The path from benchwarmer to team captain to coach to future PA has been an interesting one. Obviously those aren't the required steps to becoming a PA, but those experiences on the football field have led me to where I am now, entering the field of medicine.
Ten years ago I played in my first summer passing league game at Long Beach Polytechnic HS. I was a student athletic trainer the season prior-- taping wrists, stretching out the athletes and passing water out on the sideline. But I loved the family environment of being on this CIF Championship Team and the tradition of excellence at Long Beach Poly. So I decided to immerse myself within it even more. I had an interest in sports medicine and football, hence my time as a trainer, but I decided to play my Senior year.
So here I was, a 5'8'', 150-pound incoming Senior with no prior organized tackle football experience, on a High School football powerhouse team who just came off a CIF Championship. It took a lot of grit, dedication, sacrifice and extra work just to try and get on the same page as my teammates. I used my natural athletic abilities, experience playing in various flag football leagues and speed to become a wide receiver on the team. Obviously, I didn't get much playing time but the exposure and experience I had on the practice field, learning from the returning Varsity players and my coaches allowed me to realize something... Like anything in life, you start out lost, then slowly progress to understanding the lingo, plays, techniques and complex knowledge that people have accumulated for years and years. (Foreshadowing to my path to the field of medicine).
We won the CIF-SS Championship and our school repeated as Back-to-Back Champs but eventually lost in the State Championship game. This was definitely a humbling moment as we were undefeated prior to that loss. After the game, on the bus ride back to school, many of us Seniors voiced our frustration and disappointment in our performance. This team had been our life for the past year. Some even said they wanted to quit school because they didn't have anything else to look forward to... When we got back to campus, our head coach stood up and spoke to us Seniors.
"I heard you boys talking about how you want to quit and don't feel like doing anything else anymore. Don't have that mentality." He reassured us that he was also hurt by the results of the game but also lifted our spirits by reminding us that life goes on and we will always face tough obstacles but can't let it define us and let it hold us back from achieving something greater.
For me, that something greater would not be determined for quite a few more years.
I began my pursuit of searching for that greater something my coach spoke of, while continuing my love and passion for football. I played intramural flag football at UCR and was a member of the "Avengers". I was the only first-year on a predominantly third-year team. During my first season, there was a lot of sitting, observing, and trying to understand the ins and outs of the rules and strategy here. I had to learn quickly when I was thrown right into the fire of the playoffs after our team captain (currently a PA) tore his ACL, another receiver (currently working in podiatry) broke his ankle and yet another player (dentist) injured himself. *(I added their current professions to also give a nod to the fact that they also inspired me to pursue a health professions school).
We began the campus wide playoffs as the 18th seed and eventually met the top 2 seeds, the teams we lost to earlier in the season. I had to step up and use the skills, tools and knowledge I learned from my days at Poly and throughout my first season at UCR. We prevailed and won the All-Campus Championship, thus sparking the beginning on a dynasty.
That dynasty went on to win another All-Campus Championship and then represent UCR at the NIRSA Western Regional Collegiate Tournament at ASU in 2010 and UCLA in 2011. (We ranked 6th at UCLA).
Upon our return to UCR from the tournament, we hit several obstacles and speed bumps. Especially myself. In a playoff game, I was cleated in the chin, resulting in a gnarly laceration and of course a trip to the Emergency Department. (See personal statement). Essentially, I was treated by a PA there and we talked about football, we talked about medicine and the PA profession. I thought to myself, wow, this guy is amazing. He's well-rounded, knowledgeable, personable and he was another source of inspiration for me to enter the medical field.
After speaking to some of my "older brothers" from the team, they suggested that I go speak to our Health Professions Academic Advisor at UCR. And so I did. I told her that I was now serious about pursuing something greater, something in medicine. I asked what I needed to do to get there... obviously it was going to be a long road but I truly enjoyed it. She didn't tell me to stop playing football, but instead, suggested that I do something bigger than just playing. I had all these years of experience, energy and enthusiasm so I decided to bring that down to another league... a youth flag football league.
I began coaching in the summer of 2012 and again the following summer. The experience was awesome. I got to hangout with some of the coolest kids I ever med (also future ballers). I got to share my knowledge of coaching and love of football, while helping out the community. Seeing the excitement these kids had for running around and playing hard, inspired me to bring that back to my teammates at UCR as well. Finally, just being able to coach these boys and communicate my knowledge to them in a way that they understood it, paralleled how I want to be able to communicate to my future patients as well. It's awesome going from thinking critically about the situation at hand, calling a play, communicating it to the team and seeing successful results... a touchdown! (Also foreshadowing/comparing the future of critical thinking, communication, working with a team and hopefully seeing successful results, as a PA).
Like my college career, my intramural flag football career came to an end. Yet, I cherished every moment I had learning, teaching, inspiring and building life-long friendships. I'll forever be grateful for what football has taught me and what it has done for me.
I put in many days and nights of practice, drawing up game plans and lineups and seasons of continuing to play with the same core team (with new players) for my entire career. Some say intramural is not that serious, but for us, it really was. Who else had practices and matching jerseys?!
With these players, we worked toward one common goal-- relying on one another and trusting each other. Football made me less selfish, more willing to be dependent and understanding of a team environment and a better team captain.
Sometimes I was asked to follow, sometimes I was asked/forced to lead. I went from the solo first-year to the team's co-captain. When I was asked to lead, I did my best to lead my team by example of the tenacity of playing hard as well as my dedication to the team. It echoed loudly as many of my teammates had the same passion and dedication.
"Check money!" "Hat!" "Base-Base-Base" Communicating these messages to my teammates while on the field was vital to our success. Calling audibles and plays ensured that the team was on the same page in all aspects, offense and defense. Oh and of course texting the team about Tuesday night practices at 7pm.
Who knows how many injuries we experienced throughout our years of playing. A lot of those hours spent practicing, learning the route-tree, playbooks, and games/tournaments could have been spent studying or going out to social events but I sacrificed to try and reach my goal-- winning All-Campus Championships with my friends and reaching UCR's Intramural Hall of Fame.
I thank all of my teammates, especially the ones also in the field of medicine for their influence on me and for their passion in what they do. My injuries, teammates, passion for the game and experiences all played roles in decided to pursue the field of medicine... a place where I'll be sure to utilizing the lessons the football field taught me.