Health is critical to the success of any sports team. Health is also important when you are winning. The FGCU men’s basketball team is on a five-game winning streak. Winning streaks can take a lot out of teams. They can get exhausted and injured.
That is why athletic trainer Nicole Neal is important to the team. Skill is always good when it comes to a team, but health is just as important. The way the Eagles fought down to the last second during their game against NJIT was all due to the health of the team.
“Nicole does a good job making sure that we are ready for every game, every practice, every treatment — to make sure we perform our best in the game,” said Julian Debose, a guard on the FGCU men’s basketball team.
Neal is also a hit with the staff.
“(Neal’s) always helpful, always in a good mood,” Assistant Coach Senque Carey said. “(It’s) something that carries over and gets us in a good mood.”
Overall, the health of the team has been good this season. There have been no major setbacks.
“We have been faced with a couple banged up guys,” Carey said. “(Neal)’s done a great job at getting extra time in with those guys, whatever was needed to get them back on the floor.”
Neal talks to the team and motivates them like a coach.
Neal has been with the FGCU men’s basketball team since 2014. She decided to go into the field of sports medicine because of an injury she obtained as a child playing soccer.
“The injury required surgery, and as a result of many hours of physical therapy, I became interested in the field,” Neal said.
High Point University, in North Carolina, accepted her into its athletic training program. She was committed from the very beginning because of her love for sports and her experience with injury. Her family pushed her, but she also had mentors to guide her along the way.
Neal earned her bachelor’s in athletic training from HPU. She also played on the women’s soccer team while there.
Her roles and positions changed through time. At HPU, she started out as a student, only allowed to observe athletes getting treated. As a senior, she was assigned to High Point’s baseball team.
“The day I walked into the athletic training room at High Point University, I knew sports medicine was the right choice for me,” Neal said.
Neal moved on to the University of Oregon, where she earned her master’s degree in exercise and movement science. At Oregon, she was assigned to the day-to-day healthcare of the women’s soccer team.
The last college she was at before she made it to FGCU was NC State University. She accepted a job as assistant athletic trainer and was responsible for the track and field and cross country teams. After some time, they moved her to associate director of sports medicine. She was there for 17 years and is currently working on her master’s degree in sports management at NC State.
The director of sports medicine at NC State had information that there was going to be a head athletic trainer position available at FGCU. That was Neal’s dream, so she applied.
“I took the job because, after coming to campus for an interview, I knew FGCU was the right fit for me in the journey to achieve my career goals,” Neal said.
Neal has no family down here, but she is making friends at FGCU.
“Of course, any change brings a little anxiety, but the staff and athletes made me feel very at home immediately,” Neal said.
During the current win streak, Neal is managing fatigue with modalities including NormaTec compression boots, massage therapy and cold water immersion. To end this season successfully, she wants to focus on new areas of healthcare such as strength and conditioning, nutrition and mental preparation.
FGCU is where Neal wants to continue her dream.
“I like FGCU because it is growing and striving to be among the best schools in the nation both academically and athletically,” Neal said. “The athletic staff and the sports medicine are aligned with the university’s mission and continually strives to achieve higher goals.”