Game Changer: Prominent athletic trainer breaks tradition, earns university honor

Rene Shingles remembers a time when a female athletic trainer’s input wasn’t welcome in the locker room.

While working at South Carolina’s Newberry College in the 1980s, Shingles was in the process of diagnosing an elbow injury for a starting football player.

She, as well as the rest of her staff, thought he had fractured his elbow, but the X-ray came back negative. Knowing the fracture was still there, she decided it wasn’t safe for the athlete to continue to play.

The coach vehemently disagreed.

“I remember the coach saying to me, ‘We’ll wait until Saturday when doc gets here, then we’ll decide if this athlete will play,’” Shingles said. “It didn’t matter what I said.”

To her surprise and her triumph, the team physician supported Shingle’s decision and made it clear that the coach and team had to listen to her.

Stories like these are just a part of why Shingles, a Central Michigan University professor, is so highly regarded as an innovator in her field.

It’s also why she received the 2014 CMU Woman of the Year award.

For Shingles, who is also the program director and internship coordinator of the Athletic Training Education Program in the College of Health Professions, the honor came as a pleasant surprise. Described by her friends and colleagues as extremely modest, those who know her well say Shingles has always been willing to lend an eager student a guiding hand.

“One of the things I love about Dr. Shingles, is that she is a mentor and she intentionally makes time to be a mentor,” said Vincent Mumford, executive director of the Center for Global Sport Leadership program at CMU. “That’s not just for women, but for all students and professionals.”

Mumford, who also works as a professor in the Physical Education and Sport department, nominated Shingles for the award after witnessing the impact she’s had on her students.

Through her career, Shingles benefited from having powerful mentors of her own. She said mentoring is one of the most important weapons a student can have when chasing their dreams.

“It’s a way to give back,” Shingles said. “I did not make it through my undergraduate, my master’s degree or my doctoral degree without the support that I had.”

Making sure students in the PES department receive wise advice has been a focus for Shingles since starting at CMU in 1992.

Jeremy Marra was one student affected by Shingles' influence.

Marra, a graduate from CMU with a degree in athletic training in 2006, is now a staff athletic trainer on the University of Michigan Athletic Medicine team.

“She set the foundation for me and set the bar very high,” he said. “It’s molded into a friendship and an adviser role, but she’ll always, number one, be a mentor to me.”

Fighting stereotypes as a female leader in athletics

Despite making an impact in the field as an educator and trainer, Shingles had no intention in becoming either.

After suffering a shin-related injury as a high school cheerleader, she was introduced to sports medicine through the gizmos and gadgets wielded by her own athletic trainer.

“When the trainer pulled opened his black bag, I was quite interested and fascinated by the various things in his little bag,” Shingles said.

From there, Shingles knew that one day, she would have her own little black bag.

“I always had an interest in medicine; I actually thought I would go to medical school to become a physician and deliver babies,” she said. “But I had an interest in sport as well, so I asked to become an athletic training student, and he said yes.”

As an athletic training student, she earned her first experience taping ankles and learning how to administer treatments.

Even now, Shingles realizes that being a woman in a predominantly male-oriented field carries its fair share of professional obstacles.

When she began her career, she entered the field at a time when female athletic trainers in leadership positions were extremely rare. African-American women in those same roles were virtually non-existent.

While at Newberry College in South Carolina, Shingles was named the head women’s athletic trainer in 1986. At the time, the promotion made her one of two female African-American head athletic trainers for a college football program in the entire country.

Some were unhappy with her being named to the position, including the same football coach who tried to undermine her authority.

Shingles said if any of her male colleagues were put in the same situation, they would not have had the same issue.

During her career, Shingles has helped open doors for other women in her field, with the hope that they too can achieve similar, if not higher, levels of success.

Denise Webster, assistant professor in the Athletic Training Education Program, said Shingles' experience and awareness of the gender issue in sports makes her an important asset for students at the university.

“She understands the importance of mentors and that carries over to what she is doing here as a faculty member,” Webster said. “She’s been very helpful to people in our department and to our colleagues in other departments (as a mentor, as well).”


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