Damsel or Dare

A story of determination
by Meeja Kinsey

Powered By Indy Eleven

I am a the Head Athletic Trainer for Indy Eleven, a professional women’s soccer team in the US.  Yes, there are professional women’s sports teams out there and this one happens to be in the National Women’s Soccer League. The journey about how I got here is just as erratic as any other individual in the athletic training field.  God happened to put the pieces together in the right way for me.

First off, an athletic trainer is a highly qualified, multi-skilled, healthcare professional that collaborates with physicians to provide care for various populations. The realm of services I provide include injury prevention, emergency management, clinical diagnoses, therapeutic interventions and rehabilitations of varied medical conditions. We are required to pass a board exam for certification as well as maintain a license in the state we are practicing. Every two years, we are expected to meet a minimum amount of continuing education credits to keep up with current, best practices. The majority of athletic trainers hold a master’s degree and that continues to hold true.  Now that I’ve given a little background on what I do and how I ended up in one of the most coveted jobs in the field, I’ll explain how I got there.

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I entered university with the aspirations of helping others and being directed by society to look into a stable job. So I did, and I was accepted into the nursing program at Purdue University. Thankful for this prestigious admittance, I set out to connect with classmates and form relationships within the small class. It was tough for sure. I have the highest respect for nurses and nursing majors, but when it came down to it, I felt that I wasn’t able to relate to my classmates in some strange way. It was female dominated, including instructors, and there was a level of competitiveness among peers that made it feel slightly unsavory. It was unfortunate that there was a certain culture within this field that I didn’t relate to, and at the time, a lot of girls that I didn’t appreciate.  And because of that, I changed my major the next semester.

I grew up my whole life being very active, having two younger twin brothers, and being involved in all sorts of athletic competition. My parents put me in everything from gymnastics to basketball and I developed a knack for kinesthetic movement. This is what drove me to find athletic training. Determined to stay in the field of healthcare, I scanned the majors within the Department of Health & Kinesiology and found it. Putting my two passions together, sports and healthcare seemed to be the perfect fit. The only problem was I had to spend one full year working towards being admitted into the program. It was the first risk I ever remember taking that had to do with the path of my life and I never looked back. That next spring, I was given a medical kit and an expensive pair of scissors and was welcomed into the sports medicine family at Purdue.

The next four years (not including that first year in nursing), I spent numerous hours gaining clinical experience at the football stadium, in the athletic training room, a physician’s office, softball fields, and soccer pitches. While observing and practicing what I learned in class, many of us also sought for internships over the summer months when we weren’t employed as Gatorade reps for hydration and education purposes. I had a conversation my junior year with one of the staff members at my university and he said, “The best thing you can do is get out there and try to volunteer or intern at places anywhere but here.” Something clicked and set off a catalyst in my brain and everything I thought I understood about athletic training changed. I could learn somewhere else? It was ridiculous to me that I didn’t fathom that other programs operated completely differently than the one I was at. The values and priorities differ at each institution. Just being PRESENT in healthcare settings other than mine would give me perspective I didn’t even know. So, with only one summer left before I graduated, I went wild with packing the couple of months with volunteer or internship endeavors. I studied abroad learning about Eastern medicine in China. I was a medical crew and driver for a two-man cycling team that crossed the United States in only six days. I covered first aid at another college in Ohio. And lastly, the one that opened so many doors, a two-week internship with the Dallas Mavericks summer league. The head athletic trainer there decided he would take a chance on me.

Now, understand why this is big. During my time as an undergraduate, men were still dominating head positions in athletic training. NFL internships were seen as the ultimate achievement as a student, and of course, only males were typically accepted. It was somewhat rare to see a female in the professional sports setting. So, jumping at the Mavericks opportunity, I flew down to Texas and did my work. I stayed relatively quiet, asking questions only when there was down-time and kept my head down and took initiative on tasks I felt I could perform or asked help where it was needed. I left that internship maintaining my relationship with him as my mentor and he was a reference for me going forward. I will always be grateful for him.

Fast forward a few months and I’m applying to grad schools. I knew I wanted to go to college far from home because it was important for me to see what living somewhere quite different was like. It was between Delaware and Utah. I prayed for Delaware due to the position I would work as a certified graduate student and the expectation for academia. That same staff member that told me to go out and see other places also reinforced my decision to go to Delaware considering the location and lifestyle I could live there. I submitted my documents and the head athletic trainer saw something in my application and in me that compelled him take me on staff. I would spend my next two years in grad school developing my skills and figuring out how to take the next step towards my goal to become an athletic trainer in professional sports.

I fell in love working with the men’s soccer team at Delaware and decided that soccer is where I wanted to be. My boss, the head athletic trainer, recommended me to an MLS internship in Washington, D.C. and I was accepted once I graduated. It was a bit humbling at the beginning, even being a young professional, having to do grunt work again and not actively utilize my skills. I believe that I could have taken initiative to do more because the head athletic trainer encouraged us to be hands-on and delve into learning from the experience. He even allowed me to travel to an away match to help when his assistant left. I’m thankful for the opportunity he granted me. After spending most of the season with them, the year came to a close and I had to look for work. While using that time of limbo working at a physical therapy clinic, by word of mouth, I found out that the head position for the women’s D.C. soccer team became available. I wasn’t sure it was something I even wanted and it came with a lot of baggage, but the athletic trainer from my MLS internship empowered me by believing in me and recommended me for the position. I met with the team’s coach at the time and was officially brought on a month later.

