It’s 1 a.m. on May 10, 2017.
And all is deathly quiet inside Ashley Baker-Tatum’s Spanaway home.
Except for the sobbing.
Baker-Tatum has just returned from Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia; at 3 a.m. the previous morning, May 9, her father had suffered a stroke. Baker-Tatum would arrive at the hospital four hours later at 7 a.m. and not return home until 1 a.m. the next morning.
By the time she returns after her 18-hour hospital vigil, the strain of her father’s emergency and the resulting turmoil is too much: The weight flattens her like a car tire crushing a leaf. She climbs the stairs to her bedroom, cuddles with Miami, her German-Australian Shepherd, and fitfully cries, trying not to awaken her three children sleeping nearby. Her father survives the ordeal, but her mother “is just a mess” and Baker-Tatum feels the weight of the world on her athletic shoulders.
“I felt like I had nobody to talk to, and I was holding things together for my kids, my mom, and other family members,” she recalled in an email last week to the Nisqually Valley News. “I remember coming home at 1 a.m. from the hospital, and I broke down. Just everything hit me, and I couldn’t take anymore of life right at that moment.”
But despite the early morning hour, she picked up the phone and dialed her best friend — not expecting an answer that late but not knowing what else to do.
But as she had so many times in the past, Karissa Scherer answered the phone call — and consequently her call of duty to a friend in need. The soul sisters would talk for an hour.
“Hearing her voice made me feel better, and all we did was cry on the phone together,” Baker-Tatum wrote. “She kept reminding me that she was here for me, and that God would heal my dad. She just told me to cry to her, and that she would stay on the phone just so I had someone there.”
Scherer and Baker-Tatum, both 34, have known each other since that semester’s first day at Yelm High School in 2001 when during fourth-period science class Baker-Tatum said she “walked right up to Karissa and introduced myself, and our friendship was meant to be after that!!!”
The two ended up playing basketball together at YHS, then at Centralia College, and finally at Concordia University before an injury and a change of direction ended Scherer’s basketball career. But even though they now live 1,150 miles apart, they’re still thick as thieves.
“Karissa is one of a kind, and everyone needs a friend like her!” Baker-Tatum wrote. “She never judges, always keeps it real, and will have your back. She is very smart, trusting, caring and honest, and it is hard to find all these traits in one person but she carries them all and some!”
Those traits have helped Scherer climb the ladder of success, leading to her latest promotion to director of sports medicine at Pepperdine University in California. But first, we’ll take you back a few years ...
Scherer moved with her family to Yelm in 2001 from Deadwood, Oregon, where the family had helped care for Scherer’s grandmother who had been diagnosed with lung cancer.
When the family moved to Yelm, Scherer’s parents Paula and Bob Scherer — career Army veterans now retired and still living in Yelm — were stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Back in 2001, when Scherer met Baker-Tatum that first day in science class it began her three-year career at YHS that lasted from her sophomore through senior years — and cemented the lifelong friendship they both cherish.
After graduating from YHS in 2004, where she played basketball, softball and soccer — and as a senior was voted first-team all conference in basketball — Scherer attended Centralia College for two years from 2004 to 2006 on a partial basketball scholarship.
As a freshman at Centralia she was named to the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges Western Division all-conference team and as a sophomore was voted the league’s Most Valuable Player.
The MVP award surprised the you-know-what out of her — particularly because she was only averaging about 4 points per game. Oh, and by the way, one of her high-scoring teammates? Yep, Baker-Tatum.
“I was not a scoring guard by any means,” Scherer said last week. “I was more into setting up my teammates, and my favorite thing was making a good pass so they could catch and shoot or lay it up.”
As to the MVP award, she remembers thinking: “No way would they give the award to somebody not scoring many points.”
But it was her assists, rebounding, and defense that evidently impressed league officials, and to top it off Scherer was inducted into the Centralia College Sports Hall of Fame in February 2017.
From Centralia College, Scherer — and Baker-Tatum — received partial basketball scholarships from Concordia University in Portland. But, alas, Scherer sprained her ankle her first season, and once it healed decided to quit the team and pursue what would end up becoming her dream career.
Here’s how it happened: As Concordia’s head athletic trainer began helping Scherer rehabilitate her ankle, the injured basket-baller gradually became fascinated with the process and began asking the trainer about her profession and how one might traverse that path.
“I noticed that she was having a positive influence on these athletes, and I thought that was pretty cool,” Scherer said. “When I started chatting with her, I realized what I had to do and started looking into this as a career.”
So she quit the basketball team, changed her major — which had been marine biology — and bumped her class credit load from 12 to 19 a semester. Two years later in 2009, Scherer graduated Concordia with a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education. And by May 2011, she’d earned her master’s degree in athletic training from California Baptist University in California.
