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UD grad trainer for Indiana Pacers
UD grad Carl Eaton (second from right) is a physical therapist/athletic trainer with the NBA's Indiana Pacers

Physical therapy grad helps Indiana Pacers stay healthy

Photo courtesy of Carl Eaton

Carl Eaton says UD does a “great job” of preparing students

Athletic trainers and physical therapists prepare (and repair) athletes for the challenges of sports competition. For University of Delaware physical therapy alumnus Carl Eaton, his tall task is to ready his team to compete against some of the greatest athletes in the world — NBA basketball players.

For the past dozen years, Eaton has manned the sidelines for the NBA’s Indiana Pacers. As perennial playoff contenders, the Pacers’ players are taxed beyond an already brutal 82-game season, which means the skilled hands and mind of an elite sports medicine professional become even more valuable. But Eaton asserts that playoff basketball is actually refreshing.

“Playoff runs are a rejuvenating experience. This is why you play!” said Eaton, the team’s associate head athletic trainer/physical therapist. “With so many games in the regular season, lack of rest and sleep issues are always a challenge. In playoff series, you’re dealing with a totally different schedule, which presents different challenges. For example, the rotation shrinks; fewer guys are playing, which makes keeping those guys ready a priority.”

After years of deep runs in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Pacers first-round exit to the mighty Cleveland Cavaliers in the spring of 2017 was tough to swallow. But Eaton and the team went right back to work. The athletic training staff had plenty to do before the 2017-2018 campaign tips off. After the draft, the NBA Summer League is held, which gave the Pacers’ up-and-coming, young players a taste of the NBA. To ready themselves for the NBA grind, these new Pacers lean on the team’s sports medicine staff. Eaton points to nutrition as something that many young players need serious schooling on.

“Many young players come from strong college programs, but may have only been there a year,” Eaton said. “Until now, nobody in their lives may have talked to them about nutrition.”

Long before professional sports, Eaton was in the athletic training program at Division II Lock Haven University with an eye on physical therapy school. He met with Paul Mettler, then UD’s director of the Physical Therapy Program. He loved Mettler’s philosophy and applied to UD — twice. Persistence paid off and Eaton was accepted in 1999.

Before the Delaware Physical Therapy Clinic’s current home on spacious STAR Campus, it lived in the ground floor of McKinly Lab on Delaware Avenue, which Eaton described as a very “intimate” setting.

“It was a small class — less than 30. We were very close to each other and to our professors,” said Eaton, a 2001 graduate.

When choosing an area of focus, Eaton zeroed in on orthopedics, learning a great deal under the tutelage of Lynn Snyder-Mackler. With a goal of keeping his hand in athletics, he worked for veteran physical therapist Paul Schweizer, the UD lacrosse team and in a clinical outpatient orthopedic setting.

“The University of Delaware does a great job of getting you ready to do anything you want,” Eaton said.

While Eaton was working in California, a job opened on the Pacers’ sports medicine staff. Snyder-Mackler recommended Carl to the Pacers’ Dan Dyrek, a Pacers’ PT who orchestrated Larry Bird’s rehabilitation during his Hall of Fame career with the Boston Celtics. The Pacers hired Eaton and he’s made Indianapolis his home ever since.  

“The Pacers sports medicine staff is incredible,” Eaton said. “I’d put us up against anybody in the world.”


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