The path to becoming a doctor is an incredibly time-intensive, challenging endeavor for many.
For U.S. Women’s Handball National Team athlete Zoe Lombard, that challenge is compounded even further by her dual identity as both a medical student and an elite handball athlete.
Lombard is an elite handball athlete for Team USA, a former collegiate soccer player, and a current medical student. Although the task of pursuing such drastically different passions may seem daunting, Lombard says her two worlds actually overlap and compliment one another well.
The Belleair Bluffs, Florida native is currently in her fourth year at Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine - Carolinas Campus. She juggles clinicals and studying on a daily basis, while simultaneously keeping up with her handball training. Studying and training have both been a part of Lombard’s life ever since she can remember.
Lombard began training at a high level starting in 2010, playing Division 1 collegiate soccer at Boston College. Coming in as a forward and later moving to defense in soccer, Zoe was always a natural athlete.
After receiving a recruitment email from USA Team Handball, Lombard jumped at the opportunity, and applied her athletic skills to a new sport. However, the transition from soccer to handball wasn’t always easy.
"It was definitely rough physically, just from the aspect of learning to use my arm muscles,” Lombard said. “I don't think I used my arms at all in soccer, besides the occasional throw in.”
The hardest part did not come from the physical transition itself, however.
“You find yourself back at the bottom; you have to work yourself into a position and role on the team all over again,” Lombard said. “It’s really difficult mentally when you’re starting a new sport. Everyone goes through this at 10, 11 or 12 years old, but to do it in your 20s was a little bit more challenging.”
For Lombard, the drive to become a doctor was deeply rooted in her family upbringing.
“My dad is a physician and I really looked up to him. He had a role in it too,” Lombard said about choosing her career. “I can’t imagine doing anything else, which is awesome because in any career, you are going to have those really good days, and also those really hard days. But if you aren’t doing something you love, it can be tough during those hard days.”
Lombard is able to translate what she has learned as an athlete to her life as a medical student.
“I've always really liked the ER and its fast-paced environment. It is a big team, the nurses, the techs, the support staff, the physicians – everyone is working towards the common goal of helping our patients,” Lombard said.
“It’s almost like a game, trying to figure out how we can make it best for them: how do we win for them? I think that's why I ultimately ended up liking medicine so much.”
Similarly, Lombard’s medical experience has given her skills that help her on the handball court. One example she gave was when a patient doesn’t take his or her medicine. The reasoning could be a number of factors, such as a patient might not be able to afford it, or perhaps can’t get to the pharmacy.
“In handball, you may have a teammate struggling with her playing,” Lombard said. “Instead of getting frustrated, I have learned how to be patient and help them because I know it must be coming from an outside source.”
Lombard has also applied this mindset towards the many challenges and difficulties that 2020 has presented this year.
"This time is crazy. I think the best way to go about it is being very mindful of what your goals are and being realistic in what your goals are, even with the current restrictions,” Lombard said.
“As an athlete and even as a medical student, you have to do your best. You can only put out what you can offer. I control what I can, which is making sure I am training every day and that I am getting up and studying.”
Lombard will continue to train for the U.S. National Team for as long as possible, represent her country and grow the sport of handball in America, all while taking care of her patients as well.
"My personal goal is that I want to make handball known,” Lombard said. “I want people to know what this sport is, and want to play it representing the United States.”
Although medical studies are taking up the majority of her time right now, all of it circles back to handball for Lombard.
“Hopefully one day [I will] be able to give back to handball, maybe as a sports physician,” Lombard said. “I don't see myself being away from the sport anytime soon."