Heather Jolly is one of three athletic trainers for Bryant High School Athletics through a partnership with OrthoArkansas and the Bryant School District. More than 130 Bryant High School Hornet football players lovingly call her, “Mom.”
Both on and off the field, it’s Heather’s job to keep her student athletes safe. From conditioning them through pre-season workouts to rehabilitating injured players, Heather explains, “My students all call me mom. I try to take care of every scrape, boo-boo and piece of broken equipment.”
For Heather, the ties she feels toward the students are mutual. “I love working in an athletic environment,” explains Heather. “Everyone is goal-oriented, focused and driven. To watch them achieve their goals and watch everybody celebrate together is awesome!”
Heather knows all too well the support an athletic trainer can provide. As a student athlete growing up in McCrory, she played basketball, softball and volleyball. After tearing her ACL, the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee, she faced a hard road to recovery. “Back then, I didn’t know anything about athletic training,” says Heather. “I think I would have enjoyed having the guidance; I would have made the decision to become a trainer sooner.”
By the time Heather graduated, she knew she wanted a career in the medical field. “I went to college and got my basics, and learned more about sports medicine—it was interesting to me,” said Heather. “I dove in and it wasn’t anything I expected.” But she was hooked. After receiving her MBA with an emphasis in Healthcare Administration, Heather received her certification and licensure to practice as an athletic trainer in 2015.
Before joining OrthoArkansas, Heather was a bit hesitant to train in a high school setting. Following graduation, she and her husband moved out of state where Heather worked as an athletic trainer at a local university.
“It means everything to work with this group of kids,” says Heather. Bryant High School has celebrated winning the 7A State Championship the past two years. “I had a really good job working out-of-state and I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy working at a high school. But we have a great relationship with our coaches. They listen and work with me, and thankfully, they trust me to let me do my job!”
In March, life changed completely with the onset of the COVID-19. The pandemic forced everyone to shelter in place. As students stayed home and the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year was canceled, Heather faced the challenge of working with her students remotely while being pregnant with her first child.
“I was very pregnant and couldn’t do the exercises with them,” explains Heather. “I would send text messages to them with videos on how to do the rehabilitation exercise, and I would walk them through to see if they had any discomfort.”
Heather admits, at times, it’s hard to see just how much of an impact you are having on your students when you aren’t working face-to-face. She explained she would guide her students through this process and encourage them to stay motivated to continue their exercises.
Becoming a new parent is a life-changing adventure, but Heather and her husband welcomed their son into the world only two months ago at Saline Memorial Hospital during a pandemic.
“Being a first-time mom, it’s a whole new job,” explains Heather. “Our nurses were great! Only my husband was allowed to be there. My mom stayed in the parking lot until our son was born. It’s been nice to bond with our child and I’m grateful my husband was able to be home for six weeks.”
For Heather, the Bryant Hornets Football team feels like family. “These coaches and students have taken me in,” said Heather. “They truly care about me. It was just—it was unexpected how much they care for a pregnant lady. As soon the students found out, I was not allowed to touch anything. The students asked, ‘Are you going to raise a two hundred twelve-pound Hornet football player?’”
These days, pre-season workouts look different for the 2020-2021 team. “We are blessed to have an indoor facility and weight room,” Heather explains. “Everyone is in small groups twelve feet apart. Once someone touches equipment it’s immediately wiped down. They are wearing masks as they enter the building, and outdoors, too.”
“Heather’s knowledge of her craft, coupled with her decision-making and communication style, allows for her to perform as a rising star in the athletic training world,” says Mike Lee, Athletic Director of the Bryant School District. “Heather has a heart for kids and she exhibits this quality everyday she is on the job here in Bryant.”
Heather and the athletic department are following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. She continues to look out for her students on and off the field. Coaches, students and Hornet fans alike are cautiously optimistic they will safely play football this fall.