By MAIRANY GARCIA – Mairany Garcia is a student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. She works in the Public Relations Lab with the Sun Devil Athletics team and will graduate in the spring of 2023.
Behind the desk Liane Blyn, director of sports performance and Olympic sports at Arizona State University, the quote is, “Do not forget where you came from, but never forget where you are going.” These words help guide this talented strength trainer and the men’s hockey team she also leads.
“My job is to develop athletes to maximize their athletic potential in their sport, “Blyn says of his role.” I help them become better athletes by increasing their strength, speed and power, improving movement patterns and mobility. It also goes far beyond hockey. “
Blyn has worked directly with the hockey program since 2018. She has achieved various awards both within and outside of hockey during that time.
In 2022, she received the College Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year award from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) for her work. And while being an award-winning strength trainer is an achievement in itself, Blyn has put together a list of other great gains. For example, she has over 20 years of experience as a strength trainer with stops at Appalachian State, Boston College and the University of Nevada-Reno. Blyn is himself an athlete and is 14 times USA Powerlifting (USAPL) drug-free national champion, four times International Powerlifting Federation World Champion (IPF) and world record holder in bench, deadlift and total through his long history with USAPL and IPF.
Yet at one point, despite her many significant accomplishments, Blyn left college athletics for a short time because there was no room for women to grow in strength and fitness.
“When I started in 1995, my vision and purpose was to become the first female strength trainer in the NFL. ‘”said Blyn, adding that that vision, like many other things, changed over time and became more a matter of giving everything to his field, no matter where or who she worked with.
“Most strength trainers in the profession thrive on only wanting to work with the best of the best. I look at it very differently, I do not care if you are the first from the bench, the last from the bench or never. I will always put 100% in any athlete who gives 100% in developing as an individual and teammate.
And that’s exactly what she’s done with men’s hockey, especially with construction underway for ASU’s new multi-purpose arena, which is set to open in the fall of 2022, which will be the team’s home arena.
Blyn is excited about the positive effects a new arena on campus is bringing to the student-athletes, especially the advanced weight room and training room. The new facilities are an asset in the physical development of the players throughout their college careers and in preparation for post-collegiate hockey.
“Players from past and present will never forget Oceanside,” she said. “It’s the foundation of the program, where the blue collar mentality: gravel, grind, sweat and hard work, it all started. That mentality and the traditions will continue as they move forward to the new facility and take that step forward as a consistent top program in the country. ”
Also excited about the arena is Natalie Thackrahanother strong female force behind the hockey team that helps realize the goal of making the hockey team better.
Before by becoming an academic coach for hockey, beach volleyball and diving for men and women at ASU – a position where she builds close and trusting relationships with student-athletes and helps them with their efforts in school – she was also a student-athlete.
(Natalie Thackrah as a student-athlete in the diving program at Arizona State University)
As a Sun Devil diver, Thackrah remembers seeing his academic trainer Michael McBride, who still works at ASU in the engineering department, participate in drills and be generally interested in what the team was doing.
His sincerity in his job eventually led Thackrah to pursue the same career of guiding student-athletes through college as her time as a diver ended.
Thackrah decided to seek an open position as an academic advisor because of her connection to people and help them achieve their goals. “I loved working with people from different backgrounds. I loved watching people succeed.”
Thackrah would meet daily with students from diverse and challenging backgrounds and guide them through a successful school journey. That she did not know what her day would bring, or what challenge she would take on, made her enjoy going to work every day.
“Some days I would think, ‘oh, I’m just going in and running all the reports I have to run’.” Then I wanted someone in my office who was crying and it did just 180 min day. But I liked that. I liked that it was a bit adventurous in a way. ”
As part of a long line of Sun Devils who were either athletes, graduates or workers, Thackrah says it was an easy decision to get her to move from a technical school to ASU. Since 2008, she has worked in various sports – swimming and diving, water polo and volleyball. However, it was not until 2015, when ASU men’s hockey made its debut as an NCAA Division I program, that Thackrah was able to implement all of his years of expertise.
“It was really exciting because you could just feel that they were so happy to be here,” she said, recalling her first meeting with the hockey players. “I remember sitting inside [the room] and looked at the guys’ faces, and they did not fall asleep – they were not. The sad up. They were attentive and they were just happy to be there. ”
Today, her relationship with hockey is close.
Thackrah describes the student-athletes as “goofballs” who are fun to work with and engaged in their grades and promote an environment that reinforces this goal.
