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 will be published by Springer in the summer of 2017.
For the past 18 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 200 peer-reviewed publications/book chapters and presented more than 400 times on subjects related to exertional heat stroke, heat-related illnesses, preventing sudden death in sport, and hydration. Dr. Casa has successfully treated 265 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) 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, CNN, PBS, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
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 21 years and they have 3 kids; Montana (13), Navia (12), and Alessio (11).
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
Vice President of Research
Vice President of Athlete Performance and Safety
Rob Huggins is currently the Vice President of Research and Athlete Performance at the Korey Stringer Institute. His is responsibilities include the supervision, management, and coordination of research initiatives currently conducted by KSI specifically those initiatives supported by the National Football League and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. Furthermore, Rob conducts performance testing on athletes who are looking to enhance their performance through the use of scientific insights. 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 35 cases of exertional heat stroke. Prior to his role at KSI, he started 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 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 as 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 ~20 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 two chapters in “Quick Questions in Heat-Related Illness and Hydration” Recently Dr. Huggins 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
Samantha Scarneo, PhD, ATC
Vice President of Sport Safety
Samm Scarneo serves as the vice president of youth sport safety for KSI and works to improve overall safety at the youth sport and secondary school settings. . She has experience at the Division I collegiate level, the secondary school level, and summer camps. Her research interests include lower extremity biomechanics evaluation, injury prevention, aquatic therapy and exercise, heat and hydration, and education of preventing sudden death in sport.
Ms. 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.
Luke Belval, MS, ATC, CSCS
Director of Research
Director of Military and Occupational Safety
Luke Belval is the Director of Research and Director of Military and Occupational Safety, managing broad-based research initiatives and specific projects to protect soldiers and workers from exertional heat illnesses. He is an athletic trainer with experience at the division I and III collegiate levels, the secondary school level and mass medical events. In addition he has research experience working with athletes of all levels, from youth to elite. Mr. Belval has previously worked for the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. His research interests include thermoregulation, recovery from exertional heat stroke and wearable technology in the physically active.
Mr. Belval received his bachelor’s degree in Athletic Training and master’s degree in Exercise Science from the University of Connecticut.
Alicia Pike, MS, ATC
Associate Director of Research
Alicia Pike has been working for KSI since 2013. She recently investigated the extent of athletic training coverage in private secondary schools across the United States as a follow up study to the assessment of athletic training services in public secondary schools. Her research interests include the prevention of sudden death in sport, athletic training coverage in secondary schools, and the promotion of sport safety through parent/athlete educational interventions. Alicia serves as an athletic trainer for Club Sports at the University of Connecticut. She has experience at the Division I and secondary school levels.
Ms. Pike received her bachelor’s degree in Athletic Training from High Point University in 2013 and master’s degree in Kinesiology at the University of Connecticut in 2015.
Ryan Curtis, MS, ATC, CSCS, CES
Associate Director of Athlete Performance and Safety
Ryan Curtis is a certified athletic trainer and certified strength and conditioning specialist with experience managing injury and maximizing performance of athletes in high school, collegiate Division I, military, and professional settings. Before taking on his current role at KSI, Mr. Curtis served athletes and soldiers for the United States Marine Corps, United States Tennis Association, and touring professional tennis players on the ATP and WTA Tour. His research interests include elite athlete health and performance, wearable technology, and thermoregulation.
Mr. Curtis received his bachelor degree in Athletic Training from Culver Stockton College in 2006, and his master’s degree in Kinesiology from Kansas State University in 2009.
Rachel Katch, MS, ATC
Associate Director of Military and 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
Associate Director of Communication
Assistant 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
Associate Director of Education
Assistant Director of Athlete Performance and 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
Assistant 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.
Sarah Attanasio, ATC
Assistant Director of Research
Sarah Attanasio operates as the Assistant Director of Research for the Korey Stringer Institute. She has been working with KSI for three years and assists with data collection and organization. She has provided aid in investigating athletic training services in public secondary schools and assisting in projects regarding heat acclimatization. Sarah has experience and interests in conducting research and assisting in medical tents of road races and preventing sudden death in sport.
Brad Endres, ATC, CSCS
Assistant Director of Sports Safety
Brad Endres is the Assistant Director of Sports Safety. He is an athletic trainer with experience at the secondary school level, division I and III collegiate levels, and professional level. Mr. Endres has research experience dealing with the emergency management of catastrophic injuries in equipment-laden sports. His research interests include the prevention of sudden death in sport, specifically sudden cardiac death, along with the implementation of policies aimed at sport safety throughout all levels of competition.
Mr. Endres received his bachelor’s degree in Athletic Training from the University of Texas at Austin in 2011 and completed the New Hampshire Musculoskeletal Institute’s Integrated Clinical Sports Medicine Residency in 2013.
Kelsey Rynkiewicz, ATC, NREMT
Assistant Director of Education
Kelsey Rynkiewicz is a certified athletic trainer and nationally registered emergency medical technician. Kelsey has had athletic training experience with Division III collegiate athletics, high school athletics, and the Special Olympics. She serves as an athletic trainer at Eastern Connecticut State University. Her research interests include preventing sudden death in sport and sport safety education. Kelsey received her bachelor’s degree in Athletic Training from King’s College.
Andres Almeraya, ATC
Assistant Director of Communication
Andres Almeraya is the assistant director of communication for the Korey Stringer Institute. He is a certified athletic trainer with experiences in secondary schools, division I athletics, and Special Olympics coverage. He currently serves as the athletic trainer for RHAM high school in Hebron, CT. His research interests include heat acclimatization and preventing sudden death in sport.
Andres received his bachelor’s degree in Athletic Training from The Ohio State University in 2016.
Alexandra Finn, ATC, NREMT
Assistant Director of Education
Alexandra Finn is a certified athletic trainer and a nationally registered emergency medical technician. Alex earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Vermont, where she gained athletic training experience working with Division I Men’s soccer, Division II collegiate athletics, and high school athletics. She currently serves as the assistant athletic trainer at Westminster School. Her research interests include prevention of sudden death and sports safety education. Her interest in athletic training arose from her experiences as an elite figure skater. As a member of the Haydenettes, a Team USA synchronized skating team, she earned two national championship titles as well as two world bronze medals.
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