How We Started

In the fall of 1997, I was the head athletic trainer at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. During this time, I had a football player named Greg Herlihy who suffered from repeated burner/stingers. Every time he got hit on the helmet it would force his head in a motion to his left and his left arm would go completely numb from the neck down. This would cause extreme shooting pain down his left upper extremity. This occurred numerous times during his career and progressively his recovery time from injuries would become longer. In fact, in his junior year, he could not attend practice for multiple weeks and had to miss his final game.

We performed as many diagnostic tests on him that we could; X-rays, MRI, bone scans and so on, and found no pathology (injury damage) that would keep him from returning to play. Up to this point, we had been trying to prevent the injury from occurring by using several different preventive/protective neck collars. Yet I could find none that would stop injury from occurring.

For the next eight months, we worked together to strengthen Greg’s neck and improve flexibility. I also placed him back in a traditional collar for prevention. Using a traditional collar, it must be positioned so the player can get their head up in their stance as well as keep their head up when making a tackle or block. If not, you set them up for an even more serious injury.

The second day of contact Greg took on a block from left outside linebacker in perfect position (head up, neck bowed, body in ready position and contact was made shoulder to shoulder, head to head on his right side. Greg’s head moved obliquely into extension, lateral rotation, and lateral flexion to the left. He immediately dropped to the ground as he had tingling, numbness and a sharp pain down his left upper extremity. As we walked off the field he said to me in frustration, “I can’t play football like this.” As his athletic trainer, I had no idea what to say to him, except whatever he decided I had his back.

I was so frustrated. I had tried everything I knew to try to prevent the injury; all the preventive collars, the necessary rehabilitation and treatment, and could not keep the injury from occurring. As I reflected upon this, I started to think about a more rounded collar, shaped like a half circle with something similar to a bicycle tire extending out from the collar. Over time I realized we put air pads in helmets. Why not a collar?

The sketches began. Brainstorming with colleagues. Talking to more players. This, my friends, is how Guardian Athletics began and I consider to be the birth of Kato Collar. It became clear that there were bigger issues facing the game of football than burner/stingers, and unfortunately, the industry wasn’t moving fast enough. There needed to be more products, training, and recovery techniques to protect players on the field.

We continued this innovative approach through a number of prototypes, and in late 2017 we started production on our current model, and begin shipping to teams in March 2018.