Dustin Williams speaks the universal language of athletes.
It's not just that he has completed 10 marathons and a triathlon, nor that he is married to Jill Camarena-Williams, who has a chance to make this year's U.S. Olympic track and field team. It's not even that he has been around the world, having worked events in Berlin, Beijing, South Korea, Poland and other far-off locations.
It's this: He knows what the demands of long-term training involve for athletes, because he has made that kind of all-in investment in his own career. You have to love it, or else you couldn't do it.
"The drive and the passion they have, they put everything into it," says Williams, an associate athletic trainer at the University of Arizona since 2011. "They sacrifice everything. I enjoy being a little piece of that puzzle. The gratitude they give back makes my job worth it."
An athlete's diligence and perseverance has brought Williams, 38, to what is arguably the grandest stage in all of sports: the Olympic Games, which will begin in a little more than a month in Rio de Janeiro. He will serve as the head athletic trainer for the U.S. track and field team, the largest contingent of American athletes with about 130 men and women.
His appointment was made official in the spring by the U.S. Olympic Committee, and this weekend he will be in Eugene, Oregon, for the start of the Olympic Trials, the 10-day competition that decides who will be on the U.S. team in Brazil. His wife, whose Olympic bid in 2012 was hampered by injury, will compete in Eugene in the shot put.
Williams, who came to the UA after five years as an athletic trainer at Brigham Young University, has worked his way up the ranks, handling a variety of international assignments over the past several years. Those have been in addition to his regular job as head trainer for the UA cross country and track and field teams.
Although his expenses will be covered by the USOC at the Trials and the Games, Williams won't be paid — and it's that way for everyone on the U.S. medical staff of 13, which includes trainers, physicians, massage therapists, chiropractors and psychologists.
"When the Games start, it's put your head down and go," he says of the long days and nights that await the staff.
Williams worked the London Olympic Games in 2012, and that experience has helped prepare him for Rio. In London, he already was being groomed by Jack Ransone, his predecessor as head athletic trainer, to take over.
"I saw early during national team events that Dustin possessed a caring spirit and a personality that easily engages athletes," says Ransone, now director of the Nebraska Athletic Performance Laboratory at the University of Nebraska. "Those attributes, as well as his broad clinical skill set, made him seamlessly transition into a leadership role within USA Track and Field."
Although the stage won't be too big for Williams, he knows his role in the cast.
"This gives me an opportunity to represent the University of Arizona, to take my skill set (to Rio) and be able to help. I'm excited about it," he says.
"I won't be on TV, and I'm OK with that. I'm a behind-the-scenes kind of guy."