Legendary Athletic Trainer Carl E. Nelson Honored with Naming of State-of-the-Art Hydrotherapy Room with Gift from Bill Alfond ’72, LL.D. ’19 and Joan Alfond, LL.D. ’19

A gift of $500,000 has named the hydrotherapy room in the new Harold Alfond Athletics and Recreation Center in recognition of Colby Athletics legend Carl Nelson. The gift comes from Trustee and Campaign Co-Chair Bill Alfond ’72, LL.D. ’19 and Joan Alfond, LL.D. ’19, a Museum Board of Governors member. The gift, which builds upon the Alfond family’s multigenerational support of the College, is representative of a community that honors others who continue to have a lasting influence. 

“Personal connections and lifelong relationships have long been a defining element of the Colby experience. Alumni and colleagues who describe Carl as a friend and mentor number in the hundreds, if not thousands, and I’m lucky to be one of them,” said Colby College President David A. Greene. “Carl is a legend for his pioneering work in sports medicine, and the fact that Bill and Joan have chosen to name this new and innovative space in his honor is so fitting and will continue Carl’s legacy for new generations of Colby student athletes.” 

In 1991 the first athletic training room named in Nelson’s honor opened in the Alfond Athletic Center, thanks to a gift from Colby’s longtime friends and Bill Alfond’s parents, Harold Alfond, L.H.D. ’80 and Dorothy “Bibby” Levine Alfond ’38. The room was designed for optimal care and assisted hundreds of student athletes over the years. Now, 30 years later, Bill and Joan Alfond have carried on the family tradition of recognizing Nelson by naming the state-of-the-art hydrotherapy room in his honor. Housed within the most comprehensive NCAA D-III facility in the country, the best-in-class space equips Colby student athletes with the tools and support they need to reach peak performance.

“I am happy to know that Carl will know in his lifetime that he will always be with us in the Harold Alfond Athletics and Recreation Center,” Bill Alfond said of this gift. “Carl’s dedication to the great lessons of sports will be carried forward in this space. Joan and I are pleased to secure his legacy in this wonderful new facility.”

Carl Nelson being honored for his invaluable service to the College during halftime of Colby football’s 2019 Homecoming game.

Three decades of athletic leadership—at Colby and beyond

The Carl E. Nelson Hydrotherapy Room honors Nelson, an innovative pioneer in the field of sports medicine science. For more than three decades at Colby, Nelson was a trusted friend, mentor, and caregiver to countless student athletes. “I really love the idea of being in the halls of memory at Colby. It is quite a tribute,” Nelson said. 

Nelson first explored sports medicine and its rehabilitation capabilities after suffering a knee injury in high school. After a four-year stint in the Navy, Nelson studied physical therapy at Boston University. He arrived at Colby in 1959 and stayed through 1993, serving students as an athletic trainer, associate professor, and director of health services. Despite numerous offers from larger schools and professional teams, and amid several stints at the Olympics and more than 15 years working with disabled children at the Pine Tree Camp on North Pond, Maine, Nelson made Colby his home.

“The years I spent at Colby were amazing years for a lot of reasons: The experience, getting to know people, appreciating each other. It’s a great place to work. I thoroughly enjoyed my association with Colby and hope to continue it for a while,” Nelson said.

While working at Colby, he also served the local community. Since there were no secondary school athletic trainers in the area, many local athletes with sports injuries came to Colby to see Nelson, according to Colby’s Head Athletic Trainer Tim Weston. After seeing the need, Nelson partnered with Waterville’s hospital to recruit and hire athletic trainers for local secondary schools.

Nelson also served as head trainer for the 1972 Olympic Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan, and for the 1976 games in Innsbruck, Austria. In 1980 he supervised training clinics for the Olympic Organizing Committee for the games in Lake Placid, N.Y. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 1986, and Nelson remained involved with the organization after retiring from Colby. 

“Carl was notorious in the sports medicine field having served at three Olympics. You would have never known that he was so famous as his humility was one of his greatest qualities,” said Weston, who calls Nelson a mentor. “Carl treated everyone the same—with that calm voice, kind approach, and always with a bit of humor mixed in. His patients felt confident in his abilities that he would do his very best to return them to their sport activity.”

For his decades of dedicated service to Colby Athletics, Nelson was named C Club Person of the Year in 1981. The C Club also created an award in Nelson’s honor in 1988, and every year since the Carl Nelson Sports Achievement Award has been presented to a Colby graduate distinguished in the field of athletics. Recipients have included Ron Ryan ’62, former chief operating officer and president of the Philadelphia Flyers, in 1993; former Colby head women’s soccer coach Jen Holsten ’90, in 1999; and Eric DeCosta ’93, executive vice president and general manager of the Baltimore Ravens, in 2017.

Soccer, basketball, and softball athlete Carol Simon ’85 received the Nelson Award in 1999. “Receiving the Carl Nelson Sports Achievement Award meant the world to me,” Simon said. “Not because it is an individual award that justifies what I do and who I am, but more importantly because of the man who is behind it. If others felt that I had some of the great qualities Carl possessed, I am truly humbled and grateful.”

Simon, who is now the women’s basketball coach at Brandeis University, recalls Nelson’s smile, humor, and constant drive to always put the interests of others before himself. “He treated everyone equitably and equally from the walk-on who didn’t get a lot of playing time to the All-American,” she said. “I also always noticed how he treated his co-workers with respect and appreciation. He provided all with wisdom, support, assistance, [and] empathy throughout their years at Colby and beyond.”

Carl Nelson with Olympic athletes and in his office at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. Photos courtesy of Carl Nelson.

A game changer for Colby Athletics

The new 600-square-foot Carl E. Nelson Hydrotherapy Room, located in the athletic training room suite in the Harold Alfond Athletics and Recreation Center, is a game changer for Colby Athletics, according to Weston. As one of the best hydrotherapy rooms in NESCAC, it is on par with rooms at the Division I or professional level. Similar units are in place at the training facilities of the New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Green Bay Packers.

The hydrotherapy area was designed with floor-to-ceiling glass walls so that it’s visible from the main athletic training room and the head athletic training room office for both safety and design reasons. The room contains two SwimEx hydrotherapy plunge pools and two stainless steel extremity whirlpools. The pools—which can chill to temperatures below 50 degrees and heat up to 104 degrees—are intended to be used by all athletes, mainly for post recovery and cold-water therapy after games and practices. When used post exercise, athletes gain the beneficial effects of working out with less pain and muscle soreness—an essential element of the healing process necessary to achieve peak performance.

“The Colby community has been wonderful. I have the greatest respect for Colby and what they have done for me, so we’re almost even,” Nelson joked.

The 600-square-foot Carl E. Nelson Hydrotherapy Room located in the athletic training room suite in the Harold Alfond Athletics and Recreation Center contains two SwimEx hydrotherapy plunge pools and two stainless steel extremity whirlpools.