Nuggets athletic trainer Jim Gillen hands out annual honors

Colorado, Wyoming schools receive Excellence in Athletic Training awards

The news was enough to bring Megan Hodde to tears.

In time of slash-and-burn budget cuts, a $2,000 grant would help tremendously as Hodde purchases athletic training supplies and equipment for the new Frederick High School scheduled to open in 2012.

“I started crying,” she said. “This will afford me some larger-ticket items, so I can take care of the kids the way I want to take care of them.”

Hodde was one of three winners of the 2011 Excellence In High School Athletic Training Awards given by Denver Nuggets head athletic trainer Jim Gillen. Markee Swank of Greeley Central High School and Joanne Brewster of Sheridan (Wyo.) High School also received $2,000 for their dedication to their schools’ athletic training programs.

Gillen, now in his 20th season with the Nuggets, established the awards in 2003 to help provide supplies, education and training for high schools in Colorado and Wyoming. Before starting his career in professional sports, Gillen spent 12 years as a Certified Athletic Trainer at high schools in Texas and Colorado.

“High school athletic trainers have the same qualifications as I did,” he said. “They don’t get a lot of recognition for what they do. You figure most high school athletic trainers are responsible for 400 or 500 kids. I’m responsible for 14 players. It was not only a way to help them with their programs but to recognize the ones that are outstanding.”

Working in conjunction with HealthONE’s Rocky Mountain Youth Sports Medicine Institute, Gillen also handed out the inaugural Comeback Athlete of the Year award to Fossil Ridge (Fort Collins) High School senior Chris Hansen.

Hansen, who received a $1,500 in scholarship money, led the state of Colorado in scoring (28.7 ppg) after sitting out his junior season because of a broken femur. The injury was caused by a benign cyst located behind his knee.

“The doctors told me they didn’t know if I was going to play again,” Hansen said. “I didn’t like that. It was definitely a motivating thing.”

Fossil Ridge’s athletic training department also received $1,000 for its work with Hansen during his recovery.

Hansen’s comeback story is an example of why Gillen takes such pride in recognizing the athletic-training work being done at the high-school level. His grant money can often double a schools training-room budget.

“We’re really impressed with Jim’s ability to work in the community,” said Brooke Pengel, a physician for the Rocky Mountain Youth Sports Medicine Institute. “It’s a recognition of him being able to stay grass-roots while still being at the top of the game.”

Gillen presents his annual during National Athletic Training Month, but his interaction with high-school athletic trainers takes place year-round.

Shaun Carmody, the athletic trainer at Cheyenne Mountain High School in Colorado Springs, was one of two $2,000 winners in 2009. Students from his athletic training classes recently toured the Nuggets locker room and athletic training facilities at the Pepsi Center.

“I’m very pleased and thankful for the work that Jim’s done,” Carmody said. “He’s a remarkable person who has done a wonderful thing that impacts a lot of young people and young athletes.”

Brewster, the 2011 winner from Sheridan High School, agreed. She had never been to the Pepsi Center before making the six-hour drive from northern Wyoming to receive her award March 12 before the Nuggets-Pistons game.

Brewster felt it was important to attend the pregame ceremony even though the Sheridan girls basketball team was playing that night in the Wyoming 4A championship game.

“It’s nice to show my student athletic trainers that there are opportunities out there and this is a noble profession,” she said. “This is a such an honor, but I was sad to leave my girls.”

Swank, meanwhile, was no stranger to the Pepsi Center. Her Greeley Central program received a $500 runner-up award from Gillen last year.

“It’s going to help with some of our budget deficits,” she said.

In addition, Swank and the other 2011 award winners received an Automated External Defibrillator for their schools, a timely gift in the wake of recent heart-related deaths of high-school athletes in Colorado and Michigan.

The defibrillators and award money were made possible by presenting sponsor HealthONE and contributing sponsors Centennial Sales, Gold Crown Foundation, JCGC Foundation and Kroenke Sports Charities.

Aaron Lopez
Aaron J. Lopez is the primary writer for, providing behind-the-scenes content, including feature stories and video for the site. Before joining the Nuggets in 2009, he spent 15 years covering Colorado sports for the Rocky Mountain News and the Associated Press. Follow him on twitter @Lopez_Nuggets. Aaron's full bio...