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Faith, Determination, and Resilience: Earlene Durrant’s 2023 Honored Alumni Lecture

A woman with glasses in a cream-colored shirt wearing a black blazer smiles
Photo by BYU Photo

Seventh grade Earlene Durrant (Physical Education EdD '75) was determined to be a physical education teacher at BYU. Little did she know that she would transform the department.

“This is important history for you to hear,” Durrant declared as she began her honored alumna lecture.

Returning to BYU to begin work on her doctorate degree, Durrant joined the Women’s Physical Education Department right as Title IX was passed into law. All of a sudden, BYU needed to have facilities and training available equally to male and female athletes. Durrant was the first female athletic trainer hired as part of the new program.

“No co-ed facilities were on campus, so everything had to be developed from scratch,” Durrant said.

This position came with its challenges as Durrant worked in facilities that were about the size of a janitor’s closet, barely meeting the minimum requirement. She also had no budget to acquire additional supplies. Durrant was teaching a full course load, coaching softball, assistant coaching for women’s gymnastics, and developing the medical aspect of athletic training for the female athletes. She was also working on her dissertation for her doctorate degree. As the only female athletic trainer, Durrant had to travel with the teams to all away games, taking extended time away from family and preparing classes. In spite of these difficulties, Durrant pressed on.

I became a pioneer who's an innovator, a change maker, a visionary, and a developer.
Earlene Durrant

There were silver linings in the weight of Durrant’s responsibilities. She was able to hire a few more trainers, including the late Gaye Merrill who headed the program after Durrant’s retirement. Durrant worked with George Curtis to adapt the male training rooms in the Smith Fieldhouse and the stadium to improve the female student athletic trainers' experience. A number of mentors—including Leona Holbrook, who called Durrant a “feisty pup”—provided insights, encouragement, and support as the athletic training program moved toward accreditation.

She expounded on that idea by sharing how she got scrappy in creating opportunities and supplies for the female athletes. Late at night, Durrant would sneak into the men’s facilities to gather half-full tape rolls. She also foraged in trash cans for tape ends to supplement her supplies for the female athletes.

  • First woman to chair the Department of Physical Education
  • One of the first women certified as a NATA (National Athletic Trainers Association) professional trainer in the nation
  • First NATA-certified woman in the state of Utah
  • Started athletic training programs in Provo, Alpine, and Nebo school districts
  • Equipped the Provo Missionary Training Center athletic facility and BYU’s dance program facilities
  • Helped develop the master's program for athletic training

BYU’s female athletic program failed its first accreditation check in 1980 and was given a five-year temporary accreditation. Due to Durrant’s perseverance and hard work, BYU was in full compliance of the National Athletic Trainers' Association requirements by 1985. The athletic department accomplished this by expanding facilities and hiring additional physicians to care for the female athletes.

Drawing from her experience changing the coed athletic environment at BYU, Durrant gave advice to the women in the room: “As women, you need to be able to speak up, and you need to be able to say, 'I disagree and this is why.’ I worked with so many men that I learned that if I said, ‘Just listen to my perspective for a minute,’ he would listen. Speak up in a manner that’s not condescending, but in a way that they will listen to you.”

Outside of working with the female athletes, Durrant cherished mentoring new female and male student trainers. When Durrant was given her only opportunity to be on the football field during her tenure, she let a young female student trainer shadow the head trainer in her place; Durrant took the job of carrying the water bottles to the football players during the time-outs on the field instead. Every time that she sees female athletic trainers on the field during televised games, Durrant runs to the TV and cheers them on.

A woman in a pink jacket and a lei lectures to a full auditorium of people
Photo by Kylee Brown

Durrant is very proud of her students and said that “the greatest reward an educator can receive is that their students are carrying on in the path that the educator trod, and they are creating great things for themselves with their families and their training.”

Durrant acknowledged that she was bolstered by her faith in Christ. “The Lord directed me through every step of the development of the athlete training programs at BYU,” Durrant said. “He answered so many prayers during every step from the start in 1972 until 1994 . . . The journey I have shared with you today was the beginning of what I hope and pray is still outstanding academic and practical programs at the undergraduate and graduate level at Brigham Young University.”

Durrant closed with gratitude for those who mentored her along the way. She also praised the efforts of current athletic trainers and faculty who continue to train students and expand the program. Durrant’s journey as the first female athletic trainer was truly one of faith, determination, and resilience.