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Photo contributed by Baylor School / Greg Banks, a 1989 graduate of Baylor School, poses with the Women's World Cup trophy. Banks was the head athletic trainer for the U.S. women's national soccer team during two World Cups as well as the recent Tokyo Olympics.

Even being the best at what you do — and make no mistake, Chattanooga native Greg Banks is one of the best athletic trainers on Earth — can have its wake-up calls.

Especially when your bride of 25 years is forced to take care of the kids, the house, three dogs, a cat and her job as a pastor all by herself for 26 straight weeks while you resume your role as head trainer for the U.S. women's national soccer team during its Tokyo Olympics run.

"I walked in the door when I got back and Tara said, 'Tag, you're it!'" Banks said with a chuckle in a phone interview from Charleston, South Carolina, which he has pretty much called home since 1989, when he left the Scenic City to attend the College of Charleston after graduating from Baylor School.

So Thursday found him registering their younger son Brody for classes at Oceanside Collegiate Academy and tending to his clients at Competitive Edge Training less than three full days since arriving back home after the United States won bronze in Japan.

"I'm getting closer to this time zone," he said of the jet lag involved with Tokyo being 13 hours ahead of Charleston. "It's really good to be home."

It is so good that 16 years after he first became involved with the U.S. women's national soccer team, he's calling it quits.

"Just time to be done," he said. "Two World Cups. The Olympics. I'll miss the competition. I'll miss the family atmosphere. But I've also missed a lot with my own family — birthdays, my older son Ethan winning a state soccer championship, our 25th wedding anniversary. And I won't miss hauling 6,000 pounds of equipment around."

One family moment he didn't miss: During the 2019 Women's World Cup, he flew home from Europe for 36 hours to attend Ethan's high school graduation.

If you think this was Banks' career dream from early on — in much the same way some kids grow up wanting to become ballplayers, doctors, firemen or rock stars — you'd be wrong.

"Actually, I became a student trainer at Baylor so I could get out of playing a fall sport," he explained.

That was back in 1984, when he was in the eighth grade. After school, he would head down to the Sandy Sandlin Training Room inside Baylor's Memorial Gym and do whatever Red Raiders trainer Eddie Davis asked of him.

"Greg was a shy, quiet kid," said Davis, who is now a part of Baylor's communications staff. "He reminded me a little bit of me, I guess. He was a hard worker. He'd do anything you asked. I remember driving him home sometimes fairly late at night because he'd help with night games. He's one of my all-time favorite kids."

And if Banks wasn't fond of his fall sports options, he played well enough on three of former coach Mike Wiersema's Red Raiders soccer teams to briefly continue the sport at the College of Charleston. He soon gave that up to fully embrace his physical education major with a focus on athletic training and rehabilitation.

Of the role Davis played in that decision, Banks told the Baylor alumni magazine two years ago: "I learned what it meant to be part of something bigger than myself ... and live in a way that impacted others, and to help others excel."

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Photo contributed by Baylor School / Greg Banks first became involved with athletic training as a student at Baylor School, but at the time he didn't expect it to become his career.

After being the trainer for the 2011 U.S. team that lost the Women's World Cup final to Japan on penalty kicks, he returned to work with the 2019 team, which won it all against the Netherlands. A personal highlight of that win was star Megan Rapinoe — whose injured hamstring had kept her out of that year's semifinal win over England — returning to score the first goal in the 2-0 final.

Banks later told the Charleston Post Courier: "When Megan was out, it was just a matter of doing whatever we could to get her better. We throw everything but the kitchen sink at them and see if we can get something to stick."

He also told the Post Courier that working with the team is "like having 21 little sisters, and it's my responsibility to make sure that they stay healthy."

Banks' favorite "little sister" has probably been midfielder/forward Carli Lloyd, who scored two goals in the 4-3 win over Australia to clinch bronze at the Tokyo Games.

"I'm probably closest to Carli," he said. "She's blue collar, just like me. She does everything the right way. She works hard."

But he admires them all.

"Around the world, they're rock stars," Banks said. "You go to some little town near Lisbon (Portugal), and all these little girls will have pink hair like Rapinoe. This team signs more autographs than you can count. They're the greatest ambassadors for their sport and their country."

That said, he didn't think Tokyo was the greatest site for the Olympics.

"The only time we saw the Olympic Village was to get our credentials," Banks explained. "We were in a hotel out from town, and you were confined there except to go to your events. They even had what they called yard time a couple of hours a day when you could go outside for a walk. Yard time. Like prison."

He also believes the absence of fans, which was due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was one reason for the Americans' overall flat play.

"This team really fed off energy from the crowd," he said. "Positive energy, negative energy, they didn't care as long as the crowd was into the game. I didn't see the U.S. team I've known for 16 years until that bronze medal game."

Banks said he doesn't see Chattanooga often enough.

"Certainly not as much as my mom (Mary Ann Herd) would like," he said. "I do keep up with a couple of my Baylor buddies, especially Kelly Von Canon. And I try to come back every five years for our class reunions."

That will surely be easier now that he won't be chasing a soccer team around the globe in search of gold.

But whatever the future holds for Banks, the past 16 years have been remarkable.

Or as he said Thursday: "Being a part of this team for two World Cups and one Olympics is pretty amazing."

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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