On Friday, Madison Southern athletic trainer Shawnda Ebert, bid farewell to the school and sports teams she has served since 2017.
She isn’t retiring and will not be taking a position at another school.
Ebert’s work will not cease at all.
It will just change.
Ebert’s departure from Madison Southern will only be temporary as she will be serving on deployment as part of her duties with the Navy Reserves.
Ebert, a chief petty officer, will be deployed oversees in Bahrain for approximately one year as she serves our country.
In her 15 years serving in the military, it will be Ebert’s longest deployment, but the chief petty officer said she is ready to answer the call.
Even if the student-athletes at Madison Southern are not ready to let her go.
“The juniors are struggling with this. I won’t be here when they graduate. Some of the student-athletes have had some major issues,” Ebert said last week. “That really caught them off guard. Some of them have broke down and cried on me. I’ve been with juniors all way through and it’s tough.”
While Ebert sympathizes with the athletes, she has laughed at some of their methods to convince her stay.
“A few have tried to get a petition together to not let me go. One has threatened to break my legs, in a friendly manner, of course. It’s all in jest, but I’ve been really grateful and proud to know that they will miss me that much and that I’ve made an impact on them,” Ebert said.
The athletic trainer said she knew it would come as a surprise to some the coaches and athletes and waited to tell some teams the news of her deployment.
“I got the call basically right before school started,” Ebert explained. “In the military, you are always going to have that possibility. It is a job. At that point you have to shift your mindset and start preparing for that. When they call you to do it you have to do it… I wanted to tell the teams personally, when I felt it was the right time. I didn’t want them to find out through an e-mail.”
Ebert said, aside from telling her nine-year-old daughter, breaking the news to her Eagles has been the hardest part.
The athletic trainer said she has grown very close to many of the students at her school, where she has become a trusted figure and support system for many.
“This school is very family-oriented. Everyone always ask me if I am going to have more kids. I always tell them I got about 200-something kids and I treat them as such because they do turn into your family. It’s to the point where I spend more time with them than my own family,” Ebert explained.
As an athletic trainer, Ebert works year-round with Madison Southern athletes and has been there through some difficult times.
A constance presence on the sidelines and at the school, Ebert has made sure she puts her all into her work with the student-athletes at Southern.
She even has cot in her office, where she has been known to sleep after especially long days.
Ebert has become known throughout the student body as a no-nonsense, but caring trainer that doesn’t mince words.
“I call a spade a spade. I’m not going to lie to you. I don’t want you to lie to me. You have to be up front with them. I’m going to joke around and pick at you and we are going to have fun, but I’m also serious about the work that needs to be done. It you don’t have that bond and you don’t have that trust you they aren’t going to listen to you,” Ebert said of her approach.
The kids have made it worth it, though, Ebert explained.
“That’s the best aspect of the job, the bond and relationship you get from that. My job is not necessarily straight rehab. A lot of times, students will come in and just want to talk. They blow off steam. Knowing that they trust you like that and they need you to just be a listening ear or shoulder to cry on, it’s very rewarding,” Ebert explained.
It also makes saying goodbye even harder.
“Getting too attached, that is the hardest thing you do in this job. Walking out the door and leaving work at work. There are sometimes like if a student-athlete has a concussion, I go home and I always worry about them at night. I stay awake and think about them. You always question is there more that you could do,” she explained.
However, the rewards are great.
“The best part is seeing the student athletes reach their goals. Especially if they have had to come back from an injury. That’s there life and some have to fight off depression because the injury prevents them from playing. Getting them back on the floor or the field for the first time and seeing the smile on their faces. You can’t top that,” Ebert said.
However, the athletic trainer has just a few weeks to switch gears and get ready to serve in a different way.
“It’s a different mindset you have to have,” Ebert said of being deployed. “Once you’re gone, you can’t worry about what’s happening over here. The problem I’ve been having is letting go. I’ve been backing off so that TJ can build his spot within the school. I hand-picked him and he has done great. We are in a very good spot. The kids love him. He has hit the ground running.”
