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Athletic Training: The Unexpected Lessons Learned

I am an athletic trainer. For those who may not know fully what that means the quick definition is: Athletic Trainers are healthcare professionals, who specialize in prevention, evaluation, and rehabilitation of injuries as well as emergency care for athletes and/or patients. Those skills are vital to my career but it has been the unexpected lessons that have done more to shape who I am today. Those lessons are significant to what I have learned.  And while they aren’t always easy to share, I believe it is essential to bring them in to the ongoing conversation. In a month that celebrates my chosen career, athletic training, and my position in the world, as a woman, it is important that my story is heard.  

Being an Athletic Trainer can be a difficult, it is long hours, it is often underpaid, and it can be a physical and emotional investment. But for me it also became a career that required me to learn how to stand up for myself. To quickly learn to trust myself and my judgment. Prior to my current job I worked in the military and college athletics settings. For me this meant that I was almost always the minority as a female. One of the most difficult things about being a woman navigating a male dominated environment is figuring out how and when to assert yourself. For every ounce of frustration that athletic training may have brought to my life it has equally helped me to develop a voice, one that I am not sure would have been what it is today without this career. The sidelines can be a high stress environment. A coach feels pressure to win and an athletic trainer, whether they want to or not, has to remove athletes from play when an injury is serious enough. This dynamic can cause a lot of tension, even explosion at times in the moment. I have gotten in heated arguments with coaches over holding an athlete out. That is just the job sometimes. The athlete’s safety always comes first. And while some of those sideline moments or interactions with my athletes have shaped who I am, it has been some of the more difficult confrontations that gave rise to a fearlessness.

A lot of what I have faced that has been inappropriate as a female athletic trainer has come from covering outside events with people I do not work with on a daily basis. People who do not understand or respect the job that I do. I have had great interactions with the majority of my male co-workers, there has been a mutual respect, and many things learned from each other. But the difficult stories still need to be told, they are no less important, in fact they may be the most important. I have had interactions with coaches and athletes that have been inappropriate and sexist. I have been told ‘to stop acting like the athletes’ mom’ and that as a female I coddle them when I would hold them out for an injury. I have been told in front of a group of athletes ‘to go back to the kitchen’ because of disagreement with a coach.  I have had coaches sexually harass me in front of high school aged athletes. I have had athletes think it’s funny to yell something inappropriate at me to look ‘cool’ in front of their teammates. I have had referees ask me in the middle of a game to massage them, and they were not for asking for treatment of an injury. None of this is an exaggeration and unfortunately none of it is too uncommon when you speak to other female athletic trainers. These were not my best days at work and this type of behavior is NEVER appropriate BUT these situations developed something in me; they taught me how to not back down. Of course I would have preferred to learn this lesson another way but life has other ideas. These are the moments that I learned to not give a fuck about how I might be perceived. If I came off as aggressive, well then too damn bad. They taught me how to speak my truth when I needed to, and to whom I needed to. They have taught me how to stand in my truth and stand my ground. It has been those times that I have learned how to call people out right to their face, not worrying about embarrassing them or stepping on their ego (God knows they didn’t care about embarrassing or harassing me). These moments taught me the power of my voice.

Thankfully these experiences have not been the majority of my time spent as an athletic trainer and I do believe that there have been changes over the years. But because of what I have been through I will continue to encourage female athletic trainers to stand up for themselves, report things, and not allow any of this to become common in their work place. And maybe most important, to not be afraid to use their voice. I will continue to tell these stories, not just to my female co-workers or friends, but also my male co-workers and friends. I have learned how many men are out there taking up the fight with us. The men in these environments have been extremely important allies for me. While I always hope women have each other’s backs it is just as vital when a man also stands with us, that can CHANGE a lot in a male dominated situation.

Only through sharing our stories are we reminded that we are not alone. Only through our stories do we learn how to be a better version of ourselves and how to hold those around us to a higher standard. These unfortunate incidences have been a part of my journey and while I don’t wish them on anyone, I have gained strength in my ability to defy them and regain my power and respect. Athletic Training gave me the gift of asserting myself when necessary and not being intimidated in a room of only men. It helped nurture my ability to not back down when I know I am doing the right thing. It gave me skills that I hadn’t expected and even though I find myself outside of the traditional setting these days those lessons will live on. Because there will still be times that someone tries to make me feel small to get power over me. There will still be times that even if I am the only one in a room I need to say that something is wrong when I know it is. There will still be times that I need an ally. And there will always be times that people need to be called on their bullshit.