EAGAN, Minn. –The Vikings have garnered a positive reputation for their excellent medical care and athletic training staff, which was named NFL Training Staff of the Year for 2017.
Recently, the team has been at the forefront of making sure that emphasis on well-being is expanded to a broader population.
In 2017, the Vikings became one of just two NFL teams to have a trainer specifically dedicated to providing care for cheerleaders at all practices, games and certain other performances.
Twin Cities Orthopedics certified athletic trainer Brittany Fedor explained that inserting athletic trainers into the circle of performing arts is a fairly new concept but a growing trend.
Fedor, a native of Andover, Minnesota, has been dancing since the age of 3 and hoped to pursue a career that would integrate her love for dance into the training field. She double-majored at Minnesota State University, Mankato, where she a chance to apply skills learned as an athletic training student with the dance program on campus.
Now in her full-time role with TCO, Fedor said she's grateful for the company's innovative approach to medicine.
"When TCO hired me three years ago, they hadn't previously had an athletic trainer that worked in a physical therapy clinic and also specifically with dance, so I brought up these ideas of traveling with a dance competition and working with dance studios specifically," Fedor said. "I just love that I'm coming to TCO with all these new ideas that dancers need care just as much as any athlete, and they've been totally open to it, and I've been able to gain many opportunities because of that."
Fedor explained that, although injuries sustained on the football field may be more frequent or more blatant, dancers commonly suffer from chronic injuries that occur over time. While injuries like a sprained ankle or knee may occur during a performance or practice, Fedor said she most often sees hip-related injuries — due to the nature of movements and amount of flexibility required in cheerleading or dance — or neck and muscle tightness.
TCO Director of Sports Medicine and Therapy Chris Bailey also emphasized the concept of "seen and unseen" injuries that are important to be cognizant of.
"We need to be thinking about nutrition, hydration, repetitive-use injuries and training regimens – as well as the fact that these individuals have an entire life outside of cheer and dance," Bailey said. "Having a dedicated athletic trainer like Brittany allows her to cue in on injuries that are obvious and need immediate attention, as well as lurking injuries or issues that might be harder to detect if you are not with the team on a regular basis."
In addition to offsite performances and auditions, Fedor is on-hand for the MVC evening practices and for Vikings home games, during which she arrives at U.S. Bank Stadium early in the morning to help the women prep and practice on the field.
"Any question [they have], if they have an ache or pain, I make sure to explain to them the cause of the pain or what they might be doing to cause it," Fedor said. "I'll work on it with massage or stretching, taping if they need it, and then I educate them on how to prevent it in the future."
Vikings Director of Sports Medicine and Certified Head Athletic Trainer Eric Sugarman said it was a "great idea" to commit Fedor's efforts to the MVC. Sugarman said the concept had been discussed over the past couple of years, and he was happy to see the program come to fruition for the 2017 season.
"It's just kind of like in everything we do – we don't want to be followers, we want to be leaders," Sugarman said. "There certainly was a need for our cheerleaders because they were suffering injuries and needed help with trying to prevent injuries, and why not be one of the first to have them have a full-time athletic trainer?
"She's obviously a partner with Twin Cities Orthopedics, which is great," Sugarman added. "She has a very strong dance background, which I think has served her very well in working with the cheerleaders. Any athletic trainer certainly could go work with the cheerleaders, but when you have that knowledge that she has with dance and that being a big part of her background, I think that was a perfect fit, and she's done a great job."
Bailey expressed gratitude for the partnership with the Vikings in providing committed care to the MVC.
"The Vikings and TCO saw an opportunity to improve the delivery of sports medicine for MVC," said Bailey. "Without a doubt, cheer, dance and performing arts participants are athletes. In fact, this happens to be a cross section of athletes that experience some pretty unique injuries – so we wanted to have an athletic trainer like Brittany who brings her own background, experience and specialty in dance medicine. At TCO, we have dedicated providers who specialize in dance medicine, which allows earlier identification of dance-related issues."
Tami Hedrick, MVC Head Coach and Director of Women's Initiatives, has been impressed with Fedor's passion, dedication and overall work with the team.
Hedrick also thanked the Vikings organization for its commitment to the well-being of the MVC in addition to the players.
"I think it's an honor that the Vikings respect our cheerleaders as athletes and knowing … that they require, just like the players do, care and services that can help them to be their best," Hedrick said. "Injury prevention, injury maintenance and support have been the biggest gifts to the team from Brittany.
"From a former dancer who's passionate about dance and who loves the team as much as we do, it's really wonderful to have her on board," Hedrick added.
Fedor, who also works with dancers of different levels and travels to various competitions to provide medical support, said "it's an honor" to be working with the Vikings and specifically with the MVC.
"Dance medicine and athletic trainers working in the performing arts is such a new thing," Fedor said. "So it's nice to be a kind of role model and help pave the path for those who want to be able to help like this in the future.
"I'm really honored and so glad to be with MVC, where I come to practice and they're excited to see me," Fedor added.