It would mean moving his wife, Angie, and their children Brady, 9, Lauren, 7, and Carli, 5.
“That’s kind of in a different phase of my life, maybe if I were younger, yes. The people in this area and this community are who I want to be taking care of,” Jungwirth said. “If I can do a few games here and a few games there, that’s great. This is home and these are the people who I like to take care of. It’s a wonderful opportunity, but it’s a lifestyle change. I’ve got family and friends. If you look at an NFL schedule, game day on Sunday, travel on Saturday. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday they’re practicing. It’s a lifestyle change.
“Awesome as it is,” Jungwirth added, “we get to take care of our Iron Mountain-Kingsford area community people and do what we do for them. No place I’d rather be, than here. Not even Lambeau.”