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Denise Marshall sat in the office of her adviser at Hastings College nearly 15 years ago clueless about what to do with her life.

It was at that point that her adviser recommended combining the two things Marshall seemed to enjoy the most - sports and medicine.

After a year of hating her new career choice, it was working hands-on with athletes and coaches that changed her whole attitude.

More than a decade later, Marshall is in her 12th year as an athletic trainer in Columbus, her first job since receiving a masters at the University of Nebraska - Omaha. 

Her work was recognized June 6 and 7 in North Platte when she won the George F. Sullivan Athletic Trainer of the Year Award. 

"I was really surprised when I found out I got nominated," Marshall said. "There's just so many great athletic trainers in the state of Nebraska. To be the one that is athletic trainer of the year is so humbling and exciting. Getting a reward for a job you do every day, and it's just what you do. To see people recognize you is quite an amazing."

The award is give by the Nebraska State Athletic Trainers' Association to athletic trainers who have gone above and beyond promoting and improving the profession of athletic training. It's named after a former head athletic trainer at Nebraska who was seen as a pioneer in the filed of athletic training. 

Marshall found out she was nominated for the award at the beginning of May. Less than a month later, she received a phone call informing her she had won.

Marshall is on a staff at Columbus Community Hospital that provides athletic training services to the three Columbus high schools as well as Central Community College and several other high schools in the surrounding area. 

The award was presented by her colleague Mike Sloup. 

"When you get to the meeting and Mike Sloup was my presenter and was presenting and when he starts talking, you get to understand how prestigious this award is in the state of Nebraska among athletic trainers," Marshall said.

"That's when it hit me that it was like, 'Wow, you are, this year, the best in the state out of all our athletic trainers, and the membership and your colleague and peers think that as well.' That's just a very humbling and exciting experience to be a part of that group." 

Sloup and Marshall have a special relationship that goes back to Marshall's time in Omaha. Sloup chased her down after a meeting to let her know that she needed to apply for an opening in Columbus.

Her and Sloup had worked together at various NSAA championship events, particularly state wrestling where she got to know Sloup and Rob, her husband who was inducted into the NSATA Hall of Fame in 2015. 

Initially she wasn't sure that high school and junior college athletics was the right fit for her. More than a decade later she's found her home.

She finds fulfillment working with young athletes "trying to get them back on the field or the court and getting them back to what they love to do." 

It's a process she said can be both scary and exciting. That can also be said about her start in Columbus. 

"I was scared about (taking a job in Columbus) because I thought I wanted to be at the college setting and that's what I was going for. But I applied here at Columbus and they offered me the job. I said, 'Well it's a start, I'll start here. You have to start somewhere,'" she said.

"I was looking around and going to move on. Now I'm going to stay here. It's perfect and fits our life very well. I wouldn't change it for anything. 

Nate Tenopir and Peter Huguenin are the sports editor and sports reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach them via email at sports@columbustelegram.com 

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