Sue Falsone

Sue Falsone

Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapy '96

The legendary Babe Ruth once said, Every strike brings me closer to my next home run. True enough.

While Daemen College graduate Susan Ann Falsone 96 doesn't have any strikes to talk about, she has without question hit a home run in her career as a physical therapist.

From 2008-2010, Falsone served as the team physical therapist for the Los Angeles Dodgers, making her Major League Baseballs first-ever female team physical therapist. Now, with an announcement by the Dodgers in early December 2011, she has made additional history, being named the teams head athletic trainer the first female head athletic trainer in Major League Baseball history.

While serving as team physical therapist for the Dodgers, Falsone was Director of Performance Physical Therapy of Athletes Performance, a private sports performance training company based in Tempe, Arizona. The Dodgers are among many teams and individuals, in all major sports, who contract with Athletes Performance. In this role, Falsone was considered part of the teams medical staff, through her position with Athletes Performance.

Falsone's achievements are also a first for Daemen College. And through it all, she brings the calm, impartiality of a major league umpire.

Its funny. I've been working for professional athletes for nearly 10 years now, but I haven't thought about my gender, she noted. I really don't think about it there's a trainer for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who's female, for example. But I think its very exciting that there are many women now in athletic training, including physical therapists at the high school and college level, as well. So entering professional sports is the next progression.

In her position with Athletes Performance, Falsone directed all of the companies physical therapy initiatives, with the Dodgers, of course, take up a lot of her time. Now, as the teams head athletic trainer, she will oversee and direct the teams training operations.

I'm a workaholic, she admits, but quickly adding that its also fun. I have traveled with the team and have met so many people. In addition to handling rehab responsibilities for injured players, plus prehab doing things to help reduce the possibility of injury Falsone does a great deal of public speaking.

I articulate to various groups around the country my views on bridging the gap between rehabilitation and performance. In my presentations, I discuss traditional PT principles on top of strength and conditioning principles, and the importance of integrating all of that into a holistic approach for the athlete.

I begin by evaluating what an athletes weakest link and work on improving that versus letting their strength get stronger. For example, I may find that an athletes lower back is trying to make up for what the individuals hip cant do. By addressing that energy leak, as it is called, movement becomes more efficient. A key to athletic training is to make sure that whatever a body part is meant to be is, in fact, working efficiently and not having to compensate for something else.

In addition to her bachelors degree in PT from Daemen, Falsone has a masters degree in human movement science, with a concentration in sports medicine, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

After she received her degrees, she packed up and drove across the country to Arizona on a whim, she points out. No job, no plan, she admits. She read about then Boston Red Sox infielder Nomar Garciparra and where he trained, and she went to Athletes Performance and met Mark Verstegen, the owner. The entire Dodgers team had a contract with Athletes Performance, where the squad used the organization as a support system for rehabilitation, performance training, and nutrition.

When Falsone met APs owner, founder and chairman Mark Verstegen, he had just opened the Arizona facility and happened to be looking for a physical therapist. We talked a lot about our approach to sports medicine and training. I was into the concept of integrating rehab and training to enhance performance, which is the core mission of Athletes Performance. Our philosophies clicked, and it was the right timing on both ends. So it was a perfect fit for both of us, she recalls.

The Dodgers are the only organization Falsone traveled with in-season. However, she has also worked with other baseball organizations, plus teams in all of the major sports football, hockey, and basketball. She worked with individual athletes, too.

It is fair to say that, as team physical therapist for the Dodgers, there really weren't any typical days for herself, she recalls. For example, during spring training, one day she would be in the Dodgers training room (in Vero Beach, Florida) around 6:30 a.m., where players are treated for a few hours, then go out for practice until about 1 p.m. I come back to the training room, treat more players, and usually wrap up with athletes around 3:30 or 4 p.m., she explains.

Of course, that would be followed by a few hours of paperwork, phone meetings with Athletes Performance staff and related projects, wrapping up around 6:30 in the evening.

One thing that wont change for me is that I'm always trying to get better, professionally, says Falsone, when asked about her greatest professional challenges. In working with various players in the past, I was often the second or third person who was seeing the athlete, so I needed a lot of tools in my toolbox to effectively treat people. I always want to figure out the cause of their pain, fix the causes, as well as help the pain feel better. Human physiology is tricky, and you can only affect things so quickly. Sometimes the clock is ticking, and you want to speed it up, but you can only do that so much. That can be tough.

The inevitable question, being a female in a field dominated by males, is what is it like working with primarily male sports figures. Falsone, in her typical, even-keeled demeanor, responds, I've worked with professional athletes for nearly 10 years now, and I have never thought much about my gender until it comes up at moments like this big announcements from the team, or inquires by the media. I just never think about it.

My previous position with the Dodgers and now being given the responsibility as their head athletic trainer really isn't any different from what I have been doing all along. Its just different for everyone else. The guys have been great and are incredibly respectful. I respect their space and they respect mine. It is really a non-issue.

One issue that intrigues Falsone, however, is the condition of most professional athletes. Athletes have freakish physiology! she observes, explaining that they are typically amenable to faster healing. They have incredible body physiology. There's a reason why everyone in the world isn't a professional athlete. Its a very special population.

Falsone herself comes from a very special family population. She is a graduate of Kenmore West High School; her parents and other family members continue to live in the Town of Tonawanda. Her mother, Louise Falsone, works at Summit Education in Western New York, a private, not-for-profit organization providing educational and therapeutic services to children with learning, communication and behavioral challenges.

Then there was Sues grandmother, a woman whom she said she has admired all of her life, in many ways. She credits her grandmother as one source of her drive to success through college and today.

We all need inspiration, and my grandmother definitely served that role for me as I was growing up. She was a spunky little Italian lady who spoke her mind. She didn't take anything from anyone, and yet she was a big softie. She always encouraged me to do my thing, no matter what that was.

Falsone also cites her aunt, who fell in love with a Jewish man and converted to Judaism from Roman Catholicism then a big deal, she notes. She moved away from home to start her own business a big deal for a woman back then and she didn't get married until she was in her 40's, also, at the time, a big deal. She never seemed to go with the grain. She always did what she thought she needed to do. I guess I'm the same way.

It looks that way. And that makes a lot of people happy. Including Sue. She has loved the extensive travel that came with being Major League Baseballs first female physical therapist.

I love being able to see different places and meet different people. I have been given so many amazing opportunities and have seen so many cities. But when you travel as much as I do, a great night home, sleeping in your own bed, is unbeatable!

She also finds her Daemen education without parallel. Says Falsone: The professors were great. I knew that Daemen's physical therapy program was top-rated. The College had a strong reputation for that program, so that was a big factor in why I made that choice.

PT is an exacting field, and that's part of what attracted me. But it is very demanding, and as a student, you end up missing out on some typical fun college stuff sometimes, due to the class and study schedule, but it is all worth it. Anything worth anything requires hard work, a little sacrifice, and time management. Including finding time for yourself. That's what I learned at Daemen, on top of the PT education.

And, as far as missing Western New York, Sue admits that she does enjoy all of that Arizona and California sunshine.

But I do miss the snow, yes! I manage to get back up to Western New York during the holidays. Its great to see the white Christmases I enjoyed as a child and through my college years at Daemen. During the winter, you cant get too much more of a contrast in the weather than Phoenix and Buffalo, but this way, I get to enjoy both.

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