Athletes embrace Higgins as new Head Athletic Trainer

Susan "Suzi" Higgins, the newly appointed Head Athletic Trainer, handles student-athletes health care. Higgins has been a certified member of the National Athletic Trainer's Association since 1992. Photo credit: Angelo Roman.

Susan "Suzi" Higgins, the newly appointed Head Athletic Trainer, handles student-athletes health care. Higgins has been a certified member of the National Athletic Trainer's Association since 1992. Photo credit: Angelo Roman.

The Vassar Athletics’ training room has a new look this year. Susan Higgins, recently appointed as the new Head Athletic Trainer, will now handle the overall healthcare of the Brewers. Higgins earned her Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology from the University of Northern Colorado, her Masters in Physical Education and Sports Medicine from Minnesota State University at Mankato, and comes from a strong background with 20 years of experience. She has worked as the Head Athletic Trainer and Physical Education Instructor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH for three years and as the Associate Athletic Trainer at the University of San Diego for 13 years.

After years of previous work, Higgins chose Vassar College because of its location. “I just love this area,” she said.  “My husband recently retired from the Coast Guard, so we knew we were moving here regardless. I looked at this area and Vassar was at the top of my list from the start.”

She was already interested in the position a year prior to being appointed, but was forced to withdraw after an ACL tear. However, she still applied to various schools in the area, and managed to get a recommendation from the Athletic Director at Marist College to replace previous Head Athletic Trainer Jeff Carter.

Besides the location, Higgins also believes that her experience at the Division III Case Western Reserve University prepared her for Vassar Athletics. “I knew how to deal with Division III athletes and what they’re going through,” she explained. “It just seemed like a good fit right away.”

In addition to all of this, Higgins was drawn to other unique qualities that the Athletics department at Vassar offers. One of these qualities is the student-athletes themselves, and the overall approach to training. “Vassar student-athletes definitely take a very proactive approach to their injuries, so they always ask me what else they can do,” she explained. “They just want to get better and get back in shape, and they’re not shy about it.”

She continued, “From my experiences, there are two types of athletes: there are those who want to come back and play, and then there are those who just aren’t as motivated,” she said. “There are the hard workers and those who might get complacent with the injuries. But Vassar athletes always want to do more, and the motivation is always there.”

Although Higgins appreciates the individual student-athletes that make up Vassar Athletics, she also enjoys the dynamic between different teams and coaches as well. “I have never seen such teamwork amongst the student-athletes and the staff, so everyone’s really interconnected here. Everyone works together, and they’re really open about lending support when someone might need it,” she observed. “For example, the basketball coaches might help out at soccer games and carry waters for the soccer players, just helping out with the little stuff. Everyone’s supporting one another in those little ways and it makes you feel like you can always ask for help if you need it. At other schools, people are a little bit more isolated and other teams might not get along…here, everybody is supportive and they enjoy working together.”

The student trainers also seem to enjoy the dynamic that is created by Higgins in the training room. “[Higgins] has a bunch of new ideas, and is really developing great relationships with all the student-athletes,” said senior Catherine Fiore in an emailed statement. “She always gives each athlete the attention that they need, and is always professional. As my boss, she has lifted the standard to which we perform and she has made us all feel welcome and comfortable asking questions.” Senior student trainer Hayley Lemoine also commented on Higgins’ dynamic: “[Higgins] pretty much never stops smiling. I think she fits in very well with both the other trainers and the athletic department as a whole. The athletic training team works really well together — they all seem to keep each other updated constantly, and they will personally see every athlete that walks in before sending them to a Marist trainer or student worker,” wrote Lemoine. “Even if they have seen the athlete previously and know their treatment, they will check in with them, every time.”

Lemoine also appreciates Higgins’ approachability. “As a student worker, the most helpful thing about Suzi is how approachable she is. I am not nervous or unsure asking her for help, or if she needs anything done. She is very friendly, and will come over to where I’m working just to say hi and check in with me,” she wrote. “When I’m practicing taping, she will come over and offer feedback or check the results. The athletic trainers this year are very enthusiastic and devoted to the athletes, and Suzi is no exception.”

As for Higgins’ advice to student-athletes, she places an emphasis on hard work and taking care of one’s body through sleep and nutrition. “There’s never a substitution for hard work. I don’t care who uses it and what supplement it is, whether Michael Jordan used it or not, nothing beats working out — just working hard and getting better every day on your own,” she said. “Your body is a machine and you have to fuel it like a car. If you don’t, then it will break down.”

So far, Higgins has enjoyed her time as Head Athletic Trainer. “I’m having a lot of fun here and I love the people. We have a good staff, so people might be more comfortable than they used to be in the past,” she said. “That’s maybe the reason why you see so many people in the training room nowadays. It always helps to be friendly and welcoming, and that’s what we try to do every single day.”

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