Caren Kemner of Quincy, Ill., a former world champion volleyball player and three-time Olympian, shared her experiences on Monday, July 15, and advised parents of current athletes about training and injuries.
She spoke at the Protecting Young Athletes’ Health for the Future program at Hannibal-LaGrange University, sharing the program with Dr. Kathy Turpin, senior director of sport drug testing for Drug Free Sport.
The program was presented by the Blessing Health System and Hannibal Regional Healthcare System, which also provided booths with health-related information at HLGU’s Roland Fine Arts Building.
Kemner’s 20-year professional volleyball career has evolved into new sports-related positions. After moving back to her native Quincy, she became director of the Riverfront Athletic Association and volleyball coach at Culver-Stockton College in Canton.
However, one aspect of Kemner’s Olympian career is continuing - she will be inducted into the Volleyball Hall of Fame in Holyoke, Mass., on Oct. 18.
Kemner compared athletic training in her youth with today’s practices, noting that she got her exercise in her back yard. She participated in several sports while she attended Quincy Notre Dame High School and she played for the Quincy Jets.
She was offered a professional volleyball career at age 18, but her mother advised against it. After one year of college, she joined the US National volleyball team at age 19, and competed in the Olympics in 1988, 1992 and 1996.
It was in 1992, when the team took home the bronze, that Kemner was named best volleyball player in the world. She believes her athletic experience has made her a better coach.
Kemner reported that she was lucky, genetically, because she grew tall and strong, so she did not suffer as many injuries as some professionals. However, over the years she has required several joint surgeries, and one major calf surgery that required a year of recovery. She is still healthy but expects to someday have arthritis.
Kemner explained that In her day, medical procedures for athletic injuries were not as advanced as they are today, and athletes are returning to their sports much quicker.
Today, some parents are beginning athletic training for their children at too early an age, Kemner believes, and “it leads them to potential injuries. Kids work harder and work on quantity, not quality.” This is the opposite of current professional athletes’ schedule, she said, which now focuses on quality, not quantity.
She encourages parents to make sound decisions about athletic competition. “Lots of things have changed,” Kemner said. “We are so sports-hungry.”
Regarding the age to start sports training, she said ages 8 to 10 is the youngest she would recommend for organized sports, and “for anybody under age 10, make sure you enjoy it.”
Page 2 of 2 - Her goal is for parents remember, “it’s a game.”
energy drinks, Turpin advises
After explaining that her company does drug testing for 14 organizations, Turpin presented some statistics. Athletes as young as junior high age are using performance-enhancing drugs at an alarming rate, and this continues through their teens and college careers, she said.
Turpin said a recent survey showed 17.4 percent of junior high students had used anabolic steroids, 39.3 percent of high school students, 16.4 percent of college freshmen and 27 percent of older college students. These can be taken orally, in creams and gels, as supplements and injectables, she reported.
In addition to these steroids, student athletes also use prescription drugs, energy drinks and other dietary supplements, all of which may be harmful to their health, she said. Supplements, energy drinks and vitamins can be purchased by people of all ages, at retail businesses, she said.
Vitamins, herbs and supplements may be harmful, she added. “Most are not federally regulated. We don’t know if they are effective and most are not effective. They are not proven safe.”
She noted the difference between sports drinks, which are good for you, and energy drinks, which she said are bad, adding that she believes that in the future “caffeine is going to be a major problem.” It is not harmful to have 200 to 300 MG of caffeine a day, she said, but 500 to 600 MGs is harmful.
One type of Rockstar drink has as much caffeine as eight cans of Coca-Cola or 4.5 pounds of milk chocolate, she reported.
Parents need to be aware of what their children are using and should never be persuaded to provide them supplements to gain weight and compete in a sport, she advised.
“It’s all the pressure,” she said. They think “I have to get my kids the supplements - everyone else is doing it.”
Parents need to realize, “there is no magic pill, no quick fix,” she said, adding that eating a diet with lots of protein and other nourishing food is the best way to prepare for athletics.