Ebert will be putting her athletic training aside when she steps foot in Bahrain, where she is serves in logistics.
“I do two completely different things,” the chief petty officer said of her military and civilian responsibilities. “I have nothing to do with healthcare in the military and on the civilian side I have nothing to do with logistics.”
“Don’t ask me why,” she added with a laugh.
Ebert has served in the military since December 2004, joining shortly after her husband, Richmond Police Chief James Ebert.
It was something she always wanted to do, even though others have frowned upon her service, Ebert said it has never stopped her from striving to be the best at what she does.
“My family is from Italy, and there females don’t join the military. It’s kind of looked down on to even have that thought. I got married and I was finally on my own and I decided to do it,” Ebert explained.
Ebert quickly rose through the ranks, with her husband supporting her decisions along the way.
“He is so supportive. He doesn’t try to guide my path or anything. It’s mine and its up to me. I’ve had success where he hasn’t. I’m a chief petty officer in the Navy. I picked that up in seven years. That’s kind of unheard of. It usually takes 12 to 14 years to do that. That is something my husband never got. He never had the opportunity to be a Chief,” Ebert explained.
Her success is not always appreciated, however.
Ebert recalled a time when she was at military funeral and an older gentleman took offense to seeing a woman in uniform.
“He really struggled seeing me in uniform and especially as a Chief. That was something that wasn’t seen back in his day. He approached me after the funeral and we started talking and he told me his belief that females shouldn’t be in the military and that their place was at home. I sat there and nodded my head and took it in. I have a way circumventing things and we started talking about families. He said he had three boys and he told me about what they did and every parent is proud of their kids and he was happy to talk about them. I asked if any of his boys served in the military and he told me no. I then looked at him and said, 'Well sir, that’s why i’m here. I had to take their spot,’” Ebert recalled with a laugh.
The officer has strong feelings about military service and said she is proud to be a female officer and praised the selflessness of others who have served.
“People don’t realize. It’s a strictly volunteer service. You have to have people come up and raise their hand and agree to do this. We wouldn’t be where we are today if we didn’t have people willing to step up. There is no reason why women can’t be in the military and can’t be leaders. We do a dang good job of it as well. Females are now allowed on subs and go into combat. I’m of the belief that you are the only one that can hold you back,” Ebert said.
The officer will celebrate her birthday the day she gets to Bahrain as she knows she will be missing other important events throughout the year away from home.
She said she hopes life will continue on without her smoothly in the states.
After all, the people here is why she serves.
Ebert said she hopes her daughter, Katarina, will cope well with her being gone for a year.
“She is kind of bitter with me, right now,” Ebert acknowledged with a deep sigh. “Keeping her engaged through this has been a top priority for. She wants to push it aside, but it is still going to happen. I bring it up everyday. I’m trying to do all I can to make it easier. We have a cork board and it’s going to be a brag board. She will put up pictures or good grades or anything great she has done, so I can see it when I come back. We’ve also made two clocks of her time and the other is mommy’s time.”
There is an eight hour difference between Kentucky and Bahrain, the officer explained.
“That’s going to make it hard to communicate. I’ll probably be getting up at two in the morning so I can talk to her. I just want her to have a routine and schedule down and be happy while I’m gone. The quicker I can leave, the quicker I can get back,” Ebert explained.
While the deployment may be tough, Ebert said she continues to re-enlist every two years because she enjoys serving and the opportunities and bonds the military has brought her.
“I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had opportunities to travel and meet different people and be involved in different organizations. If it wasn’t for the military I wouldn’t have those opportunities and meet the people I have. It’s about being a part of something bigger than what your are.. It’s not about you, there is something beyond you. It is a brotherhood and sisterhood. I love having brothers and sisters worldwide, no matter where we go,” Ebert explained. “When I get to Bahrain, I will get a big hug and a ‘welcome, sis,’ from my brothers and sisters there. Then I will get to come back to my other family.”