As soon as the whistle blows, Abigail Solis, wearing black low-top Nikes, nondescript khaki shorts and a Redskins pullover, darts onto the field, toting an orange Gatorade carrier in her left hand and a medium-size Gatorade towel draped over her right shoulder.
At first glance, you might miss her. There are more than 100 men running around the field, some shouting, others laughing, and Solis is the only woman.
When Solis started her freshman year at George Mason University, she was under the impression that only men applied for the clinical internship she currently holds.
Not is she the only woman, she’s the Redskins have ever had, either full-time or as an intern.
“It’s very humbling to be the first female trainer,” Solis said. “I actually didn’t know that when I started.
Even the team was under that impression, as the players immediately noticed something was different.
“The first few days they definitely were like ‘oh, there’s a girl here,’ ” said Solis, who will be with the team all season as she rounds out her final semester before graduation and takes her board exam. “They’re all respectful and no one’s said anything disrespectful to me. It’s been great.”
Solis’s duties involve setting up practice, treatments for both pre- and post-practice, helping keep the players hydrated during practice, restock all of the athletic training equipment, such as tape and coolers.
Becoming part of the the Redskins and head trainer Larry Hess’s staff has been a natural fit for Solis, as she grew up playing sports and loved being a part of a team atmosphere.
As for choosing the Redskins, Solis said she wanted to experience a professional-level operation.
“I really appreciate how the professional athletes work to keep their bodies healthy,” Solis said. “Some other athletes, like high school athletes, don’t care as much. It’s their job. They understand that they need to keep their body in tune all the time.”
Historically, having female athletic trainers on NFL staffs were a rarity. The first full-time female athletic trainer, Ariko Iso, was hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2002. For many years, Iso was the only one. When Iso accepted the head athletic trainer position at Oregon State in 2011, the Steelers replaced her with another woman, Sonia Gysland. Gysland remained the only female athletic trainer on any NFL team’s roster for four years.
But just before the 2015 season, the landscape began to change.
San Francisco 49ers hired Laura Schnettgoecke as an assistant athletic trainer in May 2015. One month later, the San Diego Chargers hired Allison Miner, also as an assistant athletic trainer.
“It’s come a long way,” Solis said. “I’m happy to help pave the way for the women.”
Wednesday also featured another first for the Redskins in the area of women and sports medicine. The team announced the hiring of Dr. Robin West as director of sports medicine.
West currently serves as the lead team physician for the Nationals. She also serves as medical director of Inova Sports Medicine.
West is the first female lead chief physician in the NFL.
It remains to be seen how her addition will change the Redskins’ medical procedures. Generally, after receiving diagnosis from team doctors, Redskins players then opt to see specialists for their serious injuries.
“We are continually committed to providing our players with the best possible health care and it starts with finding the finest physicians available,” Redskins President Bruce Allen said while introducing West. “Dr. West’s unique experience dealing with professional and amateur athletes makes her expertise extremely rare and we are glad to add her to our team.”
At the same press conference, West said, “I’m excited to be to joining the Redskins’ medical team and helping to provide the highest quality medical care, where we focus to improve performance, decrease injuries and provide immediate access to an elite group of medical specialists.”
Mike Jones contributed to this report.