Suffolk University athletic trainer Kristen DiRocco is always there to lend a helping hand


By Tony Ferullo

Kristen DiRocco keeps the picture in her office – otherwise known as the athletic trainer’s room at Suffolk University – for everyone to view. It’s a special item that the Melrose resident can turn to at any time of the day or night and receive immediate inspiration.

The neatly framed photo is of Gord Kluzak, who is carrying a Boston Bruins’ duffle bag in his right hand, while balancing another team bag over his left shoulder. He is walking with his head down, deep in thought as he sadly leaves the old Boston Garden for the very last time as a professional hockey player.

Kluzak, now a color commentator during NESN’s Boston Bruins’ broadcasts, played seven seasons in a Boston uniform before chronic knee problems forced his retirement during the 1990-91 season.

Growing up, DiRocco was a big Bruins’ fan. One of her favorite players was Kluzak and she felt bad each time he got hurt, needed rehabilitation or was required to have surgery. It got to the point where she couldn’t take it anymore.

“I remember how tough it was for him (Kluzak) to be injured all the time,” she said. “I didn’t want to have another athlete go through what he did.”

She decided right then, while still in high school, about how she could make a difference. That’s why every time she looks at the picture, she sees the end of one career, and the beginning of another – her own.

Fast forward to today where DiRocco, 29, is making her living helping young men and women stay in shape as Suffolk University’s certified athletic trainer. She is the first, full-time person to hold such a position at Suffolk, and while she is relatively new on the job, she has already made a huge impression.

“Kristen DiRocco’s presence on campus has been immensely beneficial for all of our student athletes,” said Suffolk University veteran athletic director Jim Nelson. “Her knowledge of the profession, work ethic and genuine concern for each individual visiting her office is becoming legendary.”

Competing at the NCAA Division III level, Suffolk offers many varsity sports for men and women throughout the school year. This, of course, means that DiRocco’s office door is always open, tending to a wide range of ailments – from sprained ankles and swollen knees to pulled elbows and separated shoulders.

“Between all the practices, games and rehab treatments, it gets quite busy,” said DiRocco, who received her undergraduate degree in physical education from Bridgewater State College in 1995, and her masters degree in athletic training from California University of Pennsylvania in 1998. “With the basketball and hockey seasons going on right now, sometimes I’m needed seven days a week.”

She doesn’t mind the long days because she loves what she’s doing. A self-proclaimed perfectionist, she runs a tight ship. She will not allow any athlete who isn’t completely healthy to step foot on any court, rink or field. Period.

“The group of athletes here at Suffolk are wonderful to work with and I care about their medical well being,” said DiRocco, a personable individual who came to Suffolk from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, where she was the assistant athletic trainer. “I will not clear anyone to play unless that person can functionally perform. I want my athletes to be able to hold their kids one day.”

“Kristen is pretty emphatic in her decisions and I take her word as the law,” said Brian Horan, head coach of the Suffolk men’s hockey team. “She sits with us on the bench and she is always looking out for our players. She has a great personality and she’s a big plus to our program.”

According to DiRocco, hockey tops all other sports at Suffolk (the school doesn’t have a football squad) when it comes to injuries. That’s why she or someone she chooses from a pool of local certified athletic trainers is present at every Suffolk men’s hockey team practice and home game. She even has Dr. Paul Weitzel, an orthopedic surgeon at New England Medical Center, attend each Suffolk home contest in case one of the Rams or a visiting team player needs immediate medical attention.

Above everything else, however, DiRocco’s success can be attributed to her passion for helping others. When Suffolk volleyball player Heather Lynch was in the hospital last fall for six days due to an infection in her right elbow, DiRocco stopped by to visit her on three separate occasions.

“She even brought me honey-glazed doughnuts; they’re my favorite,” laughed Lynch, a sophomore biology major. “When I got hurt, I had physical therapy with Kristen and she was always there for me. She cared so much that she gave me her home phone and cell phone numbers in case I had to get in touch with her.”

When she’s not monitoring the physical status of Suffolk University student athletes, Kristen DiRocco is doing a little training of her own – like preparing for this year’s marathon in Burlington, Vermont. If she’s looking for any inspiration to finish the race, all she has to do is take a peek at that picture in her office.

It’s worth more than a thousand words – at least in her eyes.

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