Story by Kathy McPherson
A core memory of Meghan Fulton’s childhood is the 1994 Women's World Cup, watching Kristine Lilly and Mia Hamm lead the U.S. women’s soccer team to victory. “Those amazing women were on the world showcase and winning,” she said. “Sports have always been a part of who I am.”
Fulton grew up playing soccer and said she got very into basketball in middle school. “I was cut from my junior varsity basketball team, and I was devastated, devastated. And then I put my energy into lacrosse. I played lacrosse through high school, and I played club lacrosse in college.”
That love of sports, paired with an interest in health and medicine, led Fulton to a career as an athletic trainer, working at the University of Richmond, UNC-Chapel Hill and, since 2017, at Durham Academy.
Fulton didn’t know what she wanted to study in college. Athletic training was not even in the picture. “I always just loved being around sports and I played sports all my life. I took one of those tests, where it's like what should you do when you grow up and it said athletic training,” Fulton recalled.
“I didn't even know that athletic training was an area or profession that you could go into,” she said. “I guess I should look at schools that have that.” She chose to attend Northeastern University in Boston, graduating magna cum laude with a B.S. in athletic training in 2006.
Fulton explained that Northeastern offers a five-year program, with students doing a co-op their third year that involves experiential learning. That gave Fulton the opportunity for hands-on engagement with athletic training and in physical therapy.
“I was trying to figure out if I wanted to go into PT or continue the road of athletic training,” she said. “I did a co-op and worked in a physical therapy clinic. I realized I didn't enjoy the clinic aspects. I much preferred being immersed into athletics. That was pivotal, a really important moment for me. I turned my energy toward figuring out how I could go further with athletic training.”
She was accepted to graduate school at UNC-Chapel Hill and earned a master’s degree in exercise and sport science in 2008. The move to Chapel Hill was hard for Fulton, leaving her entire extended family and all her friends in New England. But she soon grew to love the small town feel of Chapel Hill. It reminded her of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where she grew up, “but with this amazing university in the middle that I would have an opportunity to be part of.”
Fulton worked as an athletic trainer with the UNC women’s basketball team and women’s lacrosse team while she was in graduate school. Coming from New England, where she said professional sports dominate, she had not realized “just how big college sports were, particularly women's college sports. To be working so closely with two amazing programs really opened my eyes to how amazing women's college sports is. I fell in love with that environment and being an athletic trainer and working alongside these amazing student-athletes.”
Next up for Fulton was two years as an athletic trainer at the University of Richmond, where she worked with women’s field hockey and women’s lacrosse teams.
“I still say to this day, that if it hadn't been for this guy, that I probably would still be at the University of Richmond because I loved it there,” she said.
The guy was Grant Fulton, a coach with UNC’s field hockey team. Fulton moved back to Chapel Hill, got a job as athletic trainer for UNC’s club sport athletes, and they were married in 2011. The Fultons now have two children: Oliver, a third-grader at DA, and Everly, a DA first-grader.
Fulton never pictured herself working in high school athletics. “I thought I was always going to be in college athletics. And I came over to DA and I just fell in love with it. … I was really excited to come in and build on the foundation that Jerry [Davis, former athletic trainer] had established, and bring the level of sports medicine care that I was used to delivering in a collegiate environment to the high school.”
She became DA’s head athletic trainer when Davis left DA a few months after she joined the program. Fulton and assistant trainer Jay Dillon work with approximately 450 student-athletes in grades 7 through 12 who play on 45 teams representing 20 sports.
“Sports medicine is heavy into orthopedics and injury management. But there's a big part of our education and what we do which is whole child, whole person kind of care, holistic care,” Fulton explained. “The athletic trainer is such an important piece of the whole health care team. Bringing together lots of different things and being able to figure out, yes, this kid has an ankle sprain, but they're fatigued and tired because they're stressed at school. And this is going on, and this is going on. I think athletic training really kind of lends itself to looking at whole kids rather than just being the person that assesses an injury.”
In addition to her work as head athletic trainer, Fulton serves as assistant athletic director, chair of the School Wellness Committee and an Upper School advisor.
As an Upper School advisor, working with a group of 10–12 students from their ninth-grade year through graduation, Fulton said “what's important is being an advocate for the kid and an adult in their corner, but also holding them accountable. I think that an important part of being an advisor is helping the kids learn accountability, then being there to help them if that's hard for them.”
She thinks sports are a way for kids to learn, grow and develop life skills.
“I believe with every ounce of my being in the power of sports, how good they can be and the development that they offer, particularly to girls,” she explained. That’s one of the reasons Meghan and Grant Fulton operate a field hockey training program for girls age 6 through high school, from beginner level to elite players.
Fulton said confidence, self-belief, communication skills and conflict resolution learned through sports are especially important for girls.
“I think self-belief and resilience serve them [girls] really well. To believe that things might not go their way but just keep their head down and keep working. Grit and the ability to just keep going.
“Mistakes happen all the time in sports,” she continued. “Things do not go to plan. You can set up a game plan every day, all day, and know exactly what you're supposed to do. Then something happens and you have to make another plan, so flexibility, adaptability, the ability to make decisions quickly. I think the most important thing, especially for young girls, is the self-belief, self-confidence and resilience that sports gives you.”
Fulton values the mentors and people she learned from at Northeastern, Carolina and Richmond, remembering especially the mentor who set her on the right path when he told her that if she wanted to be an athletic trainer, she needed to be better.
“The people that I've been around, that have helped me get where I want to go, have been just so important in my development and what I do. When I think about the [Upper School] kids, I hope someday that if I could maybe be just a small fraction of what those people were to me, then I feel like that's a good thing.”