Nina Walker was an athletic trainer for the 2019 U.S. men's indoor team, which captured the bronze medal during the World Indoor Lacrosse Championship in Langley, British Columbia.

As part of our Black History Month celebration, US Lacrosse is highlighting contributions made by Black women in our sport. Whether on the field or off of it, Black women have helped our sport grow to where it is today.

This week, we are featuring three women in the lacrosse community whose contributions have made this sport a safer and more welcoming environment.

Christianne Malone
Detroit City Lacrosse
US Lacrosse Board of Directors

How did you get into the sport?

I got into it in school. My school had lacrosse starting in middle school and I played in sixth grade, My gym teacher was from Ireland and she was a very traditional lacrosse player. She introduced it to us at gym class and I thought it was fun. In middle school, we were required to play three sports throughout the school year, so I picked lacrosse because I enjoyed the sport and have been playing ever since.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

It’s a celebration of culture, a celebration of the impact African-Americans have had on this country and the world. There are so many significant achievements and to try and encapsulate them in one month is hard, but it gives the chance to elevate and uplift the people and culture of the black community in America. It means empowerment, celebration, history.

Who is your biggest mentor/idol and why?

Josephine Baker – I felt like I resembled her a little bit, but when I learned more about her, she was truly a renaissance woman from dancing and acting to being a spy for the French. I was always drawn to her spirit. She was funny, an entertainer, but also took it to the next level to try and implement change.

Why is it important to learn about Black History?

Black history is history. It’s American history and it honestly shouldn’t be separated. The fact that it’s not readily told in schools … it’s important to inform those who may not have been exposed to the comprehensive American history and that they understand the full story of what has taken place.

How do you hope to inspire the next generation of Black lacrosse players?

I hope to inspire by allowing girls to see lacrosse players of color, that we exist and that they can see themselves in those of us that are coaching, playing, starting programs, that we all have a place in this sport. I hope to inspire just by being someone they can talk to and someone who understands what they’re going through, especially by being if they're the only black player on their team, It's challenging and they’re always standing out, which is a lot for a player to deal with. I definitely want to inspire them to know they are in a welcome community of not just lacrosse players but Black lacrosse players and that they can call upon us at any time. I inspire the next generation to have confidence. It’s especially important in young women. Confidence can easily be damaged by the social pressures upon them. As much as we can instill confidence in them through the sport and through education, that’s definitely important and will help make them stronger both on and off the field.

Nina Walker
Staff Athletic Trainer, North Carolina
US Lacrosse Sports Science & Safety Committee

How did you get into athletics?

I have always been an athlete and loved the competitive side of it, but also love science and medicine, so becoming an athletic trainer was the perfect way to blend these two loves. I was also blessed with a great athletic trainer when I was in high school that took me under her wing and taught me about the profession. This mentorship shaped my love for this profession. There are not many other professions that call a sports medicine facility, clinic, sideline, and classroom their office on any given day. I currently work as the head athletic trainer for the men’s lacrosse team at UNC-Chapel Hill, I work with US Lacrosse on the Sports Science and Safety Committee, and Co-Chair the World Lacrosse Sports Medicine Working Group. Each one of these gives me the opportunity to share my love of medicine with the lacrosse community through clinical care, research, advocacy and helping to safely grow the sport internationally.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black History Month is a celebration of Black excellence. It is an opportunity for everyone to learn about the amazing contributions that may have been omitted in history books. It also is an opportunity to understand and learn the struggles of systemic racism and learn how to improve these systems. I know growing up in a community that I was one of the few people of color, it was hard for me to see representation of Black scholars and influencers. It was easy to believe that they weren’t out there, but now through more research and access to amazing Black people, I know how much achievement has and can actually be attained.

What moment in Black history has inspired you the most?

I think right now we are in a monumental time in Black history. The opportunity to be inspired by the election of the first Black president and now the first Black female vice president has been so impactful in my life. I have been lucky to be elected as Vice President of the North Carolina Athletic Trainers’ Association, and have been really touched to hear what my representation has meant to people. Having the Vice President of the United States be a woman of color is astronomically bigger and will undoubtedly inspire so many more little girls to reach for the highest level. Representation matters.

Who is your biggest mentor/idol and why?

This is a hard question because I have been shaped and mentored by so many amazing people. I have a strong belief that everyone in my life can teach me something if I am willing to receive it.  My career path has been guided and shaped by people that were willing to give me an opportunity to learn from them. They took time out of their very busy schedules to develop me as a professional, advocate and educator. I can only hope I have the ability to influence others the way that they have influenced me.

Why is it important to learn about Black History?

I think that the more we learn about Black history the easier it is for others to empathize with those that don’t look like them. It is easy to feel like people fit into stereotypes because that is what is shown on TV and in movies. When we learn about the history and culture of Black people we learn about a history of resilience and perseverance. I use phrases like “we” because I am still learning each day. I was not fortunate enough to learn about my own history in school, aside from slavery and figures like Martin Luther King and Harriet Tubman. I never had the opportunity to learn about the positive part of my culture, like the royalty in Africa, inventors, or artists so trying to catch up recently has really opened my eyes.  I also feel like understanding the history of oppression can help us learn how to dismantle it and build a culture of equality and empathy.

How do you hope to inspire the next generation of Black women in sports?

I think knowledge is power, helping Black women learn more about their bodies from someone that looks like them can be a powerful tool. Some athletes don’t have access to athletic trainers so knowing that there is someone in the lacrosse community working at the highest level, sharing knowledge is helpful in bridging that gap. I also hope to inspire women to not be afraid to work in male-dominated sports fields. We bring a diverse skill set and can help others see new and creative ways to do things. Diversity in the workplace makes everyone better.

Zhane Ruffin
Assistant Coach, University of the District of Columbia

How did you get into the sport?

I started playing lacrosse in 6th grade after running track and playing basketball. I didn't enjoy playing basketball anymore, and my mom is HUGE on athletic involvement, so my mom made me try out for the lacrosse team at my school. It was the school's first year having a program and I fell in love with lacrosse during tryouts!

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black History Month is so significant! To have the opportunity to share the stories and to recognize Black people who have made a difference in the world we live in is so powerful!

What moment in Black history has inspired you the most?

To know that my ancestors have sacrificed so much to change the world that we live in, for the better, and provide us with greater opportunities, knowing that they were not likely to see the results of their sacrifices is what inspires me to keep pushing each day.

Who is your biggest mentor/idol and why?

My biggest mentors have always been my parents. When things get difficult, uncomfortable, and I can't see hope, they give me the support I need to not give up.

Why is it important to learn about Black history?

Black history is important to learn because there is a large part of Black history that you cannot find in textbooks. Those stories are the stories that motivate you and make you want to find your purpose so that you can not only create change the change you want to see but also be the change you want to see.  

How do you hope to inspire the next generation of black lacrosse players?

When Black lacrosse players look at me, I hope they can say "Coach Z is not only creating change by helping to pave the way, but she is bringing us along on the journey and helping us to figure out how we can help too."