Celebrating women in the MJHL | Dana Warrener

Story by Dave Anthony

Dana Warrener – Athletic Therapist, Virden Oil Capitals.

Dana Warrener is the perfect example when it comes to someone doing whatever it takes to do something they love and be a success.

The Eddystone, Manitoba product went to school in Ste Rose du Lac and says getting into athletic therapy took quite a bit of work. “There weren’t really many options. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, really. Throughout school, I loved to participate in or watch sports. Because it was a small town, I played every sport. I wasn’t the biggest fan of track and I wasn’t that great, so I kind of stayed away from that one. But I love sports. I took a lifeguarding course and fell in love with the first aid aspect. I wanted to interwind the massage and sports and first aid, that’s how I came up with athletic therapy. I just love every aspect. I just set my mind and went for it.”

That’s an understatement. Dana laid it all out on the line to end up with the Oil Caps, as she explains how she found the job and the sacrifices she made to pursue her dream. “I saw a posting within one of my organizations and I applied. I sent in an email, but I didn’t expect to even be considered. I had just quit my job at Smitty’s and then I randomly got a phone call asking if I’d come down for an interview in Virden and that they’d meet me halfway, but it happened that I was going to be there for the rodeo that weekend. So, I interviewed, and it turned out very well. Within a week, I had uprooted my whole life. It was quite crazy. I found a place, sight unseen, moved in late at night… it was a crazy time.”

Before working with the Oil Caps, Dana did do some work with other teams but in 2019 she was running her own show in Virden. She says at times, it was a bit intimidating. “I wasn’t a full-on athletic therapist yet, I was more of a sports medic. It was my first solo position, and it was a little scary. I think I was a little worried if I would be able to do it but my brother Drake kept saying to me ‘you’ve been doing it, you can do it, you’ve been doing it all through school, so you can do it’. I’ve handled some scary injuries before so what would be any different? It was a little scary at first but once I got into a groove, I relaxed a little bit, I trusted in my instincts and my education and I was able to carry it out.”

She had Drake’s support and when it came to getting advice from her parents, Dana says they didn’t really have much of a say. “I called them, I did have another potential job on the table, and I didn’t know what I should do if it was moving to Virden or staying in Winnipeg. I called them for their advice, and they told me, ‘well, from what you’re saying, it sounds like your mind is made up so I don’t really know why you’re calling’.” Dana laughs and adds, “so I made the choice and moved to Virden. They’ve always been so supportive. My brother played hockey, and no one thought that I’d end up the one in the hockey world but here we are. It’s worked out very well. I love the job and I love the team.”

“To be honest, it was always a love/hate relationship with hockey” Dana explains with a chuckle. “We always traveled for my brother and not always did I want to go to a hockey game. I was kind of forced to tag along. I never thought I’d end up with a career in hockey, but I do love the game. I’m still learning but I enjoy watching from the bench and keeping an eye on the players. It’s interesting where my life has taken me.”

The game routine has also come as Dana has gotten more comfortable on the bench. “I listen to the pre-game music just like the guys and just get into my groove. Sometimes I may dance or tap my toe but just like the guys, I have to get into a game mode. I push everything out, stay relaxed and calm, then just carry out the job.”

Getting the hands-on experience of working with injuries day in and day out is where Dana says she really found her stride. “It was great. I loved the opportunity of being able to see and recognize an injury. At first, I couldn’t treat anything, but I was able to do the basic first aid. I could sling an injury or splint it or dress a wound. Doing that was amazing for learning because I learn best by doing. It was an unbelievable thing that the Virden Oil Capitals took me on before I had my certification.”

It didn’t take long for the team to really warm up to Dana but at first, it took some getting used to. “They welcomed me with open arms. I remember at first, they were a little standoffish but that first day when all the guys got there, I stood outside the dressing room trying to catch everyone’s name but honestly, all the names went in one ear and out the other. I forgot everyone in like two seconds. I’m really bad with names. But they were so helpful. The returning guys would tell me I didn’t have to do certain things that the rookies would take care of it and I would say ‘I don’t even know who the rookies are. I’m right here, I’ll do it.’

