Alumni Profile: Heather Worthy Wilson University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences


Heather Worthy Wilson (BS '02)


Baltimore City District Executive Director, The Y in Central Maryland

SHRS Program Attended:

Athletic Training

Q: What initially got you interested in athletic training?

Heather: In high school, I ran track and I had a hamstring injury and we had people from different clinics come in and treat us. I talked to one of the practitioners about my interest and she recommended I look into athletic training.

Q: Tell us about the early part of your career.

Heather: My first job was working at Hampton University where I worked with football, men's basketball, and track. While I was at Hampton, standing on the field at practice I got a call from Seton Hall University asking me to interview for the men's basketball athletic training position, which was interesting, because the Big East really only had one female athletic trainer and the rest were pretty much white men.

During my time at Seton Hall, I developed a love for teaching and started teaching cadaver anatomy at the School of Health Sciences. I taught that for probably five years and loved it because we were able to see what people may have died from and what condition their bodies were in. What I learned was that a lot of people were dying from chronic diseases. As an athletic trainer, we don't necessarily see those when you're talking about sports injuries.

When I made a decision to leave athletic training, I ended up driving past a YMCA that was hiring fitness coaches. I said OK. From there I started teaching a few exercise classes and eventually ended up working as the YMCA wellness director. In that role, I found that I really liked working on the other side of health care. Rather than just learning about or treating diseases and injuries, I was able to help prevent them.

Q: How did your AT background help you as you transitioned your career path?

Heather: With my background, I brought a different perspective for individuals who wanted to know more about health and wellness. I used that as an asset to develop all different types of programming for not just health seekers, but middle-of-the-roaders, to the more advanced. I was able to develop a partnership between the Y and geriatric centers. I mean it was just endless, all the things that I was able to do.

I published my first book when I was working at the Y. I felt that working at the Y afforded me the opportunity to be able to do that, because you don't really have a lot of time when you're an athletic trainer.

Then I got a call from the CEO in Washington, DC saying they were going to create a new position for me which morphed into being the associate director of Community Health, where I oversaw all the chronic disease, integrated health, and community programs in DC, Maryland, and Virginia.

Q: You wrote a second book. What is the focus of that book?

Heather: During my time in DC, I published my second book which focuses mainly on African-American women and one of the reasons why they don't exercise, which is because of their hair. It's a real thing for women of color, particularly African-American women, that obesity affects our community at disproportionate rates. One out of five African-American women is obese. It's a real epidemic in communities of color.

After the book, I really started focusing on health equity work and just how membership at the Y should be focused through inclusion. What are the needs of the people in this community? They're doing a lot of research on the health of the communities by zip codes so I used that to develop a presentation that I did at our National Expo and the Baltimore YMCA recruited me to run Health and Wellness Operations in Baltimore City.

So here I am, in Baltimore City, and there's a lot of work to do from a community health standpoint but there's also a lot of opportunity from a growth standpoint.

Q: What sort of lasting impact do you hope that your work has?

Heather: I want to not only change the life of the individuals I’m working with but change the lives of those individuals’ families -- directly and indirectly impacting people that I know and work with, and their families, and communities.

I also want to get more people involved in this profession through a health equity lens -- specifically through getting more African-American females and males into these professions, because we're under represented.

Q: Were there any particularly meaningful or formative experiences that you had while you were in Pitt’s AT program?

Heather: When you're new in athletic training, if you can tape an ankle then you're good. If you can't then you suck, basically. I remember one of my first times taping. I was so nervous, I legitimately did the worst tape job ever. It was super discouraging, but then I got better. Then at some point my professor directed me to manage an athlete’s rehab. I was like, “Okay, I can do this.” I was given a lot of autonomy, with supervision of course, but I was given room to grow and learn. After I started doing all these rehabs…the faculty really trusted me—it was an amazing experience!

I feel like the program at Pitt prepared me for this kind of work, and can prepare anybody, because the skills are so transferable. I learned how to be decisive and analytical. I developed good study skills and was really determined and dedicated to succeeding as an Athletic Trainer. You have to have empathy and you have to use tough love.

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Photos provided by Heather Worthy Wilson

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