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March 7, 2015

Sue Falsone’s journey as an athletic trainer has taken her on a path she couldn’t have anticipated. Sue grew up in Buffalo, N.Y. After high school, she earned a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy from Daemen College in Amhurst, N.Y., and became a Licensed Physical Therapist in 1996. She then took a position in North Carolina, became intrigued by the profession of athletic training, and applied to the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. In August 2000, she completed a master’s degree in human movement, with a concentration in sports medicine.

Soon after finishing at UNC, Sue and a friend decided, on a whim, to move across the country to Phoenix. “Neither of us had jobs,” Sue says, “and we just picked up and moved.” She easily found part-time work, and then happened to read an article about a baseball player who trained at Athletes Performance (AP) in Phoenix. “It sounded like a place I’d like to work,” Sue says. “I met the owner, and volunteered there most of the summer of 2001. By that fall he had hired me to work full time.”

While Sue was an AP employee, the Dodgers approached the company about helping the team with various aspects of their sports medicine program, and Sue was assigned to the project. “I became more involved with the Dodgers, and eventually was asked to serve as a consultant for the team. That role continued to grow, and in October 2011 I was offered the position of head athletic trainer. I was a vice president at Athletes Performance at the time, and was able to keep that position and take the job with the Dodgers as well.”

When she said “yes” to the Dodgers, Sue became the first female head athletic trainer in any of the four major sports in the United States. She received many heartfelt letters—both electronically and hand-written—from many parents and young girls, helping her realize the magnitude of that distinction. “Some parents wrote letters saying that now they knew their daughters could achieve their dreams. Breaking that glass ceiling was very special.”

At the end of the 2013 season, Sue decided to step away from her positions with both the Dodgers and AP. “The move to Phoenix was supposed to be short-term, but I stayed there 13 years and it ended up being life-changing,” she says. “But I felt it was time for a bit of a sabbatical.”

In 2014, Sue started working independently as a sports medicine consultant and teacher. She is certified in Systemic Dry Needling and regularly provides training in this healing modality to athletic trainers, physical therapists, and other medical professionals. Sue explains, “Systemic dry needling, created by Dr. Yun-tao Ma, is an approach rooted in Western medicine that uses a fine filament needle to increase the body’s own healing potential, especially with neuromuscular skeletal injuries. Dry needling facilitates what the body needs, and is effective with chronic tendonopathy, muscle sprains, and treating a lack of joint range of motion. Dry needling can relax muscles, stimulate muscles, and regulate the system. It is an amazing tool to use with athletes, and I enjoy teaching other clinicians to use it in their practices.”

This past October, Sue accepted a position as head of athletic training and sports performance for the Men’s U.S. Soccer Team. “I’m still getting to know the job,” she says. “It’s much different working with a national team rather than a club team, and it has been a very exciting and fun couple of months. All the guys on the team play on a club team, and then the national team gets together at specific times. In less than six months, I’ve already traveled with the team to England, Ireland, and Chile, and within the United States to Boston, L.A., and Boca Raton. This summer the team will be together for six weeks during the Gold Cup.”

Sue recently took a position on the board of the National Council on Youth Sports Safety.

“I’m particularly excited about the council’s new initiative—Protecting Athletes and Sports Safety, or PASS. It’s a two-year initiative to transform the policies and procedures adopted by local communities in addressing sports-related concussions. It’s a great educational initiative with wonderful people and organizations involved, focusing on doing the right thing for young athletes.”

Sue also serves on the advisory board of KinetIQ Global, an initiative to bring high quality sports medicine to Southeast Asia. “We share Western sciences with people who otherwise wouldn’t have opportunities to get this education. Each advisor is paired with a “grasshopper” –-an up and coming student athletic trainer--to mentor. I’ve stayed in touch with my grasshopper from South Korea. It’s been a cool relationship that has grown over the last year, and it’s one of my favorite things I’ve done.”

The Korean Institute of Sports Science is another organization that benefits from Sue as a member of their advisory board. “I got involved with this when I spoke in Seoul last year,” she says. “They’re really looking to systematize their education and elevate the application of sports science in Korea. It’s a really fun group to work with.”

Sue is also an advisor for Performance Health, Katalyst Shoulder Training, Baseball New Zealand, and is just a few hours from completing a 200-hour yoga teaching certification. In addition to being a Certified Athletic Trainer and Licensed Physical Therapist, Sue is a Board Certified Clinical Specialist in Sports Physical Therapy; Certified Orthopedic Manual Therapist for the Spine; and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.

“I am so blessed to have met all the people I’ve met, for the opportunities that have come my way, and for the people I work with now and have worked with in the past,” Sue says. “You’re only as good as the people around you, and the people around me have been amazing and have taught me so much.”

Sue is grateful for her journey thus far, but doesn’t focus on what’s next. “I enjoy what I’m doing now,” she says, “and I’m living in the present.”