Women are continuing to forge new identities in the world of male-dominated sports. Meet three incredible female graduates of Ohio University's College of Health Sciences and Professions, each of whom have made significant impacts in the field of athletics. They monitor the health and well-being of elite athletes, lead quality and capable teams of professionals and overcome daily obstacles. They do all of this and more and they do it at the highest levels.
At one point during her athletic training courses at Ohio University, Aimee Cline felt overwhelmed and wondered whether she had what it took for the career. Others felt differently, however, providing her with confidence and resolve that helped her become the first female head athletic trainer for the Arena Football League and now the head athletic trainer for Muskingum University.
Cline was drawn to OHIO’s athletic training master’s degree program due to the opportunity to serve as a graduate assistant. She said being able to work as a full-time certified athletic trainer in conjunction with her studies helped her accelerate her degree and opened up career opportunities.
As a graduate assistant, Cline was assigned to be the athletic trainer for Wellston High School which gave her abundant of hands-on experience but also tested her determination.
“I had three big injuries happen back-to-back at Wellston — I had to spineboard three athletes my first football season,” Cline said. “With trying to balance that with academics, I didn’t feel like I could be the AT they needed.”
In stepped the athletic training program’s associate director, Chad Starkey.
“Dr. Starkey was a big supporter. He showed me I was enough,” said Cline. “He made me stick it out and he laughed and brought all of this back up when I got the offer (for Arena Football League). He was like, ‘Remember that time you didn’t even think you could do this?’ It’s funny now when I look back on it but yeah, his support was phenomenal.”
With Starkey in her corner, Cline stayed the course.
“Once you get through that overwhelming feeling, you realize you can do it. You build that confidence in yourself,” she said.
Cline said her opportunity with the Arena Football League’s Cleveland Gladiators came as a result of persistence and being in the right place at the right time. She explained that she had conversations with NovaCare Rehabilitation while finishing up her studies and was in line for an athletic trainer’s position at a high school but there was a need for fall and Cline wasn’t graduating until spring. She persevered, however, and met with administration during spring break.
“It was supposed to be about a 20-minute conversation, just learning about the company because they said they didn’t have any openings. That turned into a talk lasting an hour and a half and they said there was actually an opening with the Cleveland Gladiators and they thought I’d be an ‘amazing fit.’ That following week, I interviewed with the team physician and was offered the position,” said Cline.
There was one obstacle however.
“I had to get permission from professors because the season started April 1 and I didn’t graduate until April 30,” Cline said. “I completed research from afar, coming down for exams and taking notes via PowerPoint … That last month, without OHIO giving me that support, I would have never been able to make the Gladiators work.”
But being young and being female in a professional football setting came with its own set of challenges.
“The opportunities for females versus males in our field is limited when it comes to all-male sports. It could be simple things like administration not wanting to pay for an extra hotel room but I was offered the opportunity to show that I’m female and I can do just as much as a male can in an all-male professional sport,” said Cline. “It was humbling.”
Cline said there were a few “hiccups” between she and the team at first. The men were not used to women being in the facilities — or specifically using the restroom facilities — and she also had to earn the players’ trust, although she attributes that more so due to her age (22 years old at the time) than her gender.
“I do think it was probably more of just being young. I would hope that they wouldn’t question my knowledge just because I’m female,” she said.
While under contract with NovaCare and the Gladiators, Cline also worked as the athletic trainer for NBA officials during Cleveland Cavaliers games — a unique experience that allowed her to be in attendance during the Cavaliers’ run to the NBA Finals.
The cliché of one door opening when another closes applies to Cline’s career. The Gladiators were planning to go on hiatus for a couple of years which led to Cline taking an interview at Muskingum University. It turned out to be a perfect fit for her.
“I absolutely love my job with Muskingum University,” she said. “It’s everything I wanted. I get to work football as the head athletic trainer and I lead the rest of the clinical staff. I have a lot on my hands but I love the challenge and everything that has come up thus far.”
When asked, Cline said the person she was while struggling at Wellston High School and the person she is now are “very different.”
“I think there was a huge maturity level change that took place while I was at OHIO. I gained a lot of confidence and professionalism there and was able to grow by leaps and bounds as an athletic trainer and a person.”
It’s one thing to break down barriers but quite another to do so as successfully as Jennifer Brodeur.
Brodeur, a 1991 graduate of Ohio University’s College of Health Sciences and Professions’ Athletic Training program, has been employed at the University of Massachusetts for more than a dozen years, and for the past decade, has worked as the head athletic trainer for the UMass football squad. In 2013, she was named associate head athletic trainer for the university, making her one of only a few women in the country to be in charge of both a Division I football team and a collegiate athletic training program. Last year, she was named director of Sports Medicine for the university.
In the past 12 years, Brodeur has earned the College and University Athletic Trainers Committee’s New Horizon Award for her leadership in the field of athletic training, has been named the National Athletic Trainers Association’s (NATA) College and University Athletic Training Committee’s Assistant Athletic Trainer of the Year and earned the 2009 Athletic Trainer Service Award. She has also served on several NATA committees including the Intercollegiate Committee for Sports Medicine.
Originally from Ithaca, New York, Brodeur moved to Ohio in high school and started her search for a university offering athletic training. Ohio University was a “no-brainer.”
“The minute I stepped on campus, I made my decision,” she said. “It reminded me of home and it was the easiest decision of my life. My whole family knew it too. Sometimes, you just know where home is when you find it.”
