Stephanie Guzzo ’07 navigates the cinderblock labyrinth of the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, Maine, like she’s been there a hundred times, though it was just the night before that the Harlem Globetrotters’ caravan of an 18-wheeler, a 20-foot truck and two tour buses pulled into town for a March afternoon game. After three months on the road, she’s gotten used to orienting herself quickly so she can focus on her job.
Guzzo has never played basketball, but since joining the Harlem Globetrotters’ extended North American tour on Christmas Day as the Red Unit’s athletic trainer, she’s lived and breathed the game. Hours before the exhibition game against the Washington Generals begins, the players are seeking Guzzo and her mobile athletic training room, a steel cart packed with everything from tape, markers and medicine to gum, shoelaces and tea. “Hey, Guzzie,” they greet her as they climb onto the taping table with sore shins, knotted calves and tight shoulders.
Like all the athletic trainers that came before Guzzo, the second female athletic trainer in the Harlem Globetrotters’ storied 89 years, she takes care of her 30 players’ medical needs, whether it’s taping ankles at lightning speed, dispensing ice packs and medicine or rehabilitating them. It’s very simple for her: The Globetrotters are professional athletes who are also really good at entertaining families and making kids laugh. They have acute and chronic issues, but it’s their job to get out there and play a game. It’s her job to make sure they can.
Making it Happen
Though Guzzo likes certainty and is a planner, these days she lives out of a suitcase and maintains that flexibility is the key to a life of constant travel. She entered Colby-Sawyer with the goal of earning a degree that would lead to medical school and a defined career, but then she fell in love with athletic training.
“Talk to anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you I’m probably the most passionate athletic trainer you’ll ever meet,” said Guzzo. “I love my job; the Globetrotters are absolutely my family, and they’re so much fun that work doesn’t even seem like work. My number one responsibility is my athletes’ health, safety and well-being, and that’s what I do. I’ll always stay certified as an athletic trainer.”
An internship with the Dartmouth College football team cemented her love of athletic training, and Guzzo’s convinced the experience helped her get into Indiana State University, the country’s top graduate program for athletic training. As far as Guzzo is concerned, she wouldn’t have had a chance with Indiana State if it weren’t for Colby-Sawyer.
“I love Colby-Sawyer, and it prepared me 100 percent for graduate school, especially the Capstone project because I had to do a lot of research,” says Guzzo, whose graduate thesis on active muscle cooling was published in the November 2014 issue of the International Journal of Athletic Therapy and Training. “I learned from professors in the field who still practiced every day, and you don’t see that often. Colby-Sawyer prepared me not just for graduate school but also for the world. I got a really good education.”
Her work with the football and women’s soccer teams at Indiana State led to her first job as an assistant trainer at Becker College in Leicester, Mass., where she was head athletic trainer for the football team. Her experience with the Division III college led to a four-year stint at St. Mary’s College in Maryland. When the Harlem Globetrotters were looking for two new athletic trainers, she was hired out of a pool of 200 applicants and hit the road for tours around the United States, Canada and South America.
A Magic Circle
The crowd of Maine families cheers when the Globetrotters’ familiar theme song “Sweet Georgia Brown” fills the arena. Guzzo heads for the bench with a giant duffle full of basketballs and extra sneakers while her players take the floor to form the famous Magic Circle. She keeps an eye on them as they spin basketballs on one finger and pass the balls almost faster than the eye can follow, and she gets a shout-out when the players are introduced.
She collects the players’ warm-up gear as they dance their way into the beginning of the game, then takes a seat next to the court, ready, if needed, to use her athletic training expertise but knowing it’ll be a good day for her road “fam” if she isn’t called on for anything more than water, ice and enthusiastic support.