OCHS alumnus Szwanki turns sports interest into career

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Submitted / Ocean City High School alumnus Victor Szwanki works on Rowan University football players as a sports medicine student at the college. Submitted / Ocean City High School alumnus Victor Szwanki works on Rowan University football players as a sports medicine student at the college.

OCEAN CITY – As a student at Ocean City High School, Victor Szwanki was more focused on playing baseball, lifting weights and having fun than on academics.

After graduating in 2009, the then-injured athlete headed to Rowan University with little idea what he wanted to do with his life, until he got involved with the university’s sports medicine program.

With graduation on the horizon, Szwanki, who spent a season working with the National Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs, has found his niche.

“I fell into it. Sports medicine almost found me in a sense, and it has worked out perfectly,” he said.

The path that led from a lackluster focus to an NFL training room began with a conversation with his high school guidance counselor.

“We were having a discussion about what where I should go to college and what I wanted to major in,” he said. “We were going down the list and she threw out random majors.”

Nothing much appealed to him.

“Then she said, ‘Sports medicine?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, that,’” he said.

It sounded good, he said, because it involved sports. He wasn’t sure what it entailed until he got to Rowan and realized it would be his dream job. He said he didn’t know the academic side would enthrall him as much as the hands-on sports healing aspect.

“My whole outlook on school, on life, on everything changed once I got to Rowan,” he said. “I found athletic training and I loved it.”

In high school, he said, he was an athlete, who cruised through academics with little direction. In college, he was a serious student focused on a career in sports medicine.

“In college, I was driven,” he said. “Once I got injured in high school and couldn’t play anymore, I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”

In his junior year at Rowan, he overheard a friend talking about how he had applied for a position assisting an NFL team the prior year.

“I put together a resume and wrote a cover letter, and sent it to the NFL,” he said. “I was fortunate to be chosen to work with the Chiefs.”

Szwanki left Rowan in May 2012 and, after a brief respite in Ocean City, traveled to the campus of West Missouri State University in St. Joseph, Mo. for Chiefs training camp. He spent most of the summer in Missouri and then the remaining time at the Chiefs’ practice facility in Kansas City.
“I did everything,” he said. “I worked with strength, modality, lots of different things to facilitate healing in the athletes. I took notations, worked with the doctors. I had a lot of interactions with the players.”

Best of all, he said, he was on his own to improvise whatever was needed. In the big world of the NFL, with big players and big problems, and possibly a season on the line, Szwanki was a trusted, valuable part of the team.

“I had to think on my own and formulate my own plan,” he said. “I had to adapt, I had to develop plans for the athletes.”

Each athlete, he said, was unique. Injuries affect them in different ways and each athlete responds to different things in different ways. There were no set rules for what would work; a lot of what he did was trial and error, some things would work on some athletes, but not for others. Szwanki said he found he was blessed with good insight; his programs were working.

“I took bits and pieces of what worked and made my own way,” he said.

In previous summers, Szwanki returned to Ocean City and worked with OCHS athletic trainer Drew Breckenridge, treating injured Red Raider athletes.

“I had to do an internship, and I had to spend 15 hours with an athletic trainer outside of Rowan, so I chose to work with Mr. Breckenridge,” Szwanki said. “I ended up doing over 200 hours, I loved it so much. I kept going back. I really couldn’t get enough of it. I went back to Ocean City for Friday night football games for the almost three years.”

Breckenridge said Szwanki was an “outstanding young trainer.”

“He did an excellent job, he was very eager to learn,” he said.

Szwanki, he said, went way beyond observing what was happening with the training.

“I’d give him small things to do, and he’d do them and come back for more,” he said. “I knew he was going to do a good job with whatever I asked of him.”

The NFL job, Breckenridge said, was “big.”

“The Kansas City Chiefs were very impressed with him,” Breckenridge said.

He said he and Szwanki go way back.

“I’ve known him since he was in seventh grade, he hung out with my daughter,” he said. “You know you’re kind of fearful; especially of kids who hang out with your daughter, but Victor was always a real nice kid, very trustworthy.”

In addition to the Chiefs and the Red Raiders, Szwanki also worked with the USA Rugby program.

Szwanki said he is weighing his options as graduation approaches. The Chiefs have asked him to return in some capacity. He could go to graduate school or look for a job elsewhere.

“There are benefits to graduate school,” he said.

Aside from higher pay, a master’s degree could open the door to a more competitive Division I college level program.
“A master’s degree is a priority at the college level,” Szwanki said, adding that it would be helpful at the professional level, as well.

He could also apply to a small college or high school and pursue his master’s degree while he was working.

“No matter what, I will get my master’s degree at some point,” he said.

Szwanki said he is grateful that sports medicine found him.

“Being an athlete, I love to be around sports,” he said. “What I really, really like about sports medicine is helping people, helping athletes, treating injuries and healing.

“I like the environment,” he said. “Sports medicine was the first thing I ever studied in school that came easily to me. I understood it, I liked it, I found it interesting. I enjoyed learning everything about it.

“I was able to apply everything I learned to a real life situation with an injured athlete,” he said.

 Breckenridge said Szwanki was a natural healer.

“As an athletic trainer, he blossomed,” Breckenridge said. “He found his calling and he will be a great addition to whoever hires him.”

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