WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Paxton native Jennifer Rheeling will receive a couple of honors on Wednesday at an athletic training convention on Wednesday in Las Vegas.
She will be named the National Athletic Trainers' Association Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer Award, which as the NATA's website states, "recognizes NATA members who have demonstrated exceptional commitment to leadership, volunteer service, advocacy and distinguished professional activities as an athletic trainer. MDAT exclusively recognizes NATA members who have been involved in service and leadership activities at the national and district level.”
Rheeling is also receiving the NATA Ethnic Diversity Advisory Committee's Bill Chisolm Professional Service Award.
"The Ethnic Diversity Advisory Committee presents the Bill Chisolm Professional Service Award annually since 1994 in an attempt to recognize an individual who has contributed to the development and enhancement of ethnically diverse athletic trainers," the NATA's website states. "The recipient is selected by the committee and is not required to be a member of an underrepresented ethnically diverse population.”
Rheeling says she is "grateful and humbled" for being selected for those awards.
"I have been blessed with excellent role models and a wonderful support system," Rheeling said.
Rheeling is a 1986 Paxton High School graduate who played for the school's girls basketball team.
"I still consider Paxton home, I was “raised” by the late (girls' basketball coach) George Young. Classmates Lynn Rubarts and Rocky Marron are two of my closest friends to this day, and many Paxton residents are people I love dearly and continue to support me," Rheeling said. "Mostly, though, I am thrilled to make my parents, Louis and the late Lois Rheeling, proud and know that their investment in me paid off."
An older PHS graduate introduced Rheeling to the field of athletic training.
Robyn Thompson-Etzel, who was a part of Paxton's state-qualifying girls basketball teams in 1979-80 and 1980-81, is a certified athletic trainer and licensed physical therapist assistant at the University of Colorado.
"She was kind of my idol," Rheeling said.
Rheeling visited her idol during a sibling weekend at Western Illinois University, where Thompson-Etzel graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Corporate Fitness/Athletic Training.
Rheeling's mother was a registered nurse and her father was a teacher in Rantoul for over 30 years, and they would take Jennifer to sports medicine symposiums and to a Carle Foundation Hospital facility in Mahomet.
"I got exposed to sports medicine and athletic training there and stayed interested in it," Rheeling said.
Less than a week receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in Education at Millikin University in 1990 and Master's degree in Athletic Training in 1991, Rheeling was hired as an athletic trainer for District of Columbia public schools, where she has worked for 28 years.
"I wanted to try and convince (PBL) to hire me, but financially, there wasn't anything they could do at the time," Rheeling said. "I wanted to be a full-time athletic trainer at the school, not at a clinic. I get paid a lot better out here. I work in an inner-city environment. A lot of the kids are socioeconomically challenged. I just really like working with them and being here for them. This is kind of my calling. I accidentally found where was supposed to be without trying."
Rheeling is an employee of a school district with 14 athletic trainers in the system.
She will start a four-year term as the chair of the NATA's Secondary School Athletic Trainers' Committee.
"Basically, we just focus on issues that are significant to athletic trainers that work in high school," Rheeling said.
Rheeling is a member of the NATA's Secondary Schools Vision Quest Project.
Along with the two awards she will receive on Wednesday, Rheeling was given the 2017 NATA SAAC Exemplary Leadership Award and named the 2016 Athletic Training Service Award Recipient.
Rheeling also is a member of the National Federation of State High School Association's Sports Medicine Advisory Committee as a representative of Divisions 2 and 6.
The NFSHSA meets twice a year discuss safety issues that come from the National Federation of High School. She also serves as the chair of the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee for the District of Columbia State Athletic Association.
Rheeling was inducted into the Mid Atlantic Athletic Trainers' Association Hall of Fame in 2018. She has also received the 2015 Distinguished Athletic Trainer Award and 2014 Athletic Training Service Award.
At Wednesday's National Athletic Trainers’ Association Annual Symposium in Las Vegas, Rheeling will be joined by Jamie Peers, who is an athletic trainer at Crown Point High School in Indiana. Peers's parents, Rick and Denise Peers, went to high school with Rheeling.
"(Jamie and I) have been communicating via social media for a couple years and will meet next week," Rheeling said.
Rheeling, Peers and Thompson-Etzel are three of several Paxton/PBL graduates who went on to become athletic trainers, including Jed Arseneau, a PBL grad who is now an athletic trainer at Hendricks Regional Health in Terre Haute, Indiana.
"For such a small town, that's kind of a weird collection," Rheeling said.
Rheeling's bonds with the Paxton community extend beyond the athletic field.
"The (PHS) Class of 1986 is exceptionally close and share a tight bond," Rheeling said. "My classmates and many of their parents are extended family to me.
"We were, at the time, one of the larger classes. We had 96 in our class. Our class reunions are always well-attended. We stay in touch. Whenever I come home to visit, a group of us will meet for dinner or drinks or whatever."