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Portrait of Jessica Stang

From an early age, Jessica Stang knew she wanted a career in sports, helping athletes prevent injuries and get back into the game after setbacks. Her ultimate dream was to work with Major League Soccer. With the right preparation, she knew it would be possible.  

Now, she is an athletic trainer for the New England Revolution.

It was studying biomechanics at the University of Kentucky that Stang feels helped her stand out from the crowd. As a biomechanics master’s degree scholar in the UK College of Education Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion, she gained advanced knowledge about the human body in motion.

The graduate Biomechanics program provides students from various clinical and scientific backgrounds with advanced training and knowledge in assessing human movement, said Michael Samaan, Ph.D., associate professor of biomechanics in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion.

“Our students are then able to apply their knowledge in biomechanics to help individuals perform tasks of daily living such as walking and running, in a more optimal manner, to reduce risk of injury or development of pain,” Samaan said.

The athletic training job market is growing, with jobs in several settings, including school districts across the U.S. Breaking into professional sports, however, can be more challenging. Stang knew her career preparation in biomechanics could be an asset.  

During her training at UK, Stang gained experience in laboratories in the College of Education and College of Health Sciences. The BioMotion Laboratory and the Biodynamics Laboratory, based in the Multidisciplinary Sciences building, gave her a new vantage point for analyzing movement.

“Studying biomechanics gave me insight into what could be the root cause of how various forms of movement impact athletes’ performance,” she said. “With the naked eye, you can gain basic information, but it’s good to be able to look at 3-D motion pictures and understand the how or why through in-depth analysis. By also understanding joint movements and moments, I am better equipped to prescribe the correct exercise regimen based on an athlete’s deficits or return to play protocol. Working alongside amazing physical therapists in the Biomotion Lab on campus helped me apply my biomechanics knowledge into clinical use while also being involved in a research study. I also learned to use software to understand the data captured in research articles and apply that to what I use in practice. All these things make me a strong evidence-based clinician and somewhat ‘stand out-ish.’”

Prior to her master’s program in biomechanics, Stang earned a bachelor’s degree at The Ohio State University that led to her certification as an Athletic Trainer. For her master’s degree, she chose biomechanics to help bring a new and different perspective to her practice.

“It’s nice to work with colleagues with advanced training in the athletic training discipline and combine their knowledge with my athletic training and biomechanics background. It’s a collaborative effort, and combining our knowledge offers a broader approach to problem-solving, and in turn, a more personalized solution catered to each individual’s needs” she said.

With the arrival of Lexington Sporting Club, a United Soccer League team, during Stang’s time at UK, she found an opportunity to work for the team, gaining an entry point to professional soccer in the same community where she was finishing her biomechanics degree.

Stang graduated from UK in December 2023. Now in her first season working with the Major League Soccer team New England Revolution, she is focusing on the team’s youth academy, which identifies players to develop, both on and off the field, for top colleges, U.S. National Team programs, and the New England Revolution’s first team in the MLS.  

It was during Stang’s youth that she developed a love for and understanding of the sport as a soccer player in high school, where she also played basketball. She took a sports medicine class in high school and gained experience shadowing her school’s athletic trainer.  

“I love being around soccer. I never get tired of practices or watching the games,” she said. “Soccer has a longer season and I know what the performance needs are of those athletes to be at their peak. I understand how they get injured and what they need to do to continue playing. Maybe they don’t have to sit on the sidelines and watch, if we have insight into what they are able to do or not based on their injury. I love helping people and seeing them get back to the sport they love, and that has often formed them as a person,” she said.

During Stang’s time at UK, she also worked as an athletic trainer at Montgomery County High School in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky. She enjoyed developing connections with the student athletes and building their trust. She recalled being an integral part in the end stage plan of care for a player returning from ACL reconstruction and returning to high level performance.

“We worked to get she able to pass the performance testing, and when she finally played again and scored, I cried on the sidelines. All the work paid off and the best part is that even two years later, she has not gotten re-injured. The re-injury rate for first time ACL tears is so high, I never want to see any athlete taken back out for the same injury because of improper care. The thing that always gets me emotional about this job is watching people return to the field. You know all they want to do is play again. When they score or make an important play, you see their faces light up a little bit. It warms my heart and makes me love what I do.”