Emily Fortunato, the Red Stars’ head athletic trainer, was intrigued by bones as a kid.
Not the world of dinosaurs and fossils that a lot of youngsters might enjoy, but human bones.
Growing up on Long Island, Fortunato combined her fascination — sparked in the fifth grade — with her passion for lacrosse. She came to the conclusion she would be an athletic trainer.
Fortunato has traveled the world, working in college athletics and multiple professional leagues, including the WNBA and the NWSL.
She was tapped in June to join the U.S. women’s national team medical staff and is hoping to be a piece of the Olympic-gold puzzle.
“I got this invitation and was filled with pride and excitement,” Fortunato said.
Fortunato got her first invitation to join the USWNT staff in 2013 in large part because of relationships she had established with players while working in Women’s Professional Soccer.
When WPS folded in 2012, Fortunato’s career transitioned to Division I athletics at George Mason, then a few years later to the WNBA. She ended up spending 2015-2017 with the Washington Mystics before returning to pro soccer to work for the Utah Royals.
During all of the stops in her career, she also has juggled being a network provider for US Soccer, assisting the federation’s full-time medical staff during various training camps, tournaments and friendlies. That included during the team’s historic World Cup run in 2019.
Her experience working in the WNBA and the NWSL had unfortunate similarities. She can recall flights from Washington to Connecticut that were on small airplanes with post players jammed into the seats.
Another challenge over the years has been finding space for training. Due to the fact most teams are renting their training facilities, they don’t have an unlimited amount of time to use training rooms.
Staffing is another critical component to athletic training that varies from team to team in each league. Some teams’ staffs include multiple trainers, while others have a head athletic trainer and interns.
Fortunato is the only athletic trainer for the Red Stars, and she’s employed through the team’s medical partner, Illinois Bone and Joint Institute. In her absence, the team was tasked with finding another trainer within IBJI’s organization to fill her role.
The team also has a physical therapist who comes multiple times a week and multiple interns who Fortunato has said are going above and beyond to allow her to pursue this Olympic dream.
“She is one of if not the best trainers I’ve had in this league,” Kealia Watt said. “We are so proud of her.”
Tokyo is 14 hours ahead of Chicago time, so once again Fortunato finds herself doing some juggling to make sure all her boxes are checked. Good-luck texts need to be planned at least 12 hours in advance because while she’s sleeping her Red Stars players are in the middle of their day.
The Tokyo Olympics are nothing like what they were originally planned to be, with the COVID-19 pandemic still a looming threat as the Delta variant has fueled a resurgence of the virus. Fortunato said the Olympic bubble hasn’t adversely affected the team because the players are so focused on the mission: winning gold.
In their opening match, the USWNT was outplayed and lost to Sweden 3-0. But there’s no panicking.
“This team is a well-oiled machine,” Fortunato said. “We’re here for business, and we know what to do.”