Douglas Casa, PhD, ATC, FACSM, FNATA, FNAK
Chief Executive Officer
For Douglas Casa, the opportunity to maximize athletic performance in the heat and prevent sudden death in sport is the culmination of a life-long path; his passion for the study of exertional heat stroke started in 1985 when he suffered an exertional heat stroke while running a 10K race. This experience motivated what has become his life’s cause: the study of exertional heat stroke, heat illnesses, hydration, and preventing sudden death in sport – his ultimate goal is to find ways to maximize performance in challenging circumstances while working prevent needless tragedy during sport and physical activity. “I was fortunate to receive amazing care on-site from the athletic trainer; the EMT’s in the ambulance; and at the hospital from the emergency room physicians and nurses. I only survived because of the exceptional care I received. I was just 16 years old at the time, but I have been driven by this experience since that day,” Dr. Casa explains when asked about what motivates him. He celebrated his 30th anniversary of surviving his exertional heat stroke on August 8, 2015. In April 2010 Kelci Stringer (Korey’s widow), James Gould (Korey’s agent), and the NFL asked Dr. Casa to develop and run the Korey Stringer Institute (KSI) at the University of Connecticut. Korey was an All-Pro offensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL. He died from exertional heat stroke in August 2001. The mission of the KSI (ksi.uconn.edu) is to provide research, education, advocacy, and consultation, to maximize performance, optimize safety, and prevent sudden death for the athlete, warfighter, and laborer. Additionally, he is the editor of a book titled: Preventing Sudden Death in Sport and Physical Activity (2nd edition, 2017), published by Jones & Bartlett in cooperation with the American College of Sports Medicine. His new book titled Sports and Physical Activity in the heat: Maximizing Performance and Safety was published by Springer in the Winter of 2018.
For the past 20 years, Dr. Casa has worked toward his goals at the Department of Kinesiology, College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources, University of Connecticut. During this time he has published more than 250 peer-reviewed publications/book chapters and presented more than 600 times on subjects related to exertional heat stroke, heat-related illnesses, preventing sudden death in sport, and hydration. He has been the PI for over 8 million dollars in research funding/foundation donations and an additional 4 million dollars as Co-PI. Dr. Casa has successfully treated 325 cases of exertional heat stroke (with 0 fatalities). In October 2005 and 2010 the Department of Kinesiology doctoral program at the University of Connecticut was ranked number 1 in the country by the National Academy of Kinesiology (for 2005-2015). Additionally, in September 2010 the National Research Council ranked the faculty in the Department of Kinesiology number one for research productivity.
Dr. Casa was named full professor at the University of Connecticut in August 2010. In 2008 he was the recipient of the medal for distinguished athletic training research from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. In 2016 Dr. Casa received the highest honor in his field when he was named a fellow of the National Academy of Kinesiology (FNAK #556). He was named a fellow of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association in 2008. He received the Sayers “Bud” Miller Distinguished Educator Award from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association in 2007 and has been a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine since 2001. In 2011 he was inducted into the University of Florida alumni hall of fame. He has been a lead or co-author on over 15 sports medicine (ACSM, NATA, US Military, IAAF) position statements/consensus statements/roundtables related to heat illness, hydration, and preventing sudden death. He is an associate editor of the Journal of Athletic Training, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sports and on the editorial board of Current Sports Medicine Reports, Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, and the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Dr. Casa has worked with numerous media outlets across the country in discussing his research including the NBC Today Show, Good Morning America, ESPN, HBO, CNN, PBS, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. In 2018 the IOC and the IAAF asked Dr. Casa to serve on heat mitigation committees to help prepare for Tokyo 2020 and Qatar 2019, respectively.
Dr. Casa earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from Allegheny College, in 1990; his master’s degree in athletic training from the University of Florida in 1993; and his doctorate in exercise physiology from the University of Connecticut in 1997. He has been happily married to his wife Tutita Casa, PhD for 23 years and they have 3 kids; Montana (15), Navia (14), and Alessio (13).
Rebecca Stearns, PhD, ATC
Chief Operating Officer
Becca Stearns has worked at KSI since it’s early beginnings in April of 2010. Dr. Stearns is a certified athletic trainer and has experience as an athletic trainer at the high school level and at various mass medical tent events including Boston Marathon, Marine Corps Marathon, New York City Marathon, Falmouth Road Race and the Ironman Lake Placid. At the University of Connecticut one of her roles is supervising and running research studies within the UConn Human Performance Laboratory. Her research interests include the effects of heat and hydration on sport performance and physiological functioning, specifically as it relates to runners and football players. Dr. Stearns also leads the education components to KSI and has worked to create online educational courses as well as co-edit books such as “Preventing Sudden Death in Sport and Physical Activity” and “Emergency Management for Sport and Physical Activity.” Dr. Stearns also serves as the chair of the Eastern Athletic Trainers Associations Sponsorship and Fundraising committee. She is an avid runner, having completed the Boston, New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia and Marine Corps marathons. Dr. Stearns earned her bachelor’s degree in athletic training at Duquesne University in 2006. She completed her master’s and doctoral degrees in kinesiology at the University of Connecticut in 2008 and 2012, respectively.
