Motherly love: Craig's Alli Calkins shares unique bond with mother, Kathy
JANESVILLE—On a typical day at Janesville Craig High School, when the final bell rings at 3:20 p.m., one can expect to find Alli Calkins in the trainer's room.
The Cougars' three-sport standout athlete might even be there a few minutes early if she's to board a bus to a road game or meet.
Despite the grueling, yearlong schedule, however, Calkins usually isn't there to receive treatment or tape up an ankle.
She's there to see Mom. To perhaps grab a healthy after-school snack. To share a brief visit during their all-too-hectic schedules.
Kathy Calkins is nearing a quarter century as Craig's athletic trainer. She's seen nearly two dozen classes of students come and go, programs suffer through agonizing rebuilding years as well as relish state-tournament runs, and now her oldest daughter grow into a potential three-year state track and field qualifier and 11-time Cougars letterwinner between basketball, volleyball and track.
“Every day before practice I'm here,” Alli Calkins said in the training room Thursday before track practice. “She might have a snack for me or bring something from home if I forgot it, and I can take some time before practice.
“She's so much more than convenient, but it's definitely nice to have her around.”
• • •
Athletic training made far too much sense for Kathy Calkins not to pursue it.
A two-sport athlete at Iowa-Grant High School—humbly claiming she was an average basketball and softball player—she wanted to go into a medical field.
“This was kind of the best of both worlds,” she said.
She took over as an athletic trainer at Janesville schools nearly 24 years ago.
Calkins is employed by Mercy Sports Medicine, which has a contract that now includes having a trainer at both Parker and Craig. She spends part of her week working in the clinic, but the majority of her schedule is spent working outreach with Cougars athletic programs, as well as the Janesville Jets junior hockey team.
Calkins stepped away from the training job briefly in the 1990s, opting to work full-time in the clinic while focusing on her family—which includes husband, Ty; Alli; and youngest daughter, Erin.
“I'm not really a straight clinic type of person,” she said. “I really missed being out here. Two years later, when the person who took the job from me left, I said, 'I want it back.'”
Calkins consults with athletes that play in any WIAA-sanctioned sport, as well as Janesville's co-op lacrosse team. Athletes come to the training room late in the school day or immediately after school to receive treatment, get taped up before a game or to rehab injuries.
“We call her 'The Doc,'” Craig girls basketball coach Kerry Storbakken said. “It's just great to have her around. You can work on what you do best as a coach, and she takes care of the injuries and get the girls ready to play.”
The contract stipulates that Calkins be in attendance of games or meets for football, basketball, soccer, wrestling, track and field, and gymnastics.
“Hopefully we're eliminating some doctor's visits that are perhaps unnecessary,” she said. “We're catching things before they get more serious. My job is to act as a go-between for the athlete and coach or athlete and parent or coach and parent.
“Sometimes they don't see eye to eye. My job is to just communicate between the three.”
• • •
The question was never whether Alli Calkins would play three sports in high school. It was always, which three?
Ty—who played college baseball at Iowa State—and Kathy got her started in soccer and gymnastics at age 3. Alli attempted just about every sport at some point growing up. Being scared of the ball kept her from finding success on the softball diamond, she admits to never being great at golf or tennis, and a growth spurt essentially ended a potentially solid gymnastics career in seventh grade.
“When I got to high school, I picked the (sports) I was decent at, and they happened to be in the three different seasons,” Alli Calkins said. “I never thought about specializing. If you're able to play three sports in high school, you might as well.
“I would get bored if I did just one sport.”
She was a four-year letterwinner in volleyball, where she was an honorable mention all-Big Eight honoree as a sophomore and junior. Calkins led the team in blocks and kills the past two seasons and was a captain this year.
In basketball, Calkins was a three-year starter who helped the Cougars to one of their most successful seasons in program history in her final year. She averaged a little more than eight points and was the lone senior.
“She's a three-sport athlete, which doesn't happen that often anymore with boys or girls,” Storbakken said. “What a phenomenal kid, and she can jump out of the gym.
“She didn't score a ton of points, but she did so much more with rebounds and athleticism and defense. We're going to miss her quite a bit.”
Calkins thought her future would include collegiate basketball, but she has flourished in track and field.
An elite jumper, she finished fourth in the triple jump at the WIAA state meet as a sophomore and eighth a year ago. She was 10th in the long jump as a sophomore.
“Anything you ask her to do, she'll do,” Craig girls track and field coach Brad Troeger said. “The kids like to be around her because she's real encouraging. She was a team captain in every sport, so that says a lot about her.”
Calkins hopes to close out her career with another state berth in a couple of weeks.
“My marks haven't been as good this year, so it's a little bit stressful, but I definitely want to go back to state,” Calkins said. “I've developed and strengthened a lot of friendships this year. It's been fun, after waiting my turn, finally getting to be the leader.”
• • •
The past four years have been somewhat of a mother-daughter balancing act.
Alli has worked through both the stress of preparing her body for each specific sport while keeping up with academics amid her hectic sports and extracurricular schedule.
“It's completely different muscle groups for each sport, so I'm pretty sore the first few weeks of each season. Mom stretches me out and tells me to use ice, and we get through it,” she said. “Keeping my academics up has been the hardest this year. I've learned a lot of time management skills.”
Mom suffers through the stress, too.
Kathy Calkins has long felt a sense of ownership for the Craig teams she works with, and she wants them to do well. That feeling is only intensified if Alli is on the roster.
And then there are the busy nights when Kathy is forced to miss one of Alli's games if the job calls for her to be at another event.
“It's a challenge, and certainly having Ty be supportive is huge in making it work,” Kathy Calkins said. “But there's a lot of parents with second-shift jobs that don't always get to see their kids play. Yeah, I miss some things, but the nice part is that I get to see her every day.”
Of course, that, too, can be an effort of balance, given the nature of teenagers' relationships with their parents.
Kathy said Alli adjusted after a freshman year when she “hoped no one knew we were related.” But Alli insists she never saw having her mom constantly at school as an issue.
“We've had a few of those days where I choose not to stop down, but most days we're on good terms by 3:20,” Alli said. “I think my close friends (think of her as a second mom). I joke that she's better friends with some of the senior class than I am.”
• • •
Now Alli Calkins is preparing for a major adjustment.
After spending four years working at three different sports, she has signed to compete in track and field for Minnesota State University-Mankato.
“I figured track was where I would get the opportunity to compete at the highest level and go the farthest,” she said. “I liked the coaches, liked the campus, liked everything about their program and what it stood for. They have a good biology program, and it just was a good fit all around.”
Mom won't be around on a daily basis anymore, but Alli will take the lessons she's learned with her, such as eating healthy and wearing the proper footwear.
For Kathy, the journey will start all over again as Erin arrives at Craig for her freshman year. The youngest Calkins sister will keep her schedule busy by starting out running cross country and playing basketball and softball.
“She likes music, too, and it's a little hard to do both, but we'll see,” Kathy Calkins said. “My stress level is significanly higher when I'm watching a sport that they're participating in. It does increase my stress level.
“But that's why I'm back in it. I really have the best job. I get to work and watch my kids.”