Nina Walker is a staff athletic trainer at Campus Health in the Sports Medicine Department. When asked what this means, she laughed and replied, “Essentially it means that I do a lot of stuff.” Walker’s primary care responsibilities are the student athletes for men’s lacrosse and distance teams. Walker provides and manages all of 80 of those student athletes’ health care, including referrals, treatment, rehabilitation and anything else they need in order to stay healthy. Walker also provides sports medicine to the general student population in the Physical Therapy and Athletic Training Clinic and serves as a clinical instructor for the graduate and undergraduate athletic training program in EXSS.
This makes it no surprise that she talked about a cheetah after being asked about animal traits. “I’d be something that’s probably really fast and can do things for short periods of time, but after a while gets exhausted and likes to take long naps,” she quipped.
Walker became interested in athletic training after having her high school athletic trainer serve as a mentor to her. When Walker looked for colleges, she focused on those offering athletic training and fell in love with Boston University. She went on to get her Masters from UNC in Exercise and Sports Science with a concentration in Athletic Training, when Walker worked as the Athletic Trainer for the rowing and volleyball teams. She then went on to teach and be an Athletic Trainer for multiple teams at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut before returning to UNC.
“I love that every day is different and that I can see my impact instantly on people,” she noted. Walker’s favorite part of athletic training is manual therapy because she can help people feel better right away. Walker also talked about how she enjoys helping others in her field learn. “I’m a self-professed nerd. I love to learn things, and I like to create little nerds. I get excited when my students are into learning,” Walker laughed.
Service to the Profession
Though her main role as an Athletic Trainer would be enough to keep anyone busy (“I want all of my athletes to feel like they are my only athlete. They get 24/7 access to me. Plus I attend practices, games, rehab sessions and travel with the team.”), Walker believes strongly in service to the professional community. “Those are the extra things I do outside of my regular job that I find very rewarding (which most folks think are insane),” she said. In addition to providing guest lectures at UNC, she serves on multiple professional organizations as a chair, board member, committee member or active general member. As part of her work with these organizations, Walker advocates to employ athletic trainers in every high school in North Carolina so all athletes will have access to quality health care. Nationally, Walker has been a part of the challenging work to make the sport of Lacrosse safer.
On a campus level, her goal is simple. “A national championship,” she said, with the gusto of a motivational speaker. “My team keeps getting so close!”
With all of her roles, Walker has to love her job, and she clearly does. “I actually just did a lecture last night on why athletic training is awesome,” Walker said. She proceeded to explain how she and her colleagues get to interact with their patients all along the spectrum of health - when they are healthy, when they are rehabilitating an injury and while they are back on the field, sometimes even stronger than they were before. That kind of relationship with a patient is rare in health care. “The athletes tend to call us ‘mom,’” she observed.
Walker appreciated the cheetah's skills not only for its speed. “It’d be something that chases food. I love food,” she said in the interview. “Nothing makes me happier than finding new places to eat.” One of her local favorites is City Beverage, and she also enjoys ethnic foods and any spot with an interesting vibe. “I really like it when people tell me about cool different places.”
See for yourself
You can find Walker in the Stallings-Evans center, at a team practice or at one of many local restaurants.
This article has been updated since it's original posting.