Multiple Roles Work Toward One Goal

October 6, 2021 by Claire Williams

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15-Oct. 15, the NATA Now blog is highlighting some of NATA’s Hispanic/Latinx athletic training members who are advancing the profession through research.

Toni Torres-McGehee, PhD, SCAT, ATC, wears many hats at the University of South Carolina – director of athletic training and post-professional athletic training programs; associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion at the UofSC Arnold School of Public Health; director of the performance, health and wellness research laboratory; professor; mentor; and researcher.

How she manages to do it all? Passion for the work, the students, future patients and the athletic training profession.

“I absolutely love that my job allows me to give back in so many ways as an athletic trainer and a researcher,” she said.

Torres-McGehee’s research focus on eating disorders, body image, the female athlete triad, sport nutrition, behavioral health in athletes, mental health in athletes and prevention programs for collegiate dancers, athletes and military personnel led to her filling roles at the university that allow her to work not only on research she’s passionate about, but as an educator to the next athletic training generation.

Over the past 10 years as athletic training programs and post-professional athletic training programs director, Torres-McGehee has secured more than $7.1 million in internal and external funding to provide athletic training services in the community. Currently, she works with the approximately 47 athletic trainers enrolled in the university’s master’s program who provide services within UofSC and the community.

Torres-McGehee, who is Hispanic, also works with faculty, staff and students within the Arnold School of Public Health as the associate dean for DEI to develop to implement a shared vision to enhance DEI throughout the school.

“I also work diligently to promote and improve our culture of inclusion and generate educational opportunities for faculty, staff and students to foster a positive school-wide DEI climate,” she said.

While her research has not previously explored diverse or minority populations specifically – “my research line does focus on all patient populations within the physically active community,” she said – her role as associate dean for DEI gives her the opportunity to explore social determinants of health as they pertain to mental health and nutritional access.

Her research experience is applied most specifically, though, as director of the Performance, Health and Wellness research laboratory. Oversight of the lab, Torres-McGehee said, allows her to engage in her research and mentor students at the undergraduate, master’s and doctoral levels.

Right now, she mentors two doctoral students, 10 master’s students and four undergraduate athletic training students within the lab.

The goal of the lab is to identify exercising female and male energy deficiencies as they pertain to energy availability, with a secondary goal of identifying mental and behavioral health disorders and wellness issues in collegiate, performing artists, tactical athletes within the military and recreational athletes.

According to Torres-McGehee, the lab conducts research on feeding and eating disorders and examines low energy availability with or without an eating disorder risk.

“It’s important for ATs to understand how mental health, specifically feeding and eating disorders, correlate with inappropriate fueling for student athletes and other physically active populations,” she said.

“Athletic trainers are typically the primary source of health care for athletic populations; therefore, it is critical athletic trainers are well-versed in understanding mental health and behavioral health.”

Most recently, Torres-McGehee and other researchers from the lab published, “Energy Availability With or Without Eating Disorder Risk in Collegiate Female Athletes and Performing Artists,” in the September Journal of AthleticTraining.

This research on multi-sport collegiate Division I female athletes and low energy availability with or without an eating disorder risk suggested that a large proportion of collegiate female athletes/performing artists are at risk for low energy availability with eating disorder risk, thus warranting education, identification, prevention and intervention strategies relative to fueling for performance.

In the future, the research lab will continue to examine both the female athlete triad cumulative risk assessment and the relative energy deficiency in sport’s clinical assessment tool to provide additional evidence for clinician assessment for low energy availability and energy deficiency.

Torres-McGehee’s roles across the University of South Carolina are vast, that’s clear, but they all come back to one thing: “I absolutely love educating young professionals and teaching them how to become leaders and health care professionals,” she said.

Her experience in research, leadership, as an athletic training educator and her passion for it all make her the woman for the job.