The photo above is of Sue Falsone, who laughs about the fact that she thinks she was able to swim before she could walk, but (because of synchronized swimming) she spent so much time in the pool that her hand-eye coordination and balance development were not good enough for other sports. "When I got to high school, I ran track one year. I played soccer a couple of years - I was terrible at all of it. I enjoyed being active [but] I wasn't a great athlete."
When she pulled her hamstring while playing soccer in high school, she had to go to physical therapy and thought that "...the stuff they were doing was so cool." She had originally planned to become an orthopedic surgeon, but she realized that surgeons don't get to spend time with patients and help them work their way through the healing process. That's why she changed her career path to physical therapy rather than pre-med (2: An Early Sense of Direction).
She grew up in Buffalo, New York, where hockey and football reign supreme. She started her professional career at a clinic in Raleigh, N.C., and watched other trainers work with high school and college athletes. In her words, she decided "Man, that's what I really want to do." And from that moment on, sports injuries became her passion (8: Magnificent Obsession).
At a pivotal moment in her life (she had just broken up with her boyfriend and "needed to make a complete change"), she and a girlfriend packed up her apartment, put everything in a truck, drove to Arizona, and took the first exit that said "Phoenix" (14: Selective Disassociation). She received her PT license in Arizona, and began working part time at a clinic. When she read an article in Sports Illustrated Magazine about a batting champion who trained at Athletes' Performance (a training/rehab center in Phoenix), she began persistently "hanging out" there.
Finally, the owner "realized that I was not going to go away" and offered her a job; today she is still a vice-president (8: Turning No Into Yes). Falsone's background became more baseball oriented after working with Mark Verstegen (founder of Athletes' Performance) on practically every type of baseball-related injury.
The Pittsburgh Steelers was the first team in any sport to hire a female trainer (Ariko Iso, in 2002), and the San Diego Padres hired a female massage therapist (Kelly Calabrese) in 2003. In 2011, Nancy Patterson became the first female assistant athletic trainer for the Dodgers. As head athletic trainer for the team, Falsone's office includes staff members that include massage therapists, physical therapists and athletic trainers.
Falsone brings a level of perfectionism to both the players and to her job. "My goal is getting these guys to feel good, given the level of performance they need to have every day. It's not good enough for them to just feel OK. Every injury is like a puzzle. What is the optimal combination to make a player feel better? Just figuring out that puzzle is what gets me fired up" (10: The Critic Within).
Falsone hopes that more women will be accepted within the ranks of professional sports teams. When asked if the guys ever make sexist comments to her, she answered "They don't. When people are in pain, they just want to feel better. They're not thinking 'this is a girl, this is a guy.' They're just thinking 'I trust this person.'"
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