Robert Huggins, PhD, ATC
President of Research & Athlete Performance and Safety
Dr. Robert Huggins is currently the President of Research and Athlete Performance at the Korey Stringer Institute. His responsibilities include the supervision, management, and coordination of major research initiatives currently conducted by KSI. Specifically, Rob oversees the initiatives supported by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association related to the Athletic Training Locations and Services (ATLAS) Project. Rob also assists in the daily management and operations of KSI including the proposal development, research budgeting, and management and mentor-ship of KSI staff. Additionally, Rob conducts performance testing on athletes who are looking to enhance their performance through the use of scientific insights in the state of the art MISSION Heat Lab at UCONN’s Korey Stringer Institute. Rob has been a licensed Athletic Trainer since 2007 and has experience at mass medical events such as the Falmouth Road Race, Boston Marathon, and Marine Corps Marathon where he has treated more than 60 cases of exertional heat stroke. Prior to his role at KSI, he developed the club sports Athletic Training Programs at both Sacred Heart University and the University of Connecticut.
Dr. Huggins focuses on two major areas of research, athlete health and safety and athlete performance. From a health and safety in sport perspective, his research has focused on improving Athletic Training services at the secondary school level, emergency best practices in youth athletes, and the economic impact of medical services rendered by Athletic Trainers. From an exercise science perspective, his research interests include heat illness, hydration, and the assessment of physiological biomarkers, exercise stress, and training load on sport performance. Dr. Huggins is the 2013 EATA Frank George Award winner and the 2013 NEACSM David Camaione Award winner. He has spoken at national conferences including the NATA and ACSM meetings and the 2016 Boston Athletic Association medical meeting. He served on the 2017-2018 NATA Appropriate Medical Care For the Secondary School Aged Athlete Task Force, co-chair of the 2016 Youth Sports Safety Governing Bodies Meeting and member of the organizing committee and speaker for the 2016 Collaborative Solutions for Safety in Sport Meeting. He has been a lead or co-author on ~25 publications including the 2013 “Inter-Association Task Force for Preventing Sudden Death in Secondary School Athletics Programs: Best Practices Recommendations.” He has also co-authored one chapter on Technology in the book “Sport and Physical Activity in the Heat” and two chapters in “Quick Questions in Heat-Related Illness and Hydration”. Recently Rob has studied elite soccer athletes, collegiate soccer players, professional football players, cyclists, and ultra marathoners. Rob received his bachelor’s degree in Athletic Training from the University of Connecticut in 2007, his master’s degree in Athletic Training from the University of Virginia in 2008, and his doctoral degree from the University of Connecticut in 2014 and completed a post-doctorate from University of Connecticut in 2017.
Samantha Scarneo, PhD, ATC
Vice President of Sport Safety
Samm Scarneo serves as the vice president of sport safety for KSI and works to improve overall safety at the youth sport and secondary school settings. Dr. Scarneo is a certified athletic trainer and has experience as an athletic trainer at the high school level and mass medical tents. Her research interests include policy implementation to improve sport safety, policy implementation science, and public health frameworks with regards to sports medicine interventions. Dr. Scarneo is the recipient of a National Athletic Trainers Association Research and Education Foundation Doctoral Grant for her project titled “Emergency Action Planning Policy Adoption in Secondary School Athletics”. She has spoken at the Eastern Athletic Trainers Association, along with various national meetings and state meetings. She has been a lead or co-author on several publications including the co-chair for the 2017 document “The Inter-Association Task Force Document on Emergency Health and Safety: Best-Practice Recommendations for Youth Sport Leagues.”
Dr. Scarneo received her bachelor’s degree in Athletic Training at the University of New Hampshire in 2011, a master’s degree in Kinesiology at the University of Connecticut in 2014 and her doctoral degree from the University of Connecticut in 2017.
Erin joined KSI in October 2019 after over 20 years of working in healthcare, with an emphasis on health promotion and disease prevention program development, community health outreach, and special events planning and coordination. Erin received a bachelor’s degree in health science education from the University of Florida, and a master’s degree in health studies from the University of Alabama.
