Girlfriends Formed at NATA

December 6, 2023 by Lydia Hicks

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 will highlight various AT relationships and the role NATA played in these connections.

They found each other 10 years ago via interactions through the Northwest Athletic Trainers’ Association. Today, this group of program directors experience life together as colleagues and friends.

Kasee Hildenbrand, PhD, LAT, ATC, Dani Moffit, PhD, LAT, ATC, Suzette Nynas, EdD, LAT, ATC, and Valerie Moody, PhD, LAT, ATC, met in 2013 as NATA Clinical Symposia & AT Expo National Quiz Bowl judges, Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education conference table mates and Athletic Training Educator’s Conference colleagues. And they’ve been buddies ever since.

While they guide future athletic trainers at Washington State University, Idaho State University, Montana State University in Billings and the University of Montana, respectively, these NATA leaders also share a common bond: serving the greater NATA membership and being a voice for the profession.

While Hildenbrand serves on the NATA board as the District Ten director, Moffit leads the charge of helping NATA members connect with one another as chair of the NATA Connection and Engagement Committee. Nynas and Moody have also made long-term impacts, having represented athletic trainers’ interests on NATA committees and the board.

Beyond their mutual involvements as the profession’s leaders, these “NATA girlfriends” have also developed a relationship so close, you could call them sisters.

In an interview with NATA Now, they traveled down memory lane and talked about their growth together and the activities that have forged their friendship.

How did you all meet?

Kasee Hildenbrand, PhD, LAT, ATC: I do remember Suzette and I were Quiz Bowl judges and we bonded over the fact that we were very certain we were correct in the answer [to a Board of Certification for the Athletic Trainer facility question] about how high up the electrical outlets needed to be.

Valerie Moody, PhD, LAT, ATC: One thing that sticks out to me is we first started hanging out and socializing at meetings at the Athletic Training Educators’ Conference in Dallas. And we went to dinner.

Dani Moffit, PhD, LAT, ATC: Yes, I remember that. We went to the mall beforehand, and we were trying to decide whether or not we wanted to try on Quinceañera dresses.

Hildenbrand: And we made Dani try on a dress that ended up looking somewhat like your grandmother's wallpaper (all laugh), but that was a lot of fun.

Moody: Yeah.

Moffit: Yeah. That's pretty bad (laughs).

Hildenbrand: And then I think since then, we've always roomed together most of the time when we travel to any sort of conference or anything like that. And then now, we have a whole offshoot where we just travel, the four of us. We have a retreat every year that we go on by ourselves.

What role do you think NATA has played in your coming together and remaining together as a group?

Suzette Nynas, EdD, LAT, ATC: I think it's education. We're all program directors and all educating future athletic trainers, so we have a lot in common. We share a lot of the same concerns. We help each other with particular issues, what we may be experiencing in our own programs and how we can, maybe, do something differently or better. I remember specifically when the new CAATE standards came out and getting together and brainstorming Objective Structured Clinical Examination and developing clinical OSCEs to help our programs. So it's always been collaborative, but I would say that the common core has always been that we're all educators and we're always looking for ways to improve our programs. We rely heavily on each other for bouncing ideas, brainstorming and working through some of the trials and difficult times as well.

Hildenbrand: Looking back through some text messages that we've had, I think it started out being more professional. It’s morphed quite a bit from there. I remember I was driving to Seattle, which is about four hours away, and my phone blew up with our group text message … and really it was just asking for influential women in sports. And I remember being like, “Who? That's interesting,” and I'm so glad it wasn't that something blew up in my world that I was going to have to address.

Moffit: When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it was really nice; at my campus we had a lot of Interprofessional Education events that were all virtual and I had a small number of students – I always needed athletic training students – and so I would reach out to these three ladies and say, “Do you have any students that want to join our IPE events so we have an athletic trainer in every single room?” So, there's that connection that we made that our students know each other. … We look out for each other's kids, basically, now.

Moody: Probably our newest effort is working on research collaboration together with our programs to support the education of future athlete trainers. So that's been a cool process, too, as we've evolved our relationship.

What intentional efforts has each of you made that have fostered your relationship with one another?

Nynas: I think we decided it was important for us to have that weekend together as a group, so we’ve set aside time. We've looked at our schedules to make it happen. So, I think all of us have made that effort to maintain those relationships, but also go beyond the professional relationships of being program directors and helping each other out to develop a friendship and fostering that friendship.

