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Asha Rogers poses in M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens. She completed a full-time clinical rotation with the team before graduating from UDPT.
Asha Rogers poses in M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens. She completed a full-time clinical rotation with the team before graduating from UDPT.

PT grad goes pro

Photo courtesy of Asha Rogers

UD physical therapy alumna among elite few in NFL dream job

Asha Rogers remembers watching the movie “Just Wright” at age 11. In the film, Queen Latifah played a physical therapist, which inspired Rogers’ career path.

“She was the only example I ever had of a Black woman working as a physical therapist in sports,” she said. “That movie became the reality of what I wanted my life to be.” 

That moment taught Rogers that you can still pursue that path even if you can’t see someone who looks like you in your profession of choice.

“It just means you might have to work a little harder and beat down doors to get there if it’s really what you want,” Rogers said.

According to the American Physical Therapy Association, Black physical therapists comprise just 5% of the workforce. Now, Rogers, who graduated from the University of Delaware College of Health Sciences with her doctorate of physical therapy in January, joins the elite few Black women working as dual-certified athletic trainers (ATC) and physical therapists (PT) in the National Football League (NFL). There are less than two dozen women ATs on NFL staff, and only a handful are Black. 

“When I started this journey, there wasn’t a single Black woman in NFL training rooms,” she said. “But the league is pushing for more women, so the numbers are slowly climbing. That gives me encouragement and hope. But regardless of those numbers, I knew I would be the one to do it.” 

Rogers, who obtained her undergraduate degree in athletic training from Towson University in Maryland, is now embedded with the Denver Broncos. During her year-long internship, she’ll apply clinical aspects of her education, hone her skills, and, most of all, learn. Rogers landed the dream opportunity after completing a clinical rotation with the Baltimore Ravens last season, where she learned so much that isn’t teachable in the classroom. She joins 16 other UD graduates of the athletic training and PT programs currently working in the NFL. 

“I learned the power of the body and that we put constraints on what we think the human body can do,” Rogers said. “But everyone’s individual experiences are so different; you must let that guide your clinical judgment.” 

Beyond learning, as the only woman in the training room, Rogers prioritized establishing a rapport with players. 

“No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care,” Rogers said. “I was the talk of the town when I got in there, in a good way. The players had never had a woman in the training room, let alone a Black woman.” 

She didn’t realize her impact on players until her last day. 

“As an AT/PT, you listen to the crises that impact players’ rehab and healing times. If they’re not sleeping well, that’s a problem; if they’re in pain, that’s a problem, so understanding how that all blends to make up a whole person is something I’ll never look past, and I think that’s the beauty of being a woman,” she said. “I also learned how far compassion can go. The small things make a difference during a long season.”

Where it all began

Around the same time that Rogers first saw “Just Wright,” she and her father attended a Howard University v. Florida A&M University football game when she saw a player go down. As she watched what unfolded on the field, it solidified her desire to be an AT. She sought an advanced degree in PT to provide more comprehensive care.

“I went to UDPT to gain the added understanding of rehabilitation and healing times and to hone my skills, such as different joint mobilizations,” she said. “You learn some of that as an AT, but don’t go into as much depth. Now, I understand rehab times to a tee, which helps me plan.”

Rogers first became connected with UDPT in 2019 through the Advancing Diversity in Physical Therapy (ADaPT) program, which aims to increase diversity in the profession. At a UDPT open house, Greg Hicks, professor of physical therapy, saw something in Rogers and encouraged her to apply to UD’s top-rated PT program.

“From the first time that I met Asha, I knew that this was a young woman with the drive and talent to accomplish whatever goals she established for herself,” Hicks said. “I knew that UDPT could help her on her pathway to achieving her goals.”

She wound up getting a scholarship. Throughout the program, Hicks, Jeanne Warrington, ADaPT’s program manager, and Jenifer Pugliese, clinical research manager and assistant professor of instruction, were her biggest cheerleaders. 

She also found a role model in Ariko Iso, who became the NFL's first full-time female athletic trainer working for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The two worked together while Rogers was pursuing her undergraduate degree. 

“She was encouraging, kind, and compassionate,” Rogers said. “But she also instilled the rub-it-in-the-dirt mentality in me. She told me, ‘You’re a woman; it’s going to be a tough road, so buckle up if this is what you really want.’ Those candid conversations shaped and molded who I’ve become.” 

But Rogers couldn't have found the knowledge and confidence she gained at UDPT anywhere else.

“I’m grateful for UD and all the opportunities it has afforded me,” Rogers said. “The psychomotor skills, access, resources, exposure to research, and the state-of-the-art PT Clinic on STAR Campus combined to provide the experience of a lifetime, and it’s something I’ll never forget. 

“UDPT prepared me very well for what was to come in the real world. It’s a tough program, but you leave knowing you’re ready.”

In her free time, Rogers is already giving back. Her Instagram account @rehab.with.rogers aims to inspire the next generation of girls who aspire to be ATs and PTs.   

“One of my biggest goals is to give others the experience that I didn’t have — which was someone to look up to,” Rogers said. 

Her advice: “Be undeniably great. That’s what I told myself growing up, and I continue to tell myself,” Rogers said. “When I think back on my journey, what helped me get here is that I’m a girl. For me, GIRL stands for gallant, intelligent, resilient and luminous — so allow your light to shine and be undeniably great.”

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