Unforgettable Wembley night tops off graduand Sara's time at Bucks
A front-row seat as a sports therapist at Wembley for one of the greatest nights in Wycombe Wanderers' history was the icing on the cake for Buckinghamshire New University student Sara Waterton as she completed her degree.
Sara, 24, a fan of the club, studying BSc (Hons) Sports Therapy, was among the team of people providing support to the squad as Wycombe beat Oxford United 2-1 in their Sky Bet League One Play-Off to gain promotion to the second tier of English football, broadcast on Sky Sports.
The proud graduand had volunteered at the club for more than two years on a clinical placement, and said she hoped her time working with the squad, and that special night at Wembley, will stand her in good stead as she embarks on her career.
She said: "Working with Wycombe Wanderers has really capped my university experience, topped off by being pitchside at Wembley and joining in the celebrations afterwards.
"I’ve gained so much knowledge and met some incredible and inspiring people. The club is special and Gaffer, as manager Gareth Ainsworth is known, has made it all such a welcoming atmosphere.
"It is a big family, which I was welcomed in to and made to feel part of the team."
As part of her degree, Sara was required to complete at least 250 hours hands-on experience with a sports club as a clinical placement, and having approached Wycombe Wanderers was delighted the club took her on.
Her role has involved preparing the players before during and after a game, home and away, including soft tissue sports massages, stretching techniques, and advice on injury prevention to support any rehabilitation exercises.
"I have been helping prepare the athletes both physically and psychologically with the use of the Sports Therapy techniques I have been learning at Bucks," she added.
Sara said she enjoyed plenty of other highlights working with the Chairboys, as well as being at Wembley for the Play-off Final. She said she was made to feel a part of the team, to the extent she was also invited to participate in club rituals.
Sara added: "I am a Wycombe Wanderers fan and was able to travel to the away games. I was one of the first students that had the opportunity to experience this - but it did come with a small price.
"In football they have initiations where you have to stand up and sing completely acapella (I sang Say My Name by Destiny's Child) and answer questions about yourself. It’s all light-hearted fun but was extremely nerve-wracking."
Recalling the Play-off Final, she said the experience was 'amazing'.
"The build up to Wembley was crazy," she said.
"There was a mix of emotion, as everyone was excited but there was also an unspoken atmosphere that there remained work to be done and it wasn’t over yet.
"As soon as we got to the stadium everyone was in complete focus mode. But no matter what the outcome the boys were extremely proud to have made it where we were. This is something that will go down in history.
"Before the game started we all had a group huddle in the changing room. Gaffer had written a quote on the board and said for us all to read it out at the same time so that we all remembered this moment. We were one big family. Emotions were high.
"During the game I was sat with the substitutes, and the whole time we were on the edge of our seats, knowing my partner and my family were all at home watching and supporting the Chairboys.
"As soon as the final whistle blew we all ran on to the pitch. There was laughing, crying, so many emotions, but Wycombe Wanderers had made it in to The Championship!
"The celebrations started, the champagne flowed like water, and Gaffer was drenched. We partied in to the early morning and it was an unforgettable experience."
Sara's dream is to now start a career in a sports team or sports environment and work her way up.
"I will continue to develop myself by going on CPD courses," she added. "And hopefully it won’t be long until you see me on TV again!"
Neal Reynolds, Senior Lecturer in Sports Therapy and a physiotherapist with the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS) at Bucks, said Sara's experience was a 'great example' of the types of placement opportunities offered at Bucks.
He added: "Clinical placements are a vital part of our Sports Therapy course and are essential for students to learn and develop skills in 'real life' situations.
"As demonstrated with Sara's experiences, you never know where it will take you if you volunteer for placements.
"Sara has been part of a special occasion within football that many qualified clinicians never have the chance to experience, by attending a game at Wembley, the national football stadium, and also being on the winning side in a Play-Off Final.”