Michael Lawler ’77: Athletic trainer lives his dream

As a senior athletic trainer at the University of Iowa, Michael Lawler ’77 has worked with elite athletes and traveled the world with teams for over 28 years. Before he made his career at Iowa, however, he helped create an athletic training program at Cornell College as a student. 

Michael Lawler '77It began when he switched from a pre-med track to take advantage of Cornell’s bachelor of special studies, or B.S.S., degree to pursue a passion for athletic training. 

“I switched my major to health and physical education, and that’s where I blossomed,” he says.

Lawler is believed to be the first student athletic trainer at Cornell. Today there are three full-time staff and 16 student staff in the college’s athletic training program.

His mentor and advisor—the person who launched his career—was the late wrestling coach Merle Masonholder.

“There was a small athletic training room down in the basement of the Field House that I helped set up. I was always in there for practices for football and other sports, and Coach Masonholder oversaw what I did. He would look at the athletes along with me,” Lawler recalls.

Lawler says he was grateful to be on campus with legendary coaches such as Masonholder, Jerry Clark (football), and Paul Maaske (men’s basketball).

“When you’re around great people, you can’t help but learn from them,” Lawler says. “They helped shape who I am. Coach Maaske was so personable and so friendly and yet dedicated to his sport. Coach Clark wasn’t a hard-driving coach, just a player’s coach; friendly and very successful.”

Postgraduation Lawler pursued his master’s degree in teaching, health, and physical education and taught in New Jersey for seven years. Then the Clinton, Iowa, native landed at the University of Iowa as a graduate assistant and doctoral student in exercise science. In 1992, he was offered an athletic trainer position and took the job, forgoing the completion of his doctorate. He never regretted the decision.

“There are days I’m walking to work and I have to pinch myself. I can’t believe I get to do this,” he says.

As the athletic trainer for the cheerleaders and dance team (and the Herky mascot), he’s had the opportunity to attend three bowl games, and says taking his wife, Ginny, to the Rose Bowl was unforgettable. Lawler, who also supervises the medical care of the gymnasts and swimmers and divers (programs which were mostly cut at the onset of COVID-19), is associate director of the athletic training rooms in the Field House and the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center Natatorium, and instructs athletic training students.

He enjoys that athletic training allows him to have a hand in the medical field while being associated with athletics, and says his work with Big Ten athletes is rewarding because they are highly motivated to get back to competition. 

Lawler’s personal stress reliever is cycling, and he has taken over directing Cornell’s RamBRAI team, a group of riders who reunite each year for RAGBRAI (The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa). His work has kept him from attending Homecomings, and RamBRAI has given him a renewed connection to the college that gave him his start.