Finding Family Through NATA

December 15, 2023 by Beth Sitzler

Athletic training is a profession built on relationships. Just as important as the relationships ATs build with their patients are the ones they build with each other. NATA is often a conduit for these relationships, providing members with opportunities for collaboration, connection and a sense of belonging. This Be NATA blog series highlights various AT relationships and the role NATA played in these connections.

 

“Hey, I’m about to go to this EDAC thing – come with me.”

That simple request from LaJoy Paige, MS, LAT, ATC, to Rob Dicks, MA, LAT, ATC, after officially meeting in the halls of the 65th NATA Clinical Symposia & AT Expo, sparked a nearly decadelong friendship.

“I knew Rob before he knew me,” said Paige, explaining that during her time as an undergrad, she would see Dicks at the NATA convention in passing, having a similar group of friends, but never at the events held by the NATA Ethnic Diversity Advisory Committee. “I would see him and think, ‘How is he not at these meetings and I'm at these meetings?’ So, when we ended up crossing paths once I became a professional, I knew I had to get him at a meeting. And we’ve been attached at the hip ever since.”

“I get [to the EDAC meeting] and I’m like, ‘I’ve been missing this?’ I’d been in the game 12 years at that point, and I had never heard of EDAC,” said Dicks, adding that since that meeting, he has been involved with the committee, attending its yearly service event and currently serving as the EDAC District Nine representative.

After NATA 2014, Dicks and Paige stayed in touch, developing not only a close friendship, but a mentor-mentee relationship.

“It was instant familyship – friendship doesn’t even do it justice – and instant mentor-mentee, without us even discussing it,” Dicks said. “It was just organic.”

Dicks provided Paige guidance and even tough love when needed. More importantly, he was an example from which she found inspiration.

“From the beginning, I always saw Rob speaking to different people who were younger and being a mentor,” Paige said. “I always wanted to be a mentor, and I took it upon myself to be like him. I would meet students at [the NATA convention] and say, ‘Hey, do you want to hang out with me for the day? We’re going to meet a lot of people, we’re going to network.’ … That’s something that professionally really rubbed off on me.”

“I tell her all the time that I love the work she’s doing with the students she works with. It’s top tier,” Dicks said. “To watch this young lady with her kids is something unimaginable. The way she nurtures them, talks to them and loves on them. She does goody bags, game nights and stuff like that – stuff that I now do because of watching her.”

The more they got to know each other, the more things they realized they had in common. From enjoying cigar lounges to an affinity for almond M&Ms – “Nobody else likes almond M&Ms,” Paige said with a laugh – they keep discovering new similarities to this day. Perhaps their strongest similarity is their shared love of the athletic training profession and their athletic training community.

As two people who have “never met a stranger,” as Dicks put it, the duo said they feel strongly about connecting to their peers and helping those coming up behind them find their place in the profession and association. In addition to mentoring and connecting with athletic training students, Paige and Dicks are also active within leadership and have served at the state, district and national levels.

“I don’t know if I’d be able to do everything that I do without NATA,” Dicks said. “No. 1, it helps get me to convention. I love volunteering. I’ve used CEU bucks, discounted rates for insurance – I’ve done all of that stuff. … I don’t see myself doing those things without NATA. People ask me, ‘What does NATA do for me?’ and I say, ‘Well, you have to answer that question because my answer might be different from yours.’”

“For me, NATA opened my eyes to being a part of a professional organization,” said Paige, who has served on the NATA Secondary School Athletic Trainers’ Committee, as a convention proposal reviewer and convention volunteer. “I enjoy being able to do things leadership-wise with NATA and my state association. I’m advocating for my profession through NATA.

“I'm big on relationships, and the relationships built through NATA have been a foundation for me professionally.”

As volunteers and ATs in the secondary school setting, with Dicks in Georgia and Paige in South Carolina, they often find their schedules are packed. Despite their busyness, their connection is always there. 

“It doesn’t matter how long we go without talking, when I see her name pop up on the phone it’s, ‘What’s up?!’ and it picks back up,” Dicks said.

This closeness and understanding allows the duo to support one another, especially in times of need – be it professionally or personally.

“Even when we have down times, stuff going on with the family, or someone passes away, we’re right there,” Paige said. “So, that friendship through NATA has branched off into something you can’t put into words.”

When Paige got married in April, 15 of her 150 guests were athletic trainers she met through NATA.

“That just shows you those relationships you build can go beyond athletic training – we’re there for each other even outside of [the profession],” she said.

Of those ATs in attendance was Dicks, who drove five hours to be part of the occasion.

“He was one person I wasn’t worried about,” Paige said. “I knew he was going to be there.”

While the duo has met up for various professional meetings and life events, the NATA convention has become Dicks and Paige’s annual meetup, with them carving out time to see each other, no matter how packed their schedules get.

“We always find a way, even though we’re pulled in so many directions,” said Paige, adding that they’re already planning for the 75th NATA Clinical Symposia & AT Expo, taking place June 25-28, 2024, in New Orleans.  

For those looking to connect to their fellow athletic trainers and the overall athletic training community, Dicks and Paige’s advice is simple: Don’t be afraid to talk to people.

“You never know who you’re going to come into contact with,” Paige said. “It’s all about networking, and sometimes you’re going to be uncomfortable – it’s not always going to be comfortable going up and talking to people – but I feel like you’re going to get back what you put in.”

“This is a relationship for life,” said Dicks, using his connection to Paige as an example of what can happen when you just go up and talk to someone. “I think we’re better when we have connections like this.”

 

Be NATA

No matter your setting, you have a home within NATA. Your membership opens the door to problem-solving resources and connects you to our global athletic training community. Be NATA and join or renew your NATA membership by Dec. 31. Don’t let finances get in the way of membership. Contact Member Services through email or by calling 972-532-8897 to learn more about how we can help.

 

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