CHARLOTTE, NC (FOX 46 WJZY) - “It has been a long arduous 14 years to get to where I’m at today,” said Chicago native Shaakira Hassell.
Hassell is living her dream this summer, as a member of the Carolina Panthers strength and conditioning coaching staff during training camp.
“Coach Benguche called from the Carolina Panthers,” said Hassell. “I was like really? Is this really real?”
Hassell was selected for the Bill Walsh Minority and Diversity Coaching Fellowship with the Panthers, which helps coaches gain exposure to NFL training camps and offseason workout programs. She works with injured Panthers on the field and in the weight room.
“This experience is an amazing experience,” said Hassell. “The team welcomed me in. The coaches welcomed me in. The players are fantastic and I’ve learned a great deal from the staff.”
Hassell is no stranger to football. She played in the Independent Women's Football League for two years, winning the national championship in 2006. She just completed her third year as the head strength and conditioning coach at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
“Out of all the universities and colleges in the country, there's maybe only two or three that oversee football while holding a head position as a strength and conditioning coach, and I'm one those," said Hassell.
Hassell is breaking down barriers as a female, in a sport dominated by men.
"Gaining respect is about how you treat the individual.” Said Hassell. “If you give the individual respect, you are going to get respect back."
Hassell hopes this opportunity is just the beginning.
"I want to get the door opened up to where I can come in and be an impact in the NFL as an assistant strength coach, or whatever they allow me to do."