5 ? With Primrose Pisares, ATC of the UCSC Banana Slugs


Primrose Pisares, ATC, and Sammy the Slug of UCSC

I’ve written recently about the dreams I’m having of the upcoming Australasian College of Sports Physicians (ACSP) 2016 conference–dreams of the warmth and sun of ‘Surfer’s Paradise,’ Australia.

Well, these mid-winter dreams have also included other surf spots I’ve been to before, including my home of 10 years in Santa Cruz, California (aka ‘Surf City’).

Before coming to Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Division of Sports Medicine in Columbus, Ohio, I was a Team Physician and doctor of collegiate student health at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC).  If you have never heard much about the place, I’d wager you have heard about their sporting team’s mascot, rated one of the best in the USA:  the fighting banana slugs.

Dreams mixing with memory, I turn today to an interview with an esteemed colleague with whom I once worked while at UCSC:  Primrose Pisares, the head, certified athletic trainer (ATC) for those fighting banana slugs.  She shares her thoughts on her profession, on her athletes, and on her beautiful community in our ‘5 Questions’ series.


1) CJSM:  How long have you been the head ATC for UCSC? What was your training and/or ATC working history prior to coming to UCSC?

PR:  My path to becoming an athletic trainer was not direct, as it is for many of today’s ATCs. I started as an undergraduate majoring in Physiology at UC Santa Barbara and had intended to be a physical therapist. Athletic training was something that I had discovered as I progressed in my pre-physical therapy studies. From the extracurricular athletic training classes I took, I found that I liked working with active patients more than working with the general population. I’ve always wanted to go into a profession that helps people, and the challenge of rehabilitating an athlete from an injury and getting them back to full athletic performance was intriguing and satisfying. After I completed all the requirements and sat for the certifying exam, I attended the Arizona School of Health Sciences at A.T. Still University, which is where I received my Master’s degree in Sports Health Care.


Primrose hard at work with one of her athletes.

I am going into my tenth year as the head ATC for Intercollegiate Athletics at UCSC. Now that I am saying it out loud, I am kind of amazed at being in one place for that long! I have had prior experience working in high schools, physician’s clinics, and with semi-pro athletic teams. Right before I started at UCSC, I was employed at a few community colleges in the area and my intention was always to work in the community college setting. The opportunity to work at UC Santa Cruz just kind of fell in my lap as I had never considered DIII athletics. I have come to really enjoy working with student-athletes at this level and getting to know them as more than just an athlete but as a person with academic goals and interests. I love it when my student-athletes achieve what they have worked hard for.

2) CJSM: As you’ve pointed out, UCSC is a DIII Athletic School, the only one of its type in the UC system. Based on your experience with UCSC athletics, what are the special opportunities or challenges for managing athletes’ health care in DIII NCAA sports?

PR:  I think the DIII level offers up a different type of student-athlete as opposed to DI & DII. The students that choose DIII are those that want to continue playing competitive sports at a high level in college but may not be as physically gifted or are more interested in focusing on academics instead of sports. If you look at the colleges that are DIII, they are typically your small, liberal arts colleges that are academically strong like the Little Ivies. UCSC is an anomaly. In an institution with over 18,000 students, one would expect UCSC to be Division II or III but the Division III mentality fit in better with UCSC’s philosophy at the time that NCAA athletics was established here.

One challenge that we run into often is student-athletes that are not necessarily physically ready to compete at the college level so we have a lot of student-athletes that are going through growing pains with their sport. There is a lot of soreness, quite a few strains, and difficulty understanding why they are injured. For example, we have had cross-country runners here that had just started running as a sophomore or junior in high school. At Division I & II, this is rare. We also have athletes that prioritize academics over athletics. Having those student-athletes come in for rehab can be difficult because of time constraints with their internships, research projects, or studies. But, that academic interest is what makes DIII unique. We have had quite a few student-athletes move on to do great things such as research in Antarctica, community and social outreach in South America, medical school, and graduate level astrophysics at Harvard to name a few. Getting to know this part of the student-athletes is an enjoyable aspect of my job.

3) CJSM:  OK, so we have to ask: is there something an opponent should be scared of when facing off against a ‘banana slug’? Are your teams going to slime someone?

PR:  Our teams are ALWAYS going to slime someone, because we are banana slugs! Opponents should be afraid of our persistence, no matter what happens we stick to our values. We may be slow but we get the job done!

4) CJSM: We know you use social media, and @UCSCAthletics is a particular favorite of ours on twitter. If you had to compose a 140 character (or less) tweet stating what you most enjoy about your job as an ATC, what would it say?

PR:  Athletic Training is more about the athlete than the sport. Fix them, get them back, and learn their stories. #ucscsportsmed  (CJSM:  Amen to that!)


One shot of the breathtakingly beautiful athletic fields on the campus of UCSC

5) CJSM: Are you able to comment on the sporting scene in general in Santa Cruz, home of UCSC? Besides the DIII sports scene at the university, what other sports and physical activities are on offer in your town?

PR:  Santa Cruz is a great town for physical activity and is consistently ranked among the healthiest places in the nation. It is pretty easy to see why:  29 miles of beaches and redwood forests surround this place some people know as “Surf City”, although Huntington Beach might have a few things to say about that.

At any time during the year you can find surfers in the waves as well as stand-up paddleboarders gliding along the coast. From April to October, you can catch the Wednesday Night Boat Races. West Cliff Drive runs along the ocean and is hugely popular for bikers, joggers, and walkers. If that view doesn’t suit you, then you can pick between the 4 state parks that are literally in some resident’s backyards. Wilder Ranch, Nisene Marks, Big Basin, and Henry Cowell are all awesome places to camp, hike, run, or just lose yourself in the beauty of nature. Did you know that Santa Cruz is the birthplace of CrossFit? Santa Cruz County has 15 gyms alone in a population of roughly 270,000 people. It seems as if a new one pops up every year! If you like golf, we have at least 2 PGA rated courses as well as a great municipal course. Do you follow the Golden State Warriors basketball team? Then you might have heard of its D-League affiliate, the Santa Cruz Warriors. The SC Warriors won the D-League championship title last year and always draw in a good crowd.


Santa Cruz resident on a.m. commute

As you can see, it is impossible to NOT find something active to do. I feel pretty lucky to live here.


You are lucky, Prim.  And we’re lucky to have your thoughts.  Thanks for sharing.  And for all our readers, be sure to include Santa Cruz and UCSC on your California itinerary should your travels take you there!


About sportingjim
I work at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio USA, where I am a specialist in pediatric sports medicine. My academic appointment as an Associate Professor of Pediatrics is through Ohio State University. I am a public health advocate for kids' health and safety. I am also the Deputy Editor for the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine.

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