Brodeur cited the challenging academic curriculum at OHIO, instructors such as Fritz Hagerman Charles “Skip” Vosler, Chad Starkey and a tight-knit group of students as factors in her career success.
“Dr. Hagerman was my hero. He helped me get through college and get my career going. Some of the techniques Dr. Starkey used, I still remember and I use to teach now,” said Brodeur. “It wasn’t an easy program, which I liked and needed. It prepared me really well and I feel lucky to have had that.”
Looking back fondly, Brodeur keeps a picture of Ohio University in her mind’s eye, smiles when she thinks of the “big brothers” she treated on the wrestling team and treasures meeting her best friend from OHIO with whom she still speaks on a weekly basis.
“It’s such a great college environment,” she said of OHIO. “The small, college-town feel, the people, all the things to do that aren’t centered on partying … you just can’t get a prettier campus.”
After college, Brodeur went to work in the WNBA but it wasn’t the fit she was looking for. She initially interviewed with UMass to work with men’s basketball but was hired for the field hockey and lacrosse teams. Six months later, she was asked to assist with football and the following year she was promoted to head athletic trainer for the team.
“It just worked out perfectly,” she said. “I’m a firm believer that you end up where you belong.”
Being a woman working in a male sport hasn’t been without its sexist moments but Brodeur doesn’t dwell on those times.
“I’ve had a few (issues) here and there where players have said something or tried something but I just look at them like ‘seriously’ and it stops pretty quickly,” she said.
Just last year, Brodeur described an encounter with a veteran official.
“He came in and asked for the head athletic trainer and I said I was. He said, ‘no, the head football trainer.’ I said ‘Yeah, right here!’ He said, ‘You? You’re the head trainer?’ I said ‘Yeah bud, it’s 2017 and women are allowed to vote, too.’ His buddies just looked at him and started laughing.”
Brodeur said that in years past a player would occasionally make inappropriate comments but that has changed.
“Most are aware now that as long as someone has the skill and knowledge, it doesn’t matter if the person treating you is male or female,” she said.
Shanice Johnson had to fight back a star struck feeling the first time she treated a professional athlete. One of the best running backs in the NFL wound up on her table. However, her training and the realization that professional athletes are human too let Johnson expertly do her job. Now, she helps professional athletes on an everyday basis and it’s business as usual.
Introduced to the field of health sciences in high school, Johnson followed her mentor, Kristen Wellman, to Ohio University where she discovered a path that eventually led to her current role as head athletic trainer for the Long Island Nets.
Johnson is one of three women who are head athletic trainers for the National Basketball Association’s developmental league, also known as the NBA G League. While she aspires to one day work at the highest level in the NBA, Johnson said, “I love where I am right now,” and is appreciative of the opportunities she’s received.
Johnson attended GlenOak High School in Canton, Ohio and was part of a program that introduced students to various medical fields. The program was coordinated by Kristen Wellman, an athletic trainer and graduate of OHIO.
“Shanice was always a ray of sunshine in her high school years. I am not surprised at all by her success,” said Wellman (AT ‘94). “Even as a young student, when Shanice saw an opportunity she didn't hesitate to act on whatever it was. She was one of my student athletic trainer aides for the GlenOak football team and her dedication to athletic training was evident to me back then.”
Wellman said she was thrilled when Johnson chose to attend OHIO and added that whenever she sees her, “I am greeted with that same bright light that would make me smile over 10 years ago.”
“I looked up to her,” Johnson (AT ‘11) said of Wellman. “I asked her where she went to school and that really impacted where I chose to go. I got to follow in the footsteps of someone I admired.”
In the field of athletic training, Johnson finds joy in helping an athlete return to the field.
“Rehabilitation is my favorite part of the job,” she said. “Seeing someone be disabled for a temporary amount of time and to be able to help them through that process is a pretty cool experience I still enjoy. I enjoy helping and making people better.”
Johnson has always enjoyed sports with her first love being football. Her coursework at OHIO introduced her to basketball and started her on the path to the NBA.
“I have a special place for OHIO in my heart. I rock OHIO everywhere, I still have the license plate banner on my car and I represent OHIO every day,” Johnson said. “It’s Neverland. It’s a place where it’s academically driven but it also has a nice balance to enjoy college life.”
Upon graduation, Johnson worked at North Carolina Central University which allowed her to hone her expertise before she connected with the Women’s National Basketball Association’s New York Liberty team and became an assistant athletic trainer for the organization.
While working with professional athletes was intimidating for Johnson at first, she said she quickly learned that they are “everyday people.”
“Having a conversation with them, you realize that they are people too. They have needs and the same common-sense interactions anyone else has. When you see that athlete as a human, everything else falls into place,” Johnson said.
The pressure of working with celebrity athletes fostered great growth and taught Johnson how to be a good observer and listener.
After a couple of seasons with the WNBA, Johnson was offered the opportunity to join the Brooklyn Nets as the head athletic trainer of its developmental team while also having the opportunity to work with Brooklyn during the offseason.
“It has been a tremendous experience,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to master my own skill and to get hands-on with NBA players.”
While men still dominant the field of athletic training in the NBA, women continue to work their way into the ranks. Johnson said she’s never experienced a professional athlete feeling uncomfortable around her due to her sex. She said it’s all business when it comes to getting a player back to healthy competition.
When work slows in the off-season, Johnson likes to travel and spend time with family and friends. When she’s not reading a book or performing different workout challenges, Johnson can also be found playing Australian football.