She says that even when a newcomer joins the team, they are welcomed into a culture that cares. This culture eventually causes them to achieve goals they never thought were possible – such as graduating early, raising their GPA, or getting their masters.
With the opening of the arena, Thackrah says she is extremely happy with the team both as an academic advisor and as a fan, and says that academically it will be an advantage to have the arena close by.
As for being a fan, she says, it’s incredible that hockey finally gets its own place.
“They’ve worked really hard to make it happen.”
Also working behind the scenes in hockey is Paige Shacklett, the Head of Communications and the Sports Information Director (SID) of the team. Her role aims to tell the overall story of the men’s hockey program to fans and ASU stakeholders through various media platforms.
She typically spends her days driving the team’s social media, brainstorming and creating unique content and balancing the role of traditional sports information and modern digital media.
Shacklett first started as a student assistant for media relations at the office she now works for within Sun Devil Athletics. While attending the Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU, Shacklett knew she wanted to work in sports, but she never thought it would be so influential in her career to watch her mother play hockey while she was growing up.
In 2015, when ASU’s club hockey team was elevated to the latest NCAA Division I program, and Mitch Terrell, SID for men’s hockey at the time, seeking help from anyone who knew anything about hockey among media relations interns, Shacklett raised her hand.
“I was one of the only ones who raised his hand and said, ‘Of course I can help. I saw my mom play some rookie league hockey when I was growing up. “And really, the two levels could not be further apart, but that’s what got me started,” Shacklett said.
After spending time with hockey, Shacklett knew she would continue to work in the sport.
“Hockey is an exciting and fun sport. You do not know what will happen on any given day,” Shacklett says of his job today. “A lot of my first year has been getting to know the team more and more, learning about them from the ice and trying to take what I’ve learned to show who they are as both players and people.”
(Paige Shacklett and Liane Blyn skate in the Oceansides rookie league)
As part of her job, she has also worked on remarkable projects with hockey.
Last November, Sun Devil hockey debuted its first ever military uniforms in honor of those who served with the “PT-42” in honor of Pat Tillman, the former ASU football athlete who enlisted in the Army and later died in friendly fire.
The team worked with the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson to create content in anticipation of the release. The release is one of the most engaging with content on the hockey team’s various social media channels in the last year.
Shacklett said the release’s success is a testament to the teamwork that goes on behind the scenes.
“Being a part of such an exciting release was a huge honor for me. I learned so much in the process, especially everything behind the scenes. Our equipment manager, Jon Laughner, created the uniform about two years in advance; we then brainstormed a story that would do the military uniform justice, planned and executed the content shooting, and then rolled the content out on the day of release. It’s a full team effort, “Shacklett said.
(Harrison Kelly, Jon Laughner, Jon Laughner, Paige ShacklettRiley Trujillo at the inauguration of the military uniform)
Another unique project with hockey is the current construction of the multi-purpose arena because Shacklett can dive into the other side of his role in corporate communications.
“Just being a part of the construction process of such a huge state-of-the-art arena is something that doesn’t happen every day,” she says.
According to ASU, the multi-purpose arena will not only meet the needs of the men’s hockey program and other regional and adult hockey clubs. It will also accommodate a wide range of community, entertainment and intercollegiate athletics.
Shacklett grew in her career from being an intern on the hockey program to now having the role she dreamed of one day, and Shacklett feels excited and privileged to witness the development of the program.
“The program created its home and started its tradition on Oceanside, but it has always deserved a barn on the scale we create on campus. Now 942 students can fill the student department – I can not wait to see how we can continue to grow the game in the desert. ”
And while they may not work consistently together, one thing in common among all these women is the love they have for the sport and their jobs.
As for the advice they can give to women pursuing a career in sports?
“The greatest advice I can give is, if that’s what your dream is, then do what you can to make it happen,” says Thackrah, hoping that anyone who wants to can find opportunities, which they will thrive in.
Similarly, Blyn says you should not take no as an end.
“Take no as an opportunity to look for something else, and it was probably not right anyway,” adding that she has not been told more times in her career than yes. “Once you’ve got that opportunity and you’re told yes. Embrace it and go with it,” Blyn says.
After building a close relationship with Blyn, Shacklett advises making these connections.
“A big part of the puzzle of being a woman in sports is making those connections and finding the supportive outlets and building your network,” says Shacklett, adding that Blyn’s 20-year resume in the industry is excellent inspiration for any woman who wants break. into the field. “So like Liane’s smashing glass ceilings all over the place, there’s still a lot to do for women in sports. So find the supportive outlets – people who are willing to give you that opportunity – and keep working hard.”