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  • Sara Rudin

4: Whitney Ulrich - Preventing Sports Injuries in Baton Twirling

Updated: Feb 26

I am excited for today's episode. Whitney and I have a funny backstory. Months after I met her at the University of Arizona, we started talking about placing in pageants at Nationals. We both started explaining how the girl in our pageant swept the whole thing (basically, took first place in Modeling, Strut, and Solo), so we were just glad we placed. Long story short, we realized we were talking about the same pageant. We found the pageant picture of the top five, and there we were - Whitney was Second place and I was third place IN THE SAME PICTURE!

We had unknowingly met about 4 years prior and had no idea.

Whitney comes to us with a fascinating occupation - well at least I find it completely fascinating - she's a Physical Therapist and advocate for proper warm ups and stretching for baton twirling. Let us know what you think!

Whitney with her husband

Show Notes

Baton Twirling Project: What is your role right now in Baton Twirling?

Whitney: I feel like my role right now is more like a advocate. I’m working on trying to grow the understanding of injury prevention and how injury prevention not only prevents injuries but also improves performance. It’s really that dual aspect with the stretching and proper strengthening comes better routines and better quality of movement. I’m trying to figure out, one, how to make it fun and enjoyable to learn it, but to just getting the knowledge out there and information out there on a broader level.

I feel there’s not a lot available to me as far as large groups of people that I can teach classes to. I’m trying to be the advocate more virtually and through touching base with coaches I’ve worked with in the past and teams that I’ve worked with to try to build a foundation for people to be able to understand it better.

Baton Twirling Project: That's great! We need that so badly!

Whitney: The basics are simple to learn. If we could even touch on the foundation of that, there would be a lot more progress forward and a lot less injury. Girls would be advancing quicker because they would have the foundation in order to get to the next level with tricks and movements. I feel like it’s an area that I never learned when I was a Twirler. For me to warm up for a routine, I would go practice my routine until I felt warm and then I would do my routine. I never learned how to make my hips stronger and I never learned how to make my core stronger and so I had back injuries and hip injuries. There were areas in my routines where I was weak, but had I known how to make other parts of my body stronger, I would have been a better performer.

I feel like even in dance there is a level of education that can be pushed. I think even the beginner dance educators don’t have that foundation of quality of movement and technique and understanding. The alignment stuff that actually helps you activate the proper muscle in order to really strengthen verses just move. It’s something I’m really passionate about. I haven’t seen it in the sport very well developed. 

Whitney at AYOP (NBTA Nationals)

Baton Twirling Project: That’s something the Twirling world needs.

Whitney: Girls and guys want to be able to do the next trick. Their body is not ready to do it. They're at risk. Maybe they can force it to work, but it’s not going to work out well for long. I think that if we could just even teach this is a proper kick, an arabesque. This is where your hip is supposed to turn, or on a fan kick, you need to keep your hip dropped on your right side. If you’re kicking your right leg, you don’t want it elevated up in the air because you're jamming parts of your body that aren't meant to be jammed. You’re not giving your body the best potential to have the best movement. If you don’t have the strength to do it, and you don’t have the proper control of your core, you’re gonna end up getting hurt.

Illusions are the number one thing that people get hurt on and end up having surgery for labor tears. Because they force them and they don’t have the flexibility, they do it on surfaces that necessarily aren’t safe, and they do it in too much repetition, so it results in an injury. We have to help people understand the proper progression to doing an illusion. Because if you're able to do a proper controlled arabesque with your head even tipping down, you're probably not ready for that illusion quite yet. 

Baton Twirling Project: What motivated you to go on this path for Baton Twirling?

Whitney: When I was in graduate school, we had to do a community project as part of our doctoral project. Baton Twirling has always been my passion, and I went on a man hunt to try to figure out what are the movements that cause injuries? Is it movement specific? Is it age specific is it organization specific?

I had a survey that I sent out, and almost 200 people completed it. Through that survey I compared the information from the survey. I also took a bunch of information from dance research and combined it all together. The biggest areas, based off my research, came out to be that the first area that people get hurt are their hips and then their back and their knees.

Those are the three major areas, and it was not twirling-organization specific. Regardless of all things, those were the areas with the first and most common injures. There are injuries even within the first year. That sparked my interest, and then with all the information that I’ve learned with PT school, seeing the deficit; there is no education in Baton Twirling, it became my passion to find a way to teach this.

I feel like if you're doing work you love, then it’s not quite painful. I’m not making any money off of this now; it’s just something I’m trying to advocate for. Eventually down the road there will be an opportunity for a business to come out of it, but for now I just want to spread the wealth of information and try to touch as many groups as I can.

I would love to be able to get to a summer camp and really get my hands on helping. I think combining the information I learned in PT school, and realizing what I didn’t learn in Baton, and how I could have been a better twirler if I had known the two. I’ve got to share this with people. There is nobody else talking about it, and there are a bunch of Baton Twirling physical therapists. We need to find the best method to teach it. Now with all the social media, and all these different venues to able to talk, virtually there are opportunities to spread that information now where before it was kinda restricted to your local area. It's all about stretching and strengthening. There are some basics that could be established young that would help strengthen your body and identify parts of the body being used.

Baton Twirling Project: Have you ever broken a bone twirling?

Whitney: My senior year of high school at practice, right before we started an across the floor movement, they told us to stop, but I already had my momentum going. The girl next to me stopped. My foot landed on her foot, but my momentum was going backward. I twisted my ankle and fell and broke my wrist. It wasn't a baton injury really, I fell at practice.

Whitney's Twirling Group

Baton Twirling Project: What advice would you give someone twirling or deciding to start their own group?

Whitney: For twirlers, give it time; don't give up. For those starting a group - reach out to your friends. I didn't really know what to do. Ask friends and parents of the twirlers for help. Keep trying. If it's your passion, it will eventually get there.

Baton Twirling Project: This is such great information! It's good to know the information is out there.

Whitney: College days twirling at the UofA