Erin and her husband, Mark, have two children: Emerson (16), and Garrett (14).
Director of Occupational Safety
Rachel Katch has been working for KSI since 2014, and is the Assistant Director of Military and Occupational Safety. She conducted research at the Falmouth Road Race in Cape Cod, MA, regarding utilizing a heat stress score to predict runner’s preparedness to perform in an outdoor, warm weather race. Her research interests include the prevention, recognition, and treatment of sudden death, specifically including exertional heat illness and sudden cardiac death. Rachel serves as the athletic trainer for Rockville High School in Rockville, CT. She has experience at the clinical, university, and secondary school levels. Ms. Katch received her bachelor’s degree in Athletic Training from Saginaw Valley State University in 2014.
Courteney Benjamin, MS, CSCS
Director of Communication
Director of Athlete Performance and Safety
Courteney has been a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist since July of 2014. She received her undergraduate degree in 2013 from the University of West Florida majoring in Exercise Science with a minor in Sport and Exercise Psychology. During her time there, she was a member of the women’s soccer team that won the NCAA Division II National Championship in 2012. She recently earned her master’s degree in Sports Sciences at Florida State University. During her time there, she worked with the women’s soccer team as a strength and conditioning coach and monitored the players using wearable technologies. In 2014, this team won the NCAA Division I National Championship. Her main research interests include using wearable technologies to optimize performance and prevent injury in sports.
Gabrielle Giersch, MS
Director of Research
Director of Military Safety
Gabrielle received her undergraduate degree from Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia majoring in Health and Exercise Science with a minor in Mathematics. During her time at Roanoke, she was a member of the Women’s Track and Field team that won four Old Dominion Athletic Conference titles. After graduating with her Bachelor’s degree, she attended James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia for her Master’s degree. While at JMU she served as a Graduate Teaching Assistant for Lifetime Fitness and Wellness and directed a fitness program with JMU’s Overcoming Barriers project. Her research interests include supplementation, thermoregulation, and athlete health and performance.
Yasuki Sekiguchi MS, CSCS
Director of Athlete Performance and Safety
Yasuki Sekiguchi serves as the Assistant Director of Athlete Performance and Safety at the KSI. He is a certified strength and conditioning specialist with experience maximizing performance of athletes from youth to the elite levels both in Japan and the US. His research interests include maximizing exercise performance and athletes’ condition, hydration, and thermoregulation in the sports setting. He has worked with athletes both in field and laboratory setting not only as a coach but also as a sport scientist. He received his bachelor’s degree in exercise science at the Kobe University in Japan in 2014 and his master’s degree in exercise science at the University of Arkansas in 2016.
Kelly Coleman, MS, ATC
Director of Education
Kelly Coleman has been working for KSI since 2017 and is the Associate Director of Education. She is an athletic trainer with experience at all three NCAA Collegiate Divisions, and currently serves as an athletic trainer for UConn Club Sports. Her research interests include professional and leadership development for athletic training students, practitioners, and faculty as well as improving athletic training services at the secondary school level.
Ms. Coleman received her bachelor’s degree in Athletic Training from the University of Connecticut in 2010 and master’s degree in Exercise Science with a concentration in Nutrition and Exercise from James Madison University in 2012.
Margaret Morrissey, MS
Associate Director of Occupational Safety
Associate Director of Communication; Mission Heat Lab Coordinator
Margaret Morrissey is the Mission Heat Lab Coordinator and Assistant Director of Communication at KSI. She received her undergraduate degree at Skidmore College in Health and Exercise Sciences. After receiving her undergraduate degree, she worked at Weill Cornell Medicine as a Clinical Research Coordinator evaluating the safety and efficacy of pharmaceutical trials on the treatment of hematological disorders. She also worked at Skidmore College as a Research Assistant examining the thermal and cardiovascular strain of structural firefighting. She recently received her Master’s degree in Exercise Physiology and Sports Nutrition from Florida State University. At Florida State, she served as a Graduate Teaching Assistant in Anatomy and Physiology and Sports Nutrition. Her primary research interests include thermoregulation, technological solutions to optimize safety and performance, and prevention of heat illnesses in military and occupational populations.
Cody Butler, DPT, CSCS
Associate Director of Military Safety
Dr. Cody Butler joined KSI in August 2018. His research interests are heat stroke/illness and injury prevention/performance optimization amongst military members/athletes. Dr. Butler received a Bachelor’s of Science in Exercise and Sports Science from the University of Utah (Salt Lake City, UT) in 2008 and Doctor of Physical Therapy from Regis University (Denver, CO) in 2011. He later commissioned into the Air Force in 2012 and has been stationed at the US Air Force Academy (CO Springs, CO) and Robins Air Force Base (Warner Robins, GA). He is currently working on a PhD at UCONN.
