A Jumbo of an Athletic Trainer
When Chris Mikulski gruesomely dislocated his knee on the football field at Williams College in 1994, Tufts athletic trainer Mark Doughtie was the first on the scene. He comforted Mikulski and helped stabilize the dislocated joint.
Doughtie was by Mikulski’s side through an equally excruciating rehabilitation period. Mikulski nearly lost his leg due to the injury. In order to restore the range of motion in the leg, parts of the rehabilitation were so painful that Mikulski’s screams startled others in the sports medicine office. From that point on, Doughtie met him very early in the morning to do their work in private.
Incredibly, Mikulski resumed his athletic career just six months later, when he played in a baseball game for Tufts. He was honored with the Eastern College Athletic Conference’s Award of Valor that year, recognizing the grueling work he put in to recover. He knows neither of those accomplishments would have happened without Mark Doughtie.
“He pushed me hard to get into the training room and do the work,” says Mikulski, A95, now a software sales rep for IBM. “He made an extra effort to help me, driving in from his home in Stoughton to meet me early in the morning. Mark is more than just a trainer. I consider him a great friend.”
Hired in 1978, Doughtie is now in his 36th year at Tufts, and will retire at the end of the academic year. Whether it was an injury with the severity of a knee dislocation or something as simple as a blister, Doughtie has taken good care of thousands of kids who have come through Tufts.
“Mark is someone who truly loves helping student-athletes,” says Nick Mitropoulos, director of sports medicine at Tufts.
Doughtie was recognized for selfless acts long before he arrived at the university. Following in the footsteps of his older brother John, who was a Special Forces medic, Doughtie volunteered for service in Vietnam. In 1968, he was honored with a Bronze Star for helping to secure a landing zone for a medevac helicopter during an enemy attack. The helicopter was able to land and rescue wounded soldiers.
After five months in Vietnam, he injured his knee and was sent home.
“There were times when you sit there and go, why did I volunteer for this?” Doughtie says. “I’m glad I did it. I’m honored and grateful for serving my country. Have been, always will be.”
Doughtie originally wanted to be a football coach. At Holliston (Mass.) High School, he was a football tri-captain and MVP of the baseball team. After serving in Vietnam, he finished a year at Dean Junior College and then transferred to UMass, where he pursued a B.S. in physical education and health. A course in athletic training shifted his focus.
“It was a way to stay connected to athletics, and it was a way to help kids,” he says.
Through a Holliston connection, Doughtie was hired for an apprenticeship at Boston College for the 1973–74 year. That led to his first full-time job at Boston State College, from 1974 to 1978. When a position at Tufts opened, Mary Barrett, an assistant athletic director at Boston State, recommended him to her friend and colleague Rocky Carzo, then athletics director for the Jumbos.
Just a few months into his tenure at Tufts, Doughtie would show his value. At the homecoming game in October 1978, standout linebacker Jim Ford dislocated the fourth vertebra in his neck trying to make a tackle. He had wrenched his spinal cord and lay motionless on the field. With a quick response from Doughtie and Stuart Belkin, an orthopedic surgeon on staff at Tufts, Ford was stabilized and taken to the hospital.
At the time of the injury, it was feared that Ford would be a quadriplegic. He recovered and spent more than a year and a half in intense rehabilitation with Doughtie. Today Ford, A80, M87, is an orthopedic surgeon. Though Doughtie won’t take credit for the recoveries of Ford and Mikulski, he uses both situations as hopeful messages to injured athletes.
“Those were two devastating injuries,” he says. “Sprained ankles, routine ACLs (anterior cruciate ligament) pale in comparison to those two. It’s proof that sometimes kids do get better. That’s why I always tell kids you can’t compare your injury to somebody else’s injury. They’re all different.”
Though helping all Tufts’ student-athletes has always been his greatest pride, Doughtie especially relishes the 2010 men’s lacrosse team NCAA championship season. After more than 30 years in the business, it was the ultimate reward for the hard work an athletic trainer does behind the scenes.
“We like winning as much as coaches and the kids do,” Doughtie says. “We work hard during the week to get kids ready to play. When you see them compete, see them succeed, it’s rewarding. Athletic trainers love to be associated with championship teams.”
As he found out again this fall, the love is reciprocated. Back in the 1990s, Doughtie helped two-year football captain Greg Altman, A97, G02, rehab from three surgeries following an ACL injury. During those trials, Doughtie shared personal experiences that Altman says taught him valuable lessons about life. Last fall, the director’s office in the new sports medicine suite of the Steve Tisch Sports and Fitness Center was dedicated in honor of Doughtie, with a generous donation made by Altman.
Their time together motivated Altman, a research assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Tufts, to take up a career developing and commercializing the medical technology for bioengineered replacements of human tissue, such as the rotator cuff tendon and the anterior cruciate ligament of the knee.
“The special thing about the experience was that I was not special,” Altman says. “Over Mark’s 30-plus years of service to the university, I know he mentored hundreds of student-athletes. It is an honor to recognize him, and the entire training staff at Tufts, for those countless, selfless contributions to the Tufts community.”
After he retires, Doughtie plans to spend more time on Cape Cod, golfing, fishing and enjoying retirement with his wife, Rita. He says he will miss the kids at Tufts. “I’ve said this for 36 years, but I truly believe we have the best kids in the New England Small College Athletic Conference,” he says. “I’m always asked, how do you stay at one spot so long? And I always tell them it’s the kids.”
Tufts Sports Information Director Paul Sweeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.