Hildenbrand: Yeah, I think we try to pick our weekend and when we're going to do that retreat. I think this year, it was like early summer because we just knew that we're all in different locations. We all have different situations – kids, family situations and that sort of stuff. And I know there's a lot of coordination, but this last year was our third time doing it and we've just really made it a priority because we get a lot out of that time. We're always supporting one person who feels like maybe they want to be done doing things. It's sort of rotated every year who that person has been, which I guess is good.

I, personally, have a vested interest in who they are outside of just being a program director. We know who their kids are and what their kids like to do and who's going where, when and that sort of stuff. I think it's definitely gone beyond professional, but there's also a lot of trust there when we do have professional questions.

Moffit: I've driven 50 miles north to go see Kasee when her daughter was playing volleyball. Suzette was also driving through town coming back from vacation and we went out to coffee. I'm still waiting for Val to come to Pocatello, but when she comes to the area, I will go see her. Suzette’s daughter was at a swim meet once and I happened to be at my parents’ house where her swim meet was, so we were able to have coffee that morning. We could get together and just talk, not talk shop, which is huge, because I think too often, people just start talking shop and complaining or venting but [our relationship] is beyond that. It's been said that I know about [their] kids, I know what they're doing and where the next trip is. So, it's a friendship that's beyond your work friends.

Moody: Yeah, for me, I would say, I always think about – just for holidays – making sure that we all touch base on the holiday regardless of where we are to just tell each other, “happy Thanksgiving” or “merry Christmas” or whatever it is. To me, that's one of the first things I think about in the day, when the opportunity presents itself, to touch base with them just as a support system.

Hildenbrand: And I'm always really touched when they remember that I'm a time zone behind them. So, sometimes, I know they purposely wait to send the text so that I'm not getting it at 4 a.m. in the morning, my time zone.

Moody: Although Dani is the early riser (laughs).

How does work impact your relationship with one another?

Moody: Well, for me, it's always been a cool collaboration because education has changed so much and accreditation has changed so much that I've got three people who I trust and go to if I have questions or I'm uncertain about anything. And then we've shared ideas on projects and different assignments and things that we've done, and I think it's been very open and supportive.

I've not experienced it, but I know that with other programs, it's been more competitive than collaborative. I just really appreciate that [our work] is super collaborative and collegial in everything that we do. And it’s just that level of respect that I have for the work that Suzette, Kasee and Dani have done in the field and the profession and education– it's a mutual feeling for all of us, I think.

Moffit: It's nice, too, because, as Valerie already said, people get so competitive about students and there's been times when I know I've called someone and said, “Hey, this student is transferring from your program. Could you share some information?” … I've seen people get really upset about those things, and with us, it's just, “What do you need?” I mean, we just care. We just want to make sure that each person's program is great because that makes all of us great. We share everything, as much as we can, and we all have different needs and wants in our programs, and we get that.

Hildenbrand: Yeah, to just echo, I think it's easy to get competitive, especially if you're under pressure to hit certain numbers for students and that kind of stuff. It can be really easy to get that way and I don't feel like we've ever felt any competition with each other. We've supported each other when we've had student issues, too. It makes me feel like I'm not totally alone.

As program directors, would you say you find your safe space within this group to share what you're going through?

Moffit: 100%.

Moody: Yeah, and I think the other piece to me that sticks out, particularly as women in the profession and women in leadership, is looking at ways we can support each other to continue to advance and develop as professionals and just talking through different opportunities that come up, while having that safe space to have an open conversation.

Nynas: They're always there to support me. There's no judgment. We all struggle at different points. We all have our different issues that we're dealing with professionally, personally and things like that, but it's just … it's easy and it's safe. It's nice to know that you can go somewhere where you'll always be supported.

What advice would you like to give other NATA members about finding connections at NATA?

Moffit: I would say, take advantage of the fact that the only people who are going to understand you are the people who are in the same places as you. I think that connection is what has made us strong because we're all program directors. So, we have those sets of needs, and taking advantage of the people who are in the same place as you, gives you a great perspective.

Hildenbrand: When I think about taking advantage of opportunities that exist and making those connections, I think, too, about attending the things that you can attend. We're all in the same district, so I'm sure we would have come across each other's paths had we not necessarily had those, but I don't think we would have fostered the type of relationship that we have now if we hadn't taken advantage of [for instance] inviting Dani to come sit at our table.

I think the other thing is that all of us have or are currently involved in NATA and have served in different capacities. A lot of our students are the ones who go on to then also be future leaders in NATA or to take on different projects. I think some of that's fostered because of our shared belief in the importance of serving our profession. All of us have served on the BOC, the NATA Research & Education Foundation, CAATE. I mean, we all have different services, but I think NATA was the one that’s focused more on the membership-building-relationship side of things.


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