By Rachel Whittaker
Joanne Gerstner knew she had a passion for learning about concussions in athletics. In 2012, she got the chance to take it to new heights and reach new career goals on a trip to Zurich, Switzerland, that was made possible through a special honor in the Association for Women in Sports Media.
Gerstner earned the annual AWSM mid-career training grant, an award of up to $1,500 given to deserving members to help them expand their knowledge and learn new skills to adapt to the evolving media landscape and better meet their career aspirations. With the award, Gerstner funded her Zurich trip to attend the International Consensus Conference on Concussion in Sport.
Through funding from an Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation grant, AWSM has been given the opportunity to provide these mid-career training grants for deserving members.
There she met with the world’s top neurologists, along with staff doctors from the IOC, NFL, NHL and more to discover the latest methods of concussion diagnosis, treatment and management. As one of the only non-medical professionals at the two-day conference, Gerstner said her attendance opened her eyes to the potential for advancement in the field.
“We were in the headquarters of FIFA, a totally space-age, James Bond-like sleek compound on top of a big hill overlooking Zurich,” Gerstner recalled. “The biggest thing that came out of the conference is an update of a test called SCAT3 (Sports Concussion Assessment Tool), which will become the global protocol (adopted by the IOC, FIFA, etc.) to be administered to athletes to determine if they are showing signs of a concussion.”
AWSM president Stefanie Loh said the mid-career grant is a great benefit for members, especially in a media world that’s progressing rapidly.
“AWSM is committed to promoting continuing education for our members, and the mid-career grant does just that,” Loh said. “It gives our members an option for affordable professional development. And in the changing media industry, it’s never a bad idea to hone a new set of skills.”
A 2012-13 Knight-Wallace fellow at the University of Michigan, Gerstner’s sports journalism career has included covering events such as the Olympics in 2000 and 2008, two Women’s World Cups, the NCAA Final Four, Stanley Cup, World Series, French Open and NBA title runs with the Detroit Pistons.
During her 10 years at the Detroit News from 1999-2009, one of her favorite stories she wrote reminded her why she loves her career and the new opportunities it brings.
“Big events are a rush to experience. My deeper satisfaction comes from doing stories well,” Gerstner said. “I did long-form features for the Detroit News on a teen boy from Indiana who was accidentally paralyzed while playing in a travel hockey game in Ann Arbor. The readers really connected with the family, and donated everything from home-cooked meals to a wheelchair van to help. That really showed me the power of what journalism can do: tell stories well, and connect with people.”
Her seven-month fellowship at Michigan ends April 23 – she’s been working in the NeuroSport department participating in activities ranging from patient intakes, testing, lectures to grand rounds at the hospital, also taking classes and meeting with her 17 other fellows twice weekly for seminars on culture, music, journalism and politics.
So it’s been a busy year for Gerstner, and the mid-career grant has only added to the endeavors she’s been hungry to experience.
“The art is to learn how to prioritize, and to do the right thing at the right time,” Gerstner said. “I learn something new every day, and that’s the fun of the job.”