Dr. Butler and his wife, Ashley, have three children: Spencer (age 11), Elizabeth (age 6), and Mya (age 18 months).
Erica Filep, MSEd, ATC
Director of Sport Safety
Erica received her bachelors in athletic training from the University of South Florida in 2012. From the University of South Florida, Erica went on to obtain her Masters of Science in Education from James Madison University in 2015. After graduation 2015, she worked at the secondary school level in Tampa, Florida for 3 years. In the summer of 2018, Erica decided to pursue her PhD at the University of Connecticut and the Korey Stringer Institute. Ever since her undergraduate education, preventing sudden death in sport and advocating for athletic trainers in the secondary school setting have been the main focus of her career.
Erin Dierickx, MS, CSCS
Associate Director of Athletic Performance & Safety
Erin is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and licensed coach through the US Soccer Federation. She has experience coaching at the collegiate NCAA Division l, NCAA Division ll, and NAIA levels, as well as the youth, developmental, club, and high school levels. A native of Washington State, Erin received a dual bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science and Human Performance and Fitness from St. Ambrose University, Iowa in 2013. She earned her master’s degree from Arizona State University in Exercise and Wellness with a focus in Fitness and Conditioning in 2017. At ASU she taught kinesiology lab courses, performed research in measuring and quantifying muscle quality, and gained experience with coaching strength and conditioning at the Division l level with various sports. Her research interests include elite athlete health and performance and application of performance research in practical team and coaching settings.
Jeb Struder, MS, CSCS
Associate Director of Research
Jeb Struder joined KSI during the summer of 2019. He received his undergraduate degree from East Carolina University in 2016 earning a Bachelors of Science in Exercise Physiology with a Minor in Nutritional Sciences. Post-graduation, Jeb spent time with the Spartan Performance Clinic of Michigan State University as a Sports Performance Specialist. There he worked with athletes from a variety of ages and athletic backgrounds while providing an integrated approach with programs centered in strength and conditioning, nutrition, and mental preparation. In 2017, he pursued his Masters of Science in Kinesiology with a specialization in Exercise Physiology from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. He was appointed as the lead Graduate Assistant for the Exercise Physiology Laboratory and assisted with all classes taught and research completed within the program. His research interests include skeletal muscle responses to both resistance and aerobic exercise, the relationship between nutritional intake and exercise on skeletal muscle mass adaptations, and the influence of exercise on differing populations.
Michael Szymanski, MS, ATC
Associate Director of Sports Safety
Mike received his undergraduate degree from Salisbury University in Salisbury, Maryland, majoring in athletic training. He then attended Central Michigan University as the graduate research assistant for the Athletic Training Education Program where he received his master’s degree in Exercise Physiology. Mike’s research interests include thermal physiology, exertional heat illnesses, and exercise-associated muscle cramps.
Ayami Yoshihara, MS, ATC
Associate Director of Education
Ayami joined KSI in the fall of 2019. She received her bachelor’s degree in 2014 and her master’s degree in 2016 from Ritsumeikan University in Japan. She also received her second master’s degree in athletic training from the University of South Florida in 2018. After graduation, she worked as an intern athletic trainer for women’s tennis/dance team at the University of Tennessee. She is currently pursuing her PhD at the University of Connecticut while working as a graduate assistant athletic trainer at Eastern Connecticut State University. Her research interests include thermoregulation, proper hydration, and preventing sudden death in sports including exertional heat illnesses.
Lauren Fry, ATC
Assistant Director of Education
Lauren is the Assistant Director of Education and recently graduated from Penn State in May of 2018. She spent her freshman year playing soccer for the university where she sustained an injury, which began her interest in Athletic Training. Following her freshman year, she decided to pursue the career and later received her Bachelor’s degree in Athletic Training. She is now pursuing her Master’s degree in Kinesiology at UCONN while also serving as a Graduate Assistant Athletic Trainer at The Westminster School in Simsbury, Connecticut.
Assistant Director of Athlete Performance and Safety
Ciara joined KSI as an intern in the summer of 2019. She is graduating from Temple University in August of 2019 with her Bachelor’s in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science and a minor in clinical health psychology. At Temple University Ciara was founder and president of the Exercise and Sport Science Association where she helped students become active and engaged in the field of exercise science and research. Ciara is a Certified Personal Trainer through NASM and has experience training people of various ages and skill levels. Ciara will be pursuing her Master’s in Kinesiology at UCONN this Fall 2019. Her research interests include hydration and thermoregulation.
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