A healthy legacy: NHMI advisory board member driven to pay it forward

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Pictured are childhood friends and Manchester, NH natives, Dr. James Vailas, left, and Mark A. Lentendre (right), along with the 2011 Letendre Summer Athletic Training Camp Scholarship winner, Brandon Hammerstrom (center). Brandon is now working as a Minor League Athletic Trainer with the Toronto Blue Jays organization.

MANCHESTER, NH – Reflecting recently on a successful career in athletic training that includes a literal who’s who of sports figures and athletes, Queen City native Mark A. Letendre, ATC is more excited about supporting the next generation of sports medicine professionals.

“I had wonderful mentors when I was starting out and I’ll never forget that,” he said. “It’s essential that we support the next generation of athletic trainers.”  It was that energy that led Letendre to approach his childhood friend and orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Vailas several years ago to set up a scholarship program via the New Hampshire Musculoskeletal Institute (NHMI) to support future careers in athletic training. The Bertrand and Blanche Letendre Memorial Scholarship was created to honor Letendre’s parents. The student camp scholarship has been administered annually by NHMI to aspiring athletic trainers across the country for more than 15 years.

A graduate of Manchester Central High School, Letendre recalls, “I wanted to be an athlete, but I never had a growth spurt.” He later studied athletic training at the University of Maine-Orono. As he was in school, the field was evolving along the way. “In the 1970s and early 1980s, people’s idea of an athletic trainer was someone with a towel over his shoulder and a bottle of liniment,” he recalls. Fortunately, the profession has come a long way since then in helping the whole athlete-physically and mentally.”

Shortly after college, he caught on with the New York Yankees AA affiliate, then New York’s AAA club before hitting the big time with the parent club in 1982. Among his supporters was the late Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, who wanted players to have an experienced athletic trainer not only in the dugout with the team, but also playing a role in keeping them healthy on an ongoing basis.

“Mr. Steinbrenner was ahead of the curve,” recalls Lentendre. “He saw the value of athletic training as not just helping and athlete once they were injured, but rather supporting whole health.”

A 14-year stint with the San Francisco Giants followed the Yankee’s experience, Lentendre capped an impressive career by serving as the Director of Umpire Medical Services for Major League Baseball for over two decades, before retiring in 2019.
“The field has evolved so much over time,” he says. “And athlete health is far more than the physical side now.”  He calls news of recent high-profile athletes like Michael Phelps, Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka who have been open about their personal battles with mental health issues a “very much needed wake-up call. It’s way past time we talked about those topics in the context of whole health,” he says.

As for the student scholarship program, Letendre has met many of the recipients over the years, “I always come away so impressed with their drive, the future is quite bright.”

Over 20 kids from across the country have received scholarships to attend summer athletic training camps over the years including several from NH.  . “Each of these individuals brings an exemplary academic background and dedication to community service to the table,” noted Letendre. “They are very well-deserving.”  Each attended university-level camps to attain a deeper understanding of the field of athletic training.

In awarding the scholarships, NHMI is hoping to be an advocate for the next generation. “So many people helped me along the way,” he says. “I was able to gain confidence from that and it helped me be a better person and professional. . .I’ve also tried to support others and that’s why this student scholarship is so important. Our goal is to build the fund where it is self-sustaining to ensure support for future athletic trainers for years to come.”

To learn more about the fund or donate, please visit: https://www.nhmi.net/donations.html.

About NHMI

NHMI is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to the advancement of knowledge in musculoskeletal care and sports medicine and to promoting and providing a safe sports environment for athletes.

NHMI’s largest program is the Safe Sports Network, which provides athletic healthcare at nine high schools and a free sports injury evaluation clinic, and youth sports safety education for coaches, parents, and athletes. Although participation in high school sports is a very important part of social, physical, and personal development, it is not without risk. In fact, 3.5 million young athletes are treated for sports injuries annually. Without athletic healthcare professionals on hand, potentially life-threatening conditions, like concussions or heat stroke, may go unrecognized and result in unnecessary death or disability.

Learn more at: https://www.nhmi.net/

About Safe Sports

Currently, Safe Sports Network provides coverage for 6,000 young athletes, including those at Manchester Central, Manchester Memorial, Manchester High School West, Bedford, Goffstown, Bishop Brady, Bishop Guertin, Campbell and Trinity High Schools. Young athletes from area youth hockey, football, cheer, and soccer leagues also benefit from these free services. Further, any youth athlete can take advantage of the Safe Sports free sports injury evaluation clinic weekday afternoons in Manchester, NH (call 603-627-9728 for more information).

Learn more at: https://www.nhmi.net/safe-sports-network.html

Photo caption

Pictured are childhood friends and Manchester, NH natives, Dr. James Vailas (left) and Mark A. Lentendre (right), along with the 2011 Letendre Summer Athletic Training Camp Scholarship winner, Brandon Hammerstrom (center).

Brandon is now working as a Minor League Athletic Trainer with the Toronto Blue Jays organization.

About this Author


Chris Dugan

Chris Dugan is a regular contributor to Manchester Ink Link and writes the Medical Matters column.