Athletic training student wins prestigious award

May 20, 2024 Written by Amy Cherry

UD student wins NATA Bobby Gunn Student Leadership Award for first time


In 2015, Kaley Burgess was an excited freshman who had just made the competition cheerleading team at her Virginia high school. Just a week before homecoming, while a flyer during a stunt, she came down hard on her ankle and rolled it.

“I heard a pop and didn’t think of much of it, but when I tried to get up, my ankle gave out on me,” Burgess said.

The bad news – she broke her ankle in two places and was in a full-body cast for weeks, followed by months of rehabilitation.

The silver lining – the injury allowed her to spend time with her high school athletic trainer, Heather Fincham, who inspired her career path.

“Heather’s quick action to put me on crutches immediately after my injury saved me from surgery,” Burgess said. “Had my fracture been even a millimeter wider, I would have had a metal ankle.”

Burgess worked alongside Fincham as a student athletic training aide for the next several years.

“She was caring and empathetic and always down to listen,” recalled Burgess. “She was always there for me, helping me on bad rehab days and celebrating my successes when I got back into play.”

Now, Burgess is preparing to graduate with her master’s degree from the University of Delaware College of Health Sciences Athletic Training Program and hopes to be the kind of compassionate athletic trainer Heather was in her life for student-athletes. Burgess entered UD as a first-year sports health major and enrolled in the 3+2 program.

“I knew I wanted to do athletic training, and the reputation of the program and the College of Health Sciences was so strong,” said Burgess. “Then, when I visited, I fell in love with the University, the campus, the professors, and everything about the program.”

Athletic training combines Burgess’ passion for healthcare and athletics.

“As a former athlete with a season-ending injury, I know the emotions, the anger, the sadness, and disappointment that comes with that. My experience helps me bring empathy to my role as an athletic trainer,” Burgess said. “Communicating with athletes and connecting with them in those moments is pivotal. Mental health plays a huge role in the education and practice of the profession, and my experiences with UD ATP in the classroom and in the field have taught me how to connect with athletes, which is key to successful rehabilitation.” 

Kaley Burgess is this year's winner of the National Athletic Trainers' Association Bobby Gunn Student Leadership Award.

Burgess graduates with accolades. She received the Dr. Julie Moyer-Knowles and Keith Handling Scholarship awards within the UD ATP program.

She has also received the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) Bobby Gunn Student Leadership Award, which recognizes true pioneers in the profession. This marks the first time a UD student has received the award in recorded history.

“I was so honored and humbled to receive the Bobby Gunn Student Leadership Award,” said Burgess.

Kaley will be recognized at NATA’s 75th Convention in June in New Orleans.

During her time at UD, Burgess has seized every opportunity, balancing multiple leadership positions at the state, regional, and national levels. She’s served as District 2 Representative on the NATA Student Leadership Committee and played an integral role in establishing the first Student Ambassador Program, which she currently chairs. Over the years, she’s held multiple roles with the Athletic Training Students’ Association at UD and currently serves on the UD ATP’s Student Advisory Committee. Burgess was also involved at the state level with the Delaware Athletic Trainers’ Association, volunteering at annual clinical symposia.

Bethany Wisthoff, athletic training and sports health program director and assistant professor of kinesiology and applied physiology.

“We are very proud of the leadership experience Kaley has sought,” said Bethany Wisthoff, UD athletic training and sports health program director and assistant professor of kinesiology and applied physiology. “She epitomizes leadership and advocacy for the profession, and the future of the athletic training profession is bright with students like Kaley taking the initiative to make change.”

Burgess feels prepared to enter the workforce as an athletic trainer in competition cheerleading, gymnastics, or a similar sport and hopes to work for USA Cheerleading one day.

“The rigor and reputation of UD’s program, the clinical experiences, and the professors and preceptors I’ve worked with have shaped me into a well-rounded athletic training professional,” Burgess said. “Being a Blue Hen means being a leader in advocating for change and always putting your best foot forward, and I look forward to playing a role in moving the profession forward.” 

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