NORTH ANDOVER — While many college students can take a break from the books this holiday season, Nicole Curtis of Billerica will still be studying, pursuing a dream that took root after an injury in high school.
As a senior studying athletic training at Merrimack College in North Andover, Curtis, 22, must take the Board of Certification exam in the spring to become a licensed trainer.
She will also be one step closer to achieving her goal of going to graduate school, part of a growing trend for today’s college athletes.
Curtis played soccer, basketball, and lacrosse at Billerica Memorial High School, and at one point suffered a serious shoulder injury that required surgery. After spending much of her time with