In two short years, Heidi (McKean) Wlezien has gone from college grad to head athletic trainer for the WNBA Chicago Sky. The 2012 Upper Iowa University alumna credits her quick transition into this awesome opportunity with the education she received at Upper Iowa, as well as the connections she forged with the faculty.
A transfer student from Parkland College in Central Illinois, Wlezien chose Upper Iowa over four other universities vying for her to play basketball because of UIU’s athletic training program. “When I came to Fayette for my visit, I met Angie Leete (associate professor of athletic training and the director of athletic training education), and immediately liked Upper Iowa,” she said. “It was a smaller program, but that meant we had more hands-on learning with professors. Another aspect that was incredibly unique about the program was that all of the UIU athletic trainers were professors too. We worked together in the classroom and on the sidelines.”
During her three years at Upper Iowa, Wlezien rotated through the university’s Division II sports lineup working as an athletic training student for football, wrestling, volleyball, softball and women’s soccer. It was at UIU she met her husband, Chris Wlezien, a 2011 sports administration graduate and Peacock baseball player.
Following graduation from Upper Iowa, Wlezien became a grad assistant at Eastern Illinois University covering men’s and women’s swimming and rugby. After earning her master’s degree in one year, Eastern Illinois hired her as a full-time assistant athletic trainer. Last winter, one of her Upper Iowa professors reached out to her about an opening for a head athletic trainer for the Chicago Sky. The professor had gone to undergrad with the head athletic trainer at Illinois Bone & Joint Institute, the organization contracted by the WNBA team to provide athletic training services. “She asked me if I was interested, and of course, I thought it was a long-shot because of how young I am, but I said yes. It was an incredible opportunity,” Wlezien added. After a long interview process, she was hired over several other qualified candidates.
Currently, she is the only trainer for the 12-woman team, and travels with them throughout the May-August season.
Wlezien said she is extremely busy serving the needs of the athletes. “It’s all about time management,” she added. “I stagger treatments for the athletes based on their needs, their injuries.”
Despite the hectic schedule she keeps in order to serve her athletes, Wlezien feels very confident in the quality of education she received at Upper Iowa. “I’ve had two student interns and I was able to see the products of athletic training programs from other schools,” she said. “I truly believe that UIU’s program prepped me as well as it could have, and I am very grateful to have the education I have.”