/

Iso’s incredible journey takes her back to Super Bowl

by Kaz Nagatsuka

The NFL powerhouse Pittsburgh Steelers have been there and done that.

So has Ariko Iso.

The 38-year-old Tokyo native, who works for the five-time NFL champions as an athletic trainer, is in the midst of her second Super Bowl experience in her seventh season with the team.

But like some of the players that went through the Steelers’ last title during the 2005 season, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the team’s second Super Bowl week in four years is a different one for Iso.

“I surely enjoyed the last one,” Iso said at the University of South Florida campus, where Pittsburgh practiced on Thursday. “But I didn’t really realize the number of the media and that the scale of the game was different from ordinary ones. So I was kind of nervous while enjoying the moments.

“Now a once-in-a-lifetime chance is happening for the second time to me. I’ve been having fun seeing my friends and with the Media Day with our players. I think I’m a bit more relaxed than in Detroit (in Super Bowl XL).”

As for the physical condition of the AFC champion Steelers, who are seeking their sixth title in Super Bowl XLIII, against the NFC champ Arizona Cardinals, Iso explained that the team is in pretty good shape and is feeling comfortable for Sunday’s extravaganza.

“This is the 22nd week of the season, and in terms of injuries and fatigue the players’ conditions are different from Week 1,” she said.

“But we had a bye week and also a week off last week as well, and although toward the end of the season everyone had some kind of injuries, we’re now in good shape and don’t have serious injuries except for Hines Ward (who hurt his right knee in the AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens two weeks ago). So in terms of that, we’re so lucky.”

Aso became the first full-time female trainer in the NFL when the Steelers hired her in 2002.

Asked if there are any obstacles to being a female or foreign athletic trainer, Iso, who had previously worked as athletic trainer for the football team at Portland State University, said that she is rather blessed to be a part of the Steelers organization and has not seen many bumps along the way.

“The ballclub offers a great support system to us, and two of my colleagues — head athletic trainer John Norwig and her fellow assistant Ryan Grove — always help me and together, including our interns, we’re managing our jobs,” said Iso, whose parents are flying in from Tokyo to see Sunday’s game.

“Also, I’ve been with this team for seven years, and I’ve always felt we’re receiving a great deal of support from our owner (Dan Rooney), coaches and general manager. So I’ve not really experienced inconvenience.”

Meanwhile, Iso said that she feels rewarded when the players thank her for her efforts and say she is helpful to them.

“I think that it pays off to have been continuing this job,” she said with a smile.