Since then, I was exposed to the world of women’s sports and again, my perspective was changed and I found an appreciation for people and the field in a way I didn’t expect. As I continue this journey, I will learn so much more and feel eternal gratitude to those who believed in me because they empowered me in a way that I can now empower others.

8 Things Every Woman Should Hear

Allow yourself to fail and relish it.
Oftentimes, we are too fearful of getting something wrong or being judged harshly when we don’t succeed. If we don’t take the risks necessary as women, then how do we expect to advance and break down walls? These failures are important to gain exposure and learn. Not only that, we should be enthusiastic about these failures! You are already ahead of all those people who were also too sacred to try, but you did it. You pushed yourself in a way that others weren’t and now you have an experience and knowledge far greater than contentedness could ever provide.

Accept that something may never give you closure.
This point ties especially into relationships of any kind. Many times I watched and fumed seeing my friends struggle through heartbreaks with asinine individuals, fearful to move on because they were frozen by some hope that the person would give, do, or say what they wanted to hear. It’s a human flaw of the need to control the situation in a way we think is right in the way we so earnestly desire. The frustratingly beautiful thing about humans though, is that we are all built differently, sculpted by different parenting, experiences, and inner moral compass. No one is owed an explanation; no matter how right you think you are. This idea of debt by some type of apology or practical reasoning cripples us with the inability to forgive. And from this inability to forgive, we hurt ourselves more. If you’ve done everything in your own power to make it right and it still doesn’t work, then search hard within yourself to find peace in acceptance.

Express five minutes every day with thoughts of gratitude.
While struggling for equality, it can be a fine line between appearing to complain and fighting for what’s actually right. As you work towards the goal of achieving that equal status, be sure to be thankful to the big guy in the sky or at least to the people who have supported you. Research has backed that physical and mental ailments can be influenced by perception and experience. So, if you are an individual who drinks deep in thankfulness every day, you will be that much more prepared for the days that are hard.   

Stop apologizing for asking questions that require you to get a job done.
In my opinion, I think that this is a huge obstacle because for some reason, women are always so quick to say sorry for just about anything. Bosses at the top, particularly men, don’t apologize for doing what needs to get done. Imagine if you apologized every time you had to make a decision or ask about multiple, minute details. There’s wasted energy expended and it get’s exhausting having to send an email with apprehension, worrying if you’re somehow making the recipient’s life that much harder. Everybody goes through hard things. How are you supposed to perform the job that someone has tasked you with if it’s an inconvenience to him or her? Be polite, but saying sorry is unnecessary and often detrimental. It subtly suggests a lack of confidence, which may make you appear weak (even though we know you aren’t) and therefore hurt your chances of making those promotions you dream about.

Keep going.
Many very successful people will tell you that they wanted to give up so many times because they had been working at their craft for what felt like forever and saw no fruit. Then, all of a sudden they got their big break. It can happen to anyone. A lot of us don’t see all the hours and hard work people put in behind the scenes and start to develop negative thoughts about our own endeavors. This is toxic. Someone may have rose quickly, but even they still have to put out consistent, good work to maintain their job. If it is your passion and you work hard at it and care about people, all you need to do is keep going in the forward direction. It will come. The key is to find joy in the journey and to ensure that your intentions for your goal are authentic.

Be gracefully forthright.
This goes back to my point of not being apologetic for getting stuff done. Being blunt in American society seems rude a lot of times, but in many other cultures being direct is the norm and it can cut out a lot of confusion and/or miscommunication. I believe that there is a way to be forward, but doing so with grace in which the recipient ultimately understands what needs to be said without damage to the relationship. There is a certain skill in the art of tactfulness that bolsters the humanity side of communication.

Having lots of money doesn’t solve problems, managing it does.
As women, oftentimes either spouses or fathers handle the finances within a household. This typically comes from a good place and the desire for a male to provide and accept responsibility. However, you also see a trend of a lack of women in high financial businesses or speaking on the topic. While young or busy, having it handled by them is nice for the time being, but long-term ignorance can be detrimental to your own financial health. Take the time to learn the foundational basics of how to manage your money, so that you learn to be independent should the need ever arise. The earlier, the better. Obviously, the exception for the handling your money would be if you seek professional counsel. Even then, it helps if your advisor can walk you through certain aspects of your finances for you to gain a better understanding. A lot of simple things I do to manage my money is simply living below my means, knowing where my money is coming and going, being intentional with my savings, ridding my debt, and making sure to understand how taxes work. Remember, money doesn’t buy happiness and knowledge is power.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Lastly, I say this over and over again because as simple as it is to say it, doing it is another thing. Pushing yourself is how you find out what you’re capable of. When you come across challenges or tough situations, you are able to adapt to it and address the issue next time. It makes things later on seem less intimidating and a lot more feasible. You may not be comfortable with change and you can get away with it for a certain amount of time, but life happens and the world still turns, so you have no choice but to face change. Meeting new people or picking up new skills requires being uncomfortable at times, but can be such a valuable tool. You grow as a human and learn how to handle conflict. This in turn, reduces your stress and overall makes you a happier and more grateful person.

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Meeja Kinsey

Meeja is the Head Athletic Trainer for Indy Eleven, a professional team in the National Women’s Soccer League.

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