From Recovery to Leadership

February 1, 2024 by Lydia Hicks

In honor of Black History Month in February, NATA Now is highlighting some of our Black leaders at the state, district and national levels as they share insight into their volunteer journeys.

Not having an athletic trainer while attending West Davidson High School didn’t stop E.J. Hairston, MS, LAT, ATC, from pursuing the profession.

After incurring a foot sprain in his senior year, Hairston sought out an athletic trainer at a physical therapy clinic, who explained the value of an AT to him while providing encouragement.

“[He] told me how the exercises and treatments would help me get back to playing,” Hairston said. “I believe he was more excited when I played my first game back than I was.”

Having been a beneficiary of athletic training, Hairston proceeded to not only becoming an athletic trainer, but also serving as a leader in the profession. The incoming NATA ATs Care Commission District Six representative reflects on his journey and encourages his peers.

What was your first volunteer position with NATA at the state, district or national level and why did you get involved?

My first volunteer position was with the Southwest Athletic Trainers’ Association ATs Care Commission. I knew ATs who had gone through some traumatic situations in their careers. I wanted to be able to help them the same way I was helped when I needed it. This profession has given me so much, I felt the need to give back. It allowed me to promote the profession and promote ATs Care. People need to know who we are and that we are there to support them when they need it.

Tell us about your current position as NATA ATs Care CISM team coordinator and incoming NATA ATs Care Commission District Six representative and what you hope to accomplish in this role.

My current position with ATs Care is to connect with anyone who needs a shoulder to lean on or to be a listening ear. I assist our District Six team by making our district members aware that we are here for them. As incoming representative, my objective is to continue to bring awareness to the district, but also continue the efforts to bring awareness to the young professionals and graduate students entering the field. I believe they will need our help. I will listen to my District Six team and work with them to make us better prepared to help others, while maintaining self-care.

Why is representation in leadership important and how does it impact the profession?

Leadership impacts the profession because it gives us direction. I believe you can’t lead if no one follows. The one who shows determination, willingness to work with others and a strong work ethic is the one who people usually gravitate toward and want to follow. Leadership is about people, just like this profession. Without leadership, we can’t lead people, which means we can’t help people.

How has volunteering helped you grow personally and professionally?

Giving my time allows me to provide a resource that others need. It’s one of the ways I get my blessings. Understanding what it means to give of yourself as a volunteer, in itself, makes me a better professional.

What’s your fondest memory of serving so far?

Anytime I’ve been able to help an athlete in college or high school, and they come back to see me or give me a call or text – when they are not injured – is a memory that I will treasure. At this point, we are building friendships that go past injury rehabilitation. We are building relationships in life.

What advice do you have for other athletic trainers who want to give back to the profession? 

Any time you feel like you are tired, feel like you have given everything you have and frustrated with life, remember the population you serve is depending on you. You may be the only person to show that individual, or group, any love that day. You may be the only positive that person has in their life at that moment. We don’t know what others are dealing with. Be a positive light for someone.