When the Los Angeles Lakers tip-off the start of their 2016-17 season this October, College of Health and Human Development alumna Nina Hsieh will be watching closely from the coach’s bench. Hsieh, together with Head Athletic Trainer Marco Nuñez, is responsible for guarding the health of the Lakers’ most valuable asset: their players.
The kinesiology graduate was named Assistant Athletic Trainer for the legendary basketball club, one of only a few women to serve a professional sports team in this capacity. In this role, Hsieh is charged with the prevention, care, and treatment of player injuries. She’ll also provide emergency procedures on the court and post-injury rehabilitation.
Hsieh considers her team off the court when reflecting on her accomplishment. “This opportunity isn’t just for me. It’s for all the people that have put in time to help me get here, from people in the industry to friends and family that have sacrificed a lot for me.”
Like most athletic trainers, Hsieh discovered her profession through a lifelong love of sports. The College of Health and Human Development’s Athletic Training Program (ATP) was an easy choice for the Huntington Beach resident thanks in part to ATP professor Julie Max — a trailblazer in the field who serves as Cal State Fullerton’s Head Athletic Trainer and previously served two terms as president of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association.
Hsieh completed her studies in 2000 and landed an internship at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center where she focused on astronaut and staff member rehabilitation. She then entered the sports healthcare master’s program at the Arizona School of Health Sciences while serving as Assistant Athletic Trainer at Central Arizona College (2001-02) and Phoenix College (2002-03). In 2004, Hsieh joined the athletics department at UC Santa Barbara as Athletic Trainer for the women’s basketball team and later, the men’s soccer team. The Lakers took notice and signed her as Head Athletic Trainer for the Los Angeles D-Fenders in 2008, the Lakers’ NBA D-League affiliate. Hsieh saw the D-Fenders through seven season and two championship appearances before moving up to her current position.
She may now help the Lakers score their 17th NBA title.
“Nina is a fine young lady who has worked tremendously hard to get to this level. The Lakers made a smart choice when they hired her. Many people would love to have her job but few will do the hard work that it takes to get there and stay there,” says ATP Director Dr. Robert Kersey.
The Lakers’ aren’t the only professional sports team with a Titan on its roster. Ivan Pierra, ATP class of 1993, attended the 2014 World Cup games in Brazil as Head Athletic Trainer for the U.S. Men’s National Soccer team before joining the LA Galaxy as the club’s sports medicine department director. The Chicago Bulls tapped 1999 ATP graduate Armando Rivas for its Assistant Athletic Trainer spot two years ago. Larnie Boquiren helped the U.S. Women’s Water Polo team bring home Olympic gold at this summer’s games in Rio de Janeiro after completing her studies in 2004.
The College of Health and Human Development’s ATP program has prepared students for careers as certified athletic trainers since 1973. Every year, more than 50 aspiring athletic trainers compete for the program’s eight available spots. Once admitted, students receive classroom instruction and hands-on training in numerous labs including the Titan Athletic Training Clinic, where the university’s athletes come for rehabilitation work. The ATP first-time pass rate for the athletic training certification exam has been 95.5% for the last three years. The average national pass rate for first-time attempts is 82.7%.