After working several smaller jobs after graduating from Cal Baptist, she landed at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) in September 2012 as an assistant athletic trainer and about 10 months later accepted a similar position at Pepperdine.
Once there, she worked with athletes in a variety of sports: women’s basketball, women’s and men’s tennis, cross country/track and field, men’s volleyball, and swim and dive. She kept at it for seven years until just two months ago when she was promoted to Pepperdine’s director of sports medicine where she oversees a staff of three athletic trainers and one dual-credentialed physical therapist/athletic trainer.
According to her updated resume, Scherer now “manages the health, safety and rehabilitation of the men’s volleyball team, men’s and women’s tennis and the university’s swimmers and divers.”
Scherer’s promotion caused her to be simultaneously excited and nervous.
“I was nervous because we are in the midst of a pandemic, and that makes my job that much more challenging,” she said.
According to Scherer, Pepperdine adheres to strict COVID-19 protocols for all staff and athletes that include saliva tests and a one-time antibody test. Masks are also required for everyone at all times unless they’re involved in a physical activity.
Scherer’s promotion was based upon character as much as ability, said Associate Athletic Director Kevin Wright.
“Karissa is a great listener,” Wright said. “She is able to connect with the athletes she cares for, because she truly cares for their well being and wants them to succeed. In turn, the athletes have great respect and trust in Karissa and her treatment plans.”
And though she treats all athletes equally, she’s especially intrigued with the men’s volleyball players because she considers the sport “full body that causes a variety of injuries.”
“And it’s just a fun, explosive sport to watch,” she added.
Particularly satisfying, too, are the chances she gets to bond with her “student-athletes.” And that’s much of the reason she’s been at Pepperdine now for eight years and doesn’t foresee leaving.
“Hands down, the most enjoyable part of the job is forming relationships with the student athletes,” she said. “Seeing them come in as 18-year-old boys and girls and watching them mature into men and women is enjoyable.”
And at Pepperdine, the maturation is to be expected because the university’s standards are so high, Scherer implied.
“We recruit student athletes who are good human beings and take their academics seriously,” she said. “Academics comes first, and for the most part they are there to get an education in four years, and it’s nice to work with people who care about their academics and take school seriously.”
But there’s a flip side to this equation. It can be challenging, Scherer said, to communicate with 18 year olds.
“It can be difficult for them to communicate clearly about how they are feeling and how I can best help them,” she explained. “They sometimes just can’t be specific, and it’s like pulling teeth for them to offer me information I need to do a competent evaluation.”
Scherer typically asks athletes at least three questions to help determine how she can treat them: 1.) When did the pain start? 2.) On a scale of 1-10 how would you grade your pain? 3.) Was there any particular play or movement that caused this injury?
Scherer, who usually works six days a week during the athletic season and less in the summer, sees an average of 15-to-20 athletes a day to treat injuries and help prevent new ones.
“I encourage the athletes to come in for preventative work and maintenance and work closely with the strength and conditioning staff to make sure they are getting corrective exercises,” she said.
Athletes typically train about 20 hours a week during the season, she added.
If one were to boil down Scherer’s therapy into a singular strategy it would be to increase her charges muscle blood flow.
“Increasing muscle blood flow helps decrease swelling and also treats muscle tightness, spasms and scar tissue,” she said. “In our techniques, we are always trying to find ways to increase blood flow to the area to help create the optimal environment for healing to occur.”
She uses a couple of methods to increase blood flow: One’s called myo-facial decompression therapy — or “cupping” — and the other is called “graston.”
Cupping therapy is a soft-tissue healing method that involves placing suction cups on the skin to encourage blood flow and thus ease pain, muscle knots and swellings.
The Graston technique uses a stainless-steel instrument and special massage method to “scape” areas of muscle adhesion, or scar-like tissue. Scherer uses the instrument and massage along the length of the muscles to stretch and relax the tissues.
But when she’s not submitting her poor student-athletes through modern versions of medieval torture, Scherer revels in the almost surreal beauty of her campus and its environs.
Pepperdine — a West Coast Conference NCAA Division 1-AAA school near the ocean in Malibu — never fails to awe her.
“I’ve been working here for eight years, and the view I get stepping out of my office never gets old,” she said. “I think sometimes there is something about the ocean that seems to call to you.”
And that’s especially true, because in her off hours — though there aren’t many — she can pretty often be found surfing near her home in Marina del Rey.
“When I think of the ocean it’s the most calming and out-of-body experience you can have when you’re on a wave,” she said. “There is an understanding between you and the ocean.”
There’s an understanding between Scherer and her future, too.
She expects to keep delighting in her job and “continue to expand what sports medicine can do.”
“I want to be able to offer the highest quality care we can give our student athletes, and I want to help pioneer the way forward for them at Division 1 universities.”
And in the process stay tight with her forever-friend Ashley Baker-Tatum.