Taking care of approximately 500 student athletes is no easy task. But head athletic trainer Suzi Higgins takes that role in stride.
“It’s an enormous responsibility that I take very seriously as not only am I in charge of making sure everyone is participating safely, but I also have to ensure that my staff, students, and coaches are aware and able to handle injuries in the event that I’m not there,” stated Higgins.
Higgins assumed the job of head trainer at Vassar in 2013 following a long career of athletic training at other schools around the country. She began as Associate Athletic Trainer at the University of San Diego, where she worked for 13 years. She then became the Head Athletic Trainer at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH. Immediately prior to taking control of Vassar Sports Medicine, Higgins took a break from athletic training to work in corporate wellness for Boeing in Seattle, WA.
Higgins brings all of the necessary experience to run Vassar sports medicine as smoothly as possible. One of Higgins’ most impressive accolades comes from 2005 when she was named the recipient of the College/University Athletic Trainers’ Committee’s NCAA Division I-AA Assistant Athletic Trainer of the Year award.
Despite working largely on the West Coast, moving cross-country from Washington to New York was an easy decision for Higgins and her husband. “My husband retired from the Coast Guard and he grew up in Beacon, NY and we knew we wanted to live in the Hudson Valley,” stated Higgins.
Four years later, Higgins is fully accustomed to life as the head athletic trainer at Vassar. One of Higgins’ favorite aspects of working at Vassar is spending time with the student-athletes. “Being around young people is very fun. I learn a lot from the students and it makes me feel good when they trust me with their health and even personal situations,” explained Higgins.
Her favorite events on campus include the alumni games that happen in each team’s offseason. “Now that I have a good amount of students that have graduated, I love the alumni events the most as it’s great to see what the student-athletes do after Vassar.”
Higgins is joined by Assistant Athletic Trainers Tabby Santiago and Ian Shultis. “Tabby and Ian are two of the best athletic trainers I have ever worked with in my 25 plus year career. I think they just get where I want this program to go in the future and they work hard when they are here and even when they go home. I couldn’t ask for two better people to assist me in this journey and I look forward to improving our department together as a team,” prided Higgins.
Santiago joined Vassar Sports Medicine in the summer of 2015 after previously working as the graduate assistant athletic trainer at the University of Central Florida where she completed her masters. She also worked at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex and Harvard University. Shultis arrived at Vassar in the fall of 2014 after graduating from Marist. He trained at Marist working with their sports medicine staff as well as serving on the sports medicine team for US Fencing since June 2012.
Shultis says he’s learned a lot from Higgins since joining Vassar Sports Medicine two years ago. “Suzi instantly became my go to for any question, or difficulty I had. She was always ready to help in a way that made me feel welcome and part of the team,” Shultis articulated. “She has a wealth of experience in athletic training but most importantly knows how to translate that information to any level of athlete.”
Vassar Sports Medicine is comprised of not only certified trainers but also student trainers who work for a few hours a week along with attending classes. Many of the student trainers also double as Vassar student-athletes.
Sophomore women’s basketball player Nicole Teta stated, “I was interested in learning about the side of sports that involves the people who do their best to get us back into the game.”
Each day Teta uses ultrasound and STEM machines, tapes athletes injuries and prepares the training room for practices and games.
“It’s definitely taught me to appreciate being healthy and able to play the sport that I love,” Teta reflected. “We see a lot of kids who miss their seasons due to injury and it has opened my eyes to see how lucky I am. I refuse to take playing basketball for granted.”
Countless students know all too well the challenges that come with being an athlete, including severe injuries that may take months, even entire seasons to recover from.
As a two-sport-athlete, sophomore soccer and track player Sarah DeBenedictis is no stranger to injury. “Since coming to Vassar, I started suffering from shin splints, then I pulled my hamstring, followed by a stress fracture in my back and now I am dealing with SI joint inflammation,” listed DeBenedictis. “The training staff have helped me every step of the way from paperwork to emotional support and everything in between.”
Coaches as well as players recognize all of the hard work the training staff puts into making each athlete ready for competition.“Most coaches do not have the knowledge or focus to think solely about an injured athlete,” Head women’s lacrosse coach Judy Finerghty continued. “They are integral to our daily operation and vital to the process of healing and recovery. We could not function at the same level as an athletic program without them.”
Everyone involved with Vassar Athletics truly cannot thank the sports medicine staff enough. Everyday they show up to work ready to give 100 percent in order to ensure that each athlete can perform at their highest level possible.
Higgins claims “I try and think of each student as though they were my child.” And the student-athletes at Vassar could not be more thankful for their second family that is sports medicine.