April 7, 2021


10:17 a.m.

UChicago Athletic Trainer Confronts COVID Challenges with Enthusiasm

The onset of the pandemic last March forced everyone to adapt to a new environment fairly quickly, and UChicago athletic trainer Robert, a.k.a. “Bobby,” Smith was no exception. Known for his charismatic personality and diligence in his work, Smith is in his fourth year as an athletic trainer at UChicago. Since coming to the University, he has worked with almost every team in the Department of Athletics and Recreation.

When the University sent students home and quarantine began last spring, Smith faced the immediate challenge of providing follow-up care to injured athletes in a virtual setting. Additionally, many athletes didn’t have access to the University’s professional equipment for their recovery in their homes. Nevertheless, Smith confronted these unfavorable circumstances with enthusiasm and resourcefulness: “It was super cool to piece together a whole rehab program based on whatever people had access to. Being very specific with [my] wording to explain how to do an exercise was fun and brought [me] back to the basics.” Indeed, despite the difficulties of the virtual setting, Smith demonstrated his commitment to getting every student-athlete back on the field by adapting quickly and giving athletes the proper care that they needed.

By default, the transition into a redesigned campus environment in the middle of the pandemic also changed the expectations of Smith’s role. One of the most notable modifications has been the implementation of a robust scheduling system where athletes sign up for appointment slots to see him. This newly integrated system presents a significant change for Smith, who was accustomed to having large volumes of athletes in the training room right before teams took the practice field. “I was used to seeing 15 people every 30 minutes. Now I see one [athlete] every 15 to 30 minutes,” he said. Despite the decrease in overall interactions with student-athletes, Smith notes that the new system does have advantages that could be helpful in the future. “It’s nice to know who I’m about to see and how long I’m going to see them for,” he added.

Despite the difficulties of the pandemic, Smith is still enthusiastic about the unique nature of his role. One of the things that Smith enjoys the most about his job is the ability to work with such a talented young athletic population. Smith notes just how special it is to “see [student-athletes] throughout their entire academic and collegiate career” and to observe “how much they grow and how much they change from being a first year to being a senior leader.” By creating such a welcoming and positive environment, Smith undoubtedly plays a significant role in stimulating the personal growth that he observes in student-athletes.

Thinking beyond the pandemic, Smith says that he is excited for when athletes eventually return to competition. Until then, he will continue to work diligently to ensure that student-athletes are in peak condition for when UChicago teams get the opportunity to compete for national championships again.