CASA GRANDE — The training room at Vista Grande has a special place in Kiana Peck’s heart.

It is a place where as a student at the school, Peck spent a lot of time as a student trainer. It’s also a place where she found her calling in life as an athletic trainer.

Now the 2015 graduate has returned to her roots as the new athletic trainer at Vista Grande, and in the process, became the first female alumna to return to the school.

“It was a weird feeling at first just coming back and not being a student,” she said. “But once I got into it, I just got back into the rhythm of what I did in college and put that in practice here with all the athletes.”

As the head athletic trainer, Peck is taking over for what Stuart Minck did for so many years at Vista Grande and whom she worked under when she was a student trainer.

Minck retired in 2016 after 35 years as an athletic trainer, including 23 years in the Casa Grande Union High School District — seven of those years were spent at Vista Grande, where he mentored countless students.

“She was a great, great student trainer for me while I was there,” said Minck, who came out of retirement last year to become the head athletic trainer at Coolidge High School. “I couldn’t be more [proud] when she went to college for it and then took over for me. That was the highlight for me when she took over my old position.”

Minck recalled Peck being a real go-getter. She was someone who came into the training room and saw something that needed to be done, and she would do it.

“A lot of times she just took the incentive,” he said.

Minck started the student athletic training club when he worked at CG Union and brought it over to Vista when the school opened in 2009.

He said he has had other former student trainers say they were going to go into athletic training, but Peck is the first to actually do it.

“Not only did she follow my footsteps, but she took over my old job. That’s a cool thing,” he said.

When Peck first arrived in the training room, she had no idea what she wanted to do in life. She had seen her brother work as a student trainer at Casa Grande Union, which led her to ask Minck if he needed any extra help.

“I just kind of fell in love with it,” she said. “I knew I wanted to go into the medical field, and so this was something I could do to try and help. After the first month of working with Mr. Minck, I just fell in love with it and I decided to stick with it.”

She would spend her time as a student trainer taping ankles and providing another set of eyes on the field. After graduation, Peck went onto Grand Canyon University, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in athletic training.

“Personally I don’t like being stuck inside of a clinic or an office because I feel like that’s it and that’s all you do,” Peck said. “With this, we are in a clinic setting with an actual room, but then we go out to practices and games. We are actually traveling with our patients and going with them and going through the process and throughout their athletic career.

“I really like helping them and getting them back to playing and back to what they love.”

Peck plans to pursue a master’s degree online at A.T. Still University, which is a nonprofit, private graduate school focusing on health sciences.

In addition to her duties as an athletic trainer, Peck also teaches athletic training as part of the school’s Career Technical Education program and heads the Sports Medicine Club. The club includes seven student-athletic trainers who work under her at sporting events and practices, just like what she did with Minck.

“From what I’m seeing this should be a class,” Peck said. “For kids to have an option that if you want follow a medical career but are not sure what you want right now. For my classes, I have them as an assignment to come and do 10 hours of just pure observation and seeing what I do and seeing what my afternoons are like after school.”

Peck said there haven’t been many changes to athletic training since she was in high school. However, the biggest change she would like to see is having athletic training become a recognized health care provider among health insurance companies. It’s something she said the National Athletic Trainers’ Association is fighting to establish.

“Hopefully one day we will be recognized,” she said. “Most of the time in a high school setting, we are that first line for these kids, and sometimes we are the only medical personnel they see depending upon the family situation.”

In the meantime, Peck is getting used to her new surroundings. She said it’s still weird walking the halls as a teacher and not as a student, especially being among teachers who know her as a student.

“Some (students) think it’s cool and some want to know how Vista was when I was here (as a student),” she said. “A majority of time when the students find out that I graduated from here, they are always asking questions on how I was when I was a student here and how the teachers were.”

Peck’s return to the school also marks a turning point for the school that opened 10 years ago. It’s a school that is no longer the new school in town, but instead an established school with Peck and other former alumni returning to their roots to teach the next generation of Spartans.

“It kind of felt like coming home because this was a huge part of me and a huge decision maker for me,” she said. “So it felt like I was coming back home.”

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