The Trainer Who Bleeds Purple

By Alex Kantor, Co-Director of Sports Information

“There are only eight days out of 365 that I can’t come to your wedding.”

These are the words that Mark Klingensmith said to his brother. He was referring to the eight Saturdays each fall that are reserved for Amherst College football games. So when his brother got married during the fall, Mark was on the sideline with the Lord Jeffs. Over the last 20 years, Mark has not missed a single game – or even a practice for that matter. As a former student intern commuting from Westfield State, to his role now as the head athletic trainer for the Lord Jeffs, no one has been more invested in the football program over the last two decades than him.

While completing his degree in physical education and athletic training at Westfield State in 1991, Mark started working part-time with the Amherst football team and longtime football trainer Ron Pinder. Pinder mentored Mark for five years before leaving Amherst and passing the torch.

“Rondo was such a great part of this program dating back to the Darp years,” recalls head coach EJ Mills. “I remember thinking that Mark had some huge shoes to fill, and to his credit we never missed a beat.” Since 1995 Mark has been a full-time associate athletic trainer, working with the men’s lacrosse team in the spring as well. Having started his run with the football team two years before Mills arrived as an assistant coach in 1993, Mark is the longest tenured person on the football staff.

Mark Klingensmith is in his 20th season
working with the Lord Jeffs.

Mark’s relationship with the players on the football team is something that can only be described as special. “The care that Mark gives to our guys is the same that he would give to his own three children,” said Mills. The job of a trainer is inherently a bit like walking on a tightrope. While working with the coaches to help best prepare the players for Saturday, Mark must always have the best interest of the players at heart.

Associate Director of Sports Medicine Maria Rello explains that “as invested as Mark is in the team winning games, he has never once compromised a medical decision to get a kid back on the field.” Often times, Mark is even more conservative than some of the doctors associated with the team. Rello explains that “Mark knows what each one of those kids goes through at their position each and every day, and if he thinks they aren’t ready, he won’t let them go.”

There have been countless players that Mark has connected with over the last two decades, but one in particular considers Mark a friend. Angus Leary ’99 suffered a full pectoral tear while lifting in Alumni Gymnasium’s weight room as a student. Leary immediately knew he was seriously hurt and went straight to the training room to see Mark. After checking him out, Mark sent the injured Lord Jeff off for an MRI – but not before easing his mind about what the road ahead would look like if the prognosis came back as assumed. “Mark was great,” said Leary. “He told me what exactly we would have to do, and that he would work with me to get me back on the field someday.”

When Leary went in for surgery, Mark was in the room, there to observe the operation so he would know exactly what the procedure looked like, and how to best rehab from it.

Leary’s connection to Mark goes beyond his injury, though. While he was at Amherst, Leary’s prep school roommate suffered a terrible injury at Boston University. In an injury that would eventually gain national attention, Travis Roy broke his neck just 11 seconds into his first shift playing for the Terriers ice hockey team. As one of Leary’s best friends in the world lay in limbo, he was crushed. Roy’s injury happened the night before an Amherst football game, and Mark was one of the people he called to explain that he had to be by his friend’s side.

“Through the whole thing, I didn’t want to ask Travis to explain his injury to me,” explained Leary. “Mark was great because he was there to talk to me about what my friend would have to go through. He explained the diagnosis, and it really helped me deal with everything. He was just a really great friend through it all.”

The list of players who learned something off the field from Mark is as long as the list of players he has treated for injuries. Mike Flanagan ’09 is another example of someone who falls on both lists.

As a sophomore, Flanagan emerged as one of the bright young stars for the Amherst football team. His 2006 season was cut short just five games into the year by a concussion he sustained in a 23-0 win over Wesleyan. Despite missing the final three weeks of the year, Flanagan finished second on the team in sacks, and was expected to play a large role on the team as a junior. On the first day of practice with pads the following season, a head-to-head collision with a teammate gave Flanagan another concussion. After his symptoms did not disappear in a week, Flanagan, Mills and Mark all made the decision to sit him for the rest of the year.

As difficult as that decision was, Mark helped Flanagan see the bigger picture. “Football will come and go, but you have your whole life ahead of you to live,” Flanagan realized with Mark’s help. During that season, the injured star spent as much time around Mark and the training room as possible. His time around the training room gave him added respect for Mark’s dedication to the program and its players. “From being in the training room during the day for rehab, to going to practice early for treatment, to staying late after for guys icing down – Mark barely sees his family during the season. But he genuinely cares about each and every one of us. Mark lives for the team, the program and the even more so the players. He bleeds purple.”