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In Depth Look: Athletic Trainer for the Indianapolis Colts Cheerleaders

Jillian Hacker, MS, LAT, ATC, CSCS is Outreach Services Coordinator at Forté Sports Medicine and Orthopedics and Athletic Trainer for the Indianapolis Colts Cheerleaders.

Share your career journey. Is it different than you thought it would be prior to practicing?

I became interested in sports medicine after tearing my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) as a gymnast when I was 16 years old and being a patient at Methodist Sports Medicine, now Forté Sports Medicine and Orthopedics.

During my freshman gymnastics season at Ball State University, I tore my ACL for the second time. This was my first experience working with an Athletic Trainer (AT) who greatly influenced my career choice. I later attended Northern Arizona University (NAU) to earn a Master of Science in Athletic Training. At NAU, my professors and preceptors instilled in me that the best way to advocate for our profession is through action.

After graduating in May 2020, I began my career with Parkview Sports Medicine’s rehabilitation residency program to further my knowledge in returning athletes to sport. During this time, I had the opportunity to work with the Fort Wayne Ballet professional dance company and local gymnastics clubs. This grew my interest in working with athletes in the performing arts. While I originally thought I would build my career with a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division gymnastics team, I was presented with a unique opportunity to return to the practice that first sparked my interest in sports medicine. Today, I serve as the Outreach Services Coordinator at Forté Sports Medicine and Orthopedics and AT for the Indianapolis Colts Cheerleaders.

Tell us about your new role as the first AT for the Indianapolis Colts Cheerleaders.

As the first AT for the Indianapolis Colts Cheerleaders, I’ve been able to create a system that works best for this group of athletes and provide them with resources they’ve never had before. I began the season by performing a Functional Movement Screen (FMS) on each cheerleader. I use the results to implement a sport-specific dynamic warm-up to practice and game days. It also provides a baseline in the event of an injury, as the FMS is a core requirement of the return to sport testing at Forté Sports Medicine and Orthopedics.

On game days, I arrive to Lucas Oil Stadium early and make myself available to the cheerleaders throughout the entire day. The day after games, I provide injury evaluations, rehabilitation and recovery sessions at the Forté rehabilitation clinic in Carmel, IN. By having the cheerleaders come to our location, they have access to a state-of-the-art facility and equipment such as AlterG and Hydroworx treadmills. In addition, I travel to the Indianapolis Colts practice facility once a week to provide onsite sports medicine services for the cheerleaders during practice.

From your experience as a college gymnast, AT for multiple collegiate sports and now for NFL cheerleaders, what thoughts or advice do you have for similar programs?

I encourage all professional sports organizations to provide an ATs for their cheerleaders, dance teams and spirit squads. The athleticism needed to perform during an NFL game is often underestimated. The cheerleaders rarely have time to rest during a game as they are often performing during the pre-game festivities, timeouts and halftime. The cheerleaders help provide a fun environment for fans and are a crucial part of game day, making their health care a priority.

Describe your most exciting day practicing as an AT.

Game day is the most exciting because I get to see the team perform in an incredible atmosphere at Lucas Oil Stadium. Here’s a look at my schedule for a 1pm game.

  • 6:15am – Arrive at Lucas Oil Stadium
  • 7 – 8:30am – Warm-up and field rehearsal
  • 8:30 – 11am – Pre-game treatments, rehabilitation and taping
  • 11am – 12pm – Cheerleaders do appearances around the stadium
  • 12 – 12:30pm – Additional pre-game treatments and warm-up
  • 12:30pm – Cheerleaders take the field for the game
  • Halftime – Injury checks and mid-game treatments
  • 5pm – Post-game stretch and cooldown

What do you like about your position/what motivates you in your role?

The Indianapolis Colts’ mission statement is “to entertain, inspire and unite by winning the right way.” It’s exciting to have a small impact on game day and contribute to the Colts’ mission. The best part of my job is watching the cheerleaders do what they love to do on game day and knowing they’re inspiring young fans to follow their own dream

What advice do you have for other ATs?

ATs have one of the most versatile skillsets that can be adapted to fit any patient population. One of the greatest ways to advocate for our profession is by expanding to new settings and creating new relationships.

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