When I graduated from high school, I thought that I wanted to be a doctor. With two older siblings already in school and a younger brother not far behind me, there was little doubt that my first two years of college would be spent in junior college (now know as community college) to get my prerequisites before transferring to a university. California had, and still has, a great system of junior colleges that were essentially free to state residents. There was a nominal student fee and the cost of books, but those could easily be paid for with money from part-time or summer jobs. Our local JC was just a 15 minute drive away from my home, so I could live at home, as nearly all my classmates did, and save more of my job earnings to pay for my upper division courses at the university. I don’t know if college loans were even a thing then, but what I did know is that I shouldn’t count on my parents to fund my studies past JC. So I always had a part-time (full-time in summer) job in anticipation of ever-increasing costs going forward.
It was the dawn of Title IX which prohibited discrimination against girls and women in education and athletic participation. I participated in intercollegiate basketball and softball and came to realize that many more opportunities were being open to women. Although we still played our games in the “girl’s gym”, we had matching uniforms, a league and even championship tournaments. But we also had something that was completely new to me as a female athlete, an athletic trainer. Well, we actually shared them with the men’s team when we were home (on the road the coach carried a box of first aid supplies). But the idea that there was a potential job for someone who was interested in preventing, recognizing, managing and rehabilitating athletic injuries made me rethink my educational and career goals. I started to do some research and learned that while it wasn’t yet possible to “major” in athletic training, a few universities were beginning to offer it as an area of emphasis as part of a physical education major. One of those universities was Fresno State, just a few miles up the road in central California. It was a way I could combine my interest in medicine with my love of athletics. Sign me up.
I took to athletic training like a duck to water. I worked with both men and women’s teams at Fresno though equality stopped at the locker room door. While I was allowed to provided rehabilitation, pregame taping and other routine procedures in the “training room” along with the other female students in the program, the men’s locker room and the sidelines at the football games were reserved for our male colleagues. I was disappointed, though not discouraged. I loved being part of the team. During my senior year I determined that to be better prepared for a full-time athletic trainer, I would need to get certified. I learned that there were only four universities in the country that offered graduate programs in athletic training. I applied to all of them and was accepted to three. I chose Oregon where I completed my Master’s and successfully passed the National Athletic Trainer’s Association exam making me one of a handful of female certified athletic trainers in 1977.
I went to the NATA convention the summer I graduated and lined up interviews with a few colleges. Nothing came of those. Sadly, having an advanced degree and certification did not guarantee employment in the field as I had hoped. What I didn’t realize, but what my interviewers quickly determined, was that I was in need of more experience. I was a cocky 22-year-old with a Master’s degree and certification, but lacking maturity. While at Oregon I had been offered a few unpaid opportunities to stay in Eugene over the summers to get additional hours working with the football team or volunteering at the local junior college. I turned those down, not appreciating at the time the value of those experiences. If I had it to do over again, I would have found a way to stay in the field until my resume was strong enough to earn a full-time job. But hind site is 20/20 and life and circumstances have a way of moving forward with or without you. I ended up in a completely different field and was able to make a good living and retire young. Still, I can help but wonder what could have been if I had been a bit more focused on the journey and not just the destination.