Mentors Faith Proves True

March 25, 2021 by Elizabeth Quinn

The March NATA News features an article about women in leadership and how to address barriers and challenges to becoming a leader. In honor of Women’s History Month this March, NATA would like to keep this conversation going through a monthlong blog series highlighting our female leaders. Each blog will feature a different NATA council or committee chair, who will share insights into their leadership journey and what they’ve learned along the way.

In this blog, Karen Fennell, MS, ATC, chair of the NATA Council on Practice Advancement, shares how she slowly worked her way through volunteer opportunities until she was ready for more responsibilities, and how patience, faith and consistency go a long way.

Karen Fennell, MS, ATC

NATA Council on Practice Advancement Chair

Territory Sales Consultant for Missouri and Southern Illinois for Townsend/ThuasneUSA


Do you think it’s important for more women to take leadership positions in athletic training?

Absolutely, for the fact that we bring a different perspective. All people have different perspectives, and we have different experiences and feedback. Most importantly, we not only need all the perspectives we can get, but more diversity. Our leadership must reflect the membership.

How do you manage to balance work, life and volunteer leadership positions?

The best thing for me has been taking small roles in leadership and building up to ones with more responsibility – volunteering for something small at the state level then becoming a NATA chair. Having leadership roles that have been presented to me with more and more responsibilities has helped me juggle work, life and volunteer.

If younger you was looking at yourself now, what do you think they’d say? Would they have believed you’d become such a successful woman?

I was mentored by several NATA Hall of Famers along the way. I was also mentored by people who have not reached that pinnacle, but did amazing things, such as spearheading licensure in Illinois in the early 1990’s. I think my younger self would say, “Yeah, all your mentors were right. They helped mentor and guide you and placed a lot of faith in you. They knew that you’d be doing what you do now.” Even to this day, I keep in contact with my mentors. To summarize, I think I would say, “Wow, you have learned a lot, and you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing.”

What advice would you give to women who want to take on leadership roles but worry about not having the time or finding that balance?

My best advice: Speak directly to the person who did it before you to know the responsibilities, and then determine if the work-life balance works. Ask yourself, can I give an hour a day? These roles can be fast and furious, and sometimes, they are crickets. Knowing how to navigate those waters is important. There are these ebbs and flows that go with these positions. I believe you can find the time if you have great people in your inner circle, support from other leaders (such as the NATA Board of Directors), your significant other, your family, etc. Don’t just jump in and say you want to be the chair and not know anything. You’ll drown.

What is the key to becoming a successful woman in leadership in athletic training?

Listening. I don’t know it all – I will never know it all – but listening to your team, asking a lot of questions and finding good mentors is key. Being cognizant and thankful for my mentors. I often think about all of the people who picked me up and carried me along the way. I’ve been really lucky, and I think it has a lot to do with where I went to school. I was mentored early in my career by Kathy Schniedwind, MS, ATC, David Draper, EdD, ATC, FNATA, and Rene Revis-Shingles, PhD, ATC, while a student at Illinois State University. They took me under their wing, showed me the way and, most importantly, modeled successful leadership. Fast forward to today, I will be honest that I feel like I have been invited to sit at the “cool kid” lunch table. Being surrounded by all these amazing people on COPA is extremely humbling. I always say I will slow down a little bit. When will that be, I’m not sure, but in the meantime, the collaboration keeps me engaged and drives my desire to propel this amazing profession forward.