There are two moments that really stand out for her when she really felt a part of the Oil Capitals. “There was a guy that had a helmet issue and he needed it really quick, I was able to fix it even though I had no idea how to fix the strap or put a new one in, but I managed to do it in the time he needed to get back out on the ice, and they looked back and said, ‘good job’. Another time, during camp, I had to do an ice-run and one guy cheered ‘go, Dana, your first ice walk!’ All I thought was ‘not a good time, let’s not cheer right now. They were all so welcoming, it’s been so nice. One of the best teams I’ve been a part of.”

Although she didn’t get a lot of time in year 2 of her tenure with Virden because of COVID-19, she says that it was a noticeable difference between year one and two. “I think there was a lot more trust and understanding between myself and the coach. Not that there wasn’t before but with this camp, I was on top of medical things, and he trusted I would get it done. I trusted him that he’d get the paperwork done and help me out with getting it all organized. I took on more roles without even asking and they loved it… I assume. Before I would ask them questions about how people before me did it or how they’d like it but this year, I took the bull by the horns and just ran with it, did what needed to be done.”

Another big step came with the confidence of dealing with the players. “With the guys, it was very easy. All the guys were happy I was back and of course, they were trying to get free stuff from me right away. I had to be the bad guy and say we didn’t have any till later and they would argue ‘what if I break my one stick that I brought?’ I’d have to say, well I don’t know I can’t help you.” (Dana chuckles throughout sharing the story) “They always try and get free stuff. I shut it down a little bit. They like to see how far they can push things, but you draw the line right away, then they know. We forget their kids, right? I think ‘why are you acting so silly?’ Then I remember, ‘Oh that’s right, you’re 16 (years-old) but you are 6″tall’ (more laughter follows).”

Being a role model for both young girls and boys is something Dana is quite humbled by. “I like that I’m someone that people can look up to. Male or female. I enjoy seeing that 7th skater and when it’s a little girl out there skating around or interacting with the guys, it’s amazing. Some are shy but some are billet sisters, so they were comfortable. Some would joke around just like the boys would and it’s nice to see young girls comfortable in a male-dominated area. I don’t think anyone should be scared of a male or female dominant area, if that’s the job you want to do, then go for it.”

The part of her story to this point that makes Dana the proudest of herself was having the guts to give up everything she knew in hopes of getting what she wanted. “I think picking up and moving to Virden out of almost know where that’s what I’m most proud of. I was scared, I didn’t know anybody and none of my family didn’t know anyone out here, so I was starting a whole new chapter on my own. It was really nice to see I can do it so wherever my life ends up, I know I can do it. I was really proud of myself for changing my life up to get what I’ve wanted.”

Her parents have managed to catch a number of games both in Virden and in Dauphin. “My mom likes the games, but there’s a little too much fighting for her, sometimes”, Dana describes. “She would ask if I was busy and I’d say, ‘yup, just a little bit. I gotta help so and so, organize this, and I might be able to catch you for five minutes after a game. They’re really proud of me, I know that.”

Throughout the shutdown, Dana has kept busy and will be doing some seasonal work because, as she says, “I told them that once hockey season comes back, I’ll be working for the Virden Oil Capitals.” She’s hoping it starts up on time in the fall. “It would be great to have a full season. Now that I’m certified, I can offer more to the athletes. Give them more treatment and care. I’m just excited there’s another season and I can get my name out there more and maybe I can start a clinic inside the rink, there’s a little spot in the rink I could rent but for right now, we’re just seeing where things go.”

Wherever things go from here, Dana is ready for whatever comes her way. “Life always changes so I can’t for sure say what I’m going to do down the road. I’d like to dabble being an athletic therapist in the Olympics. I do like hockey, I love where I am right now, but I’d be open to different sports at different levels. The important thing for me is I like it where I am right now. I’m happy.”