GCU athletic training graduate delivers at Amazon
Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau
GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Grand Canyon University athletic training graduate Kellie Lotshaw envisioned herself working on a football field. Instead, she works at a state-of-the-art facility the size of 14 football fields.
The Amazon injury prevention specialist logs in thousands of steps a day while on the job at the company’s new site in Goodyear, an 855,000-square-foot building touted as its first robotics fulfillment center in metro Phoenix. It’s where more than 1,500 full-time associates work alongside Amazon Robotics to pick, pack and ship smaller customer items, from books to kitchen items to headphones.
Lotshaw walks the facility floor multiple times a day to help her co-workers improve their work techniques and reduce workplace injuries as Amazon aims to cut injury rates by 50% by 2025.
“I didn’t see myself here. When I graduated from GCU, I was looking for more of a collision sport – football, mostly,” said Lotshaw, whose passion for athletic training grew from taping ankles and performing first aid on the sidelines in high school.
Like many athletic trainers, Lotshaw was an athlete herself. She dreamed of playing collegiate softball until a career-ending back injury at age 17 meant dreaming of a different future. Athletic training allowed her to remain close to the world of athletics, which she loved.
While at GCU, she worked as an athletic training graduate assistant before taking on a full-time role for GCU Club Sports’ men’s ice hockey team, where collisions were plentiful.
But as she started work on her graduate degree from GCU — her master’s is in Mental Health and Wellness with an Emphasis in Prevention — she transitioned to action sports as a certified athletic trainer at Copper Mountain Resort in Colorado. Her focus turned to working with snowboarding, skiing, skateboarding and BMX athletes.
Even then, while immersed in her graduate degree studies, she didn’t see the possibilities for athletic trainers in the corporate setting. According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about a third of those working in the field are employed in the educational setting and approximately 20% are in hospitals. Only about 3% of board-certified athletic trainers work in the corporate or industrial setting.
“When I was going to school at GCU for athletic training, my clinical rotations were at high schools and community colleges and universities. I never got to experience this aspect of it, but this is one of the emerging settings for athletic training,” Lotshaw said. “There’s a lot more opportunity for more of us to be here.”
And Lotshaw has found plenty of opportunity at Amazon, which values the knowledge of athletic trainers and requires that its injury-prevention specialists are certified in that profession.
“It’s the bare minimum requirement,” she said.
She is one of three certified athletic trainers on staff at the Goodyear facility, which opened in November. What that means to Amazon’s associates is they have access to an injury prevention specialist 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Having athletic trainers on site is just one of the ways Amazon has invested in the health and safety of its employees. The company has grown its dedicated workplace health and safety team to more than 6,200 employees and invested more than $1 billion in new safety measures in 2020.
And over the last year, the company developed a comprehensive program called WorkingWell to help reduce injuries and support employees’ wellbeing.
Lotshaw, who has been with Amazon since 2019, spends much of her day on the floor observing and speaking with associates, many times to help them tweak their work techniques. And even when she isn’t making her rounds around the facility, she’s manning the safety desk on the floor, so she and other injury prevention specialists are always accessible.
“I do at least two or three of those intentional walks where I’m interacting with associates upward of 10 to 12, sometimes 20, times a day. They’re just short interactions where I’m complimenting them on doing something safely or I’m addressing something that maybe hasn’t been addressed before,” she said.
On a recent walk of the floor, she stopped to visit with Emma Garcia at one of the facility’s stow stations. It’s where associates stow Amazon items for sale into a honeycomb-like network of yellow bins.
Lotshaw, donning a bright yellow safety vest, immediately went into injury prevention specialist mode.
“How are you doing today?” she asked Garcia, whom she observed bending at the waist to stow items in some of the lower bins. Lotshaw wanted to show her another technique to add to her arsenal: kneeling into a reverse lunge.
It might prevent back pain later down the road that could develop after repetitive bending at the waist.
“It’s good to have a wide variety of techniques,” said Lotshaw, who outside of her interactions with associates has trained fellow injury prevention specialists and built the foundation for their role in the company.
She has introduced others to the corporate side of the field, as well.
Lotshaw recently worked alongside a master’s level athletic student who did a clinical rotation at Amazon as part of the company’s Injury Prevention Specialist Fellowship program. The robotics fulfillment center in Goodyear is one of nearly 30 Amazon sites in the country participating in the program.
She also spends some of her time at the facility’s Wellness Center, where associates can visit with on-site medical representatives for preventative care or biomechanical assessments. They also can stop in for self-treatment by grabbing a foam roller or theracane for self-massage.
“This is where the magic happens,” Lotshaw said with a smile. “This is where progress gets made, obviously.”
Injury prevention specialists are called to the center to assess and treat various injuries, especially musculoskeletal injuries.
“Anything involving repetition, that’s my wheelhouse,” Lotshaw said.
What she loves about her job is whom she’s serving and the potential of her job to affect so many people.
“It allows you to use your education, not necessarily where I’m practically giving care all the time, but I’m using my education to better larger populations of people,” she said.
One day those simple interactions on the Amazon floor could lead to a companywide safety or wellness initiative that “changes a path that benefits thousands of people.”
For now, she’s happy to take time out on the floor on one of her intentional walks to check in on packer Mary Spann. Spann is zooming along at one of the facility’s conveyor belts as she packages ordered item after ordered item into those familiar Amazon cardboard boxes, complete with that familiar Amazon arrow smile logo.
It wasn’t long ago that Spann didn’t think she could continue at her job. Her back pain had become so unbearable that “I had to leave my station one day,” she said.
Then she reached out to Lotshaw: “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Kellie. I was in so much pain.”
It’s the kind of impact Lotshaw wanted to have on the football field but found in a facility the size of 14 of them.
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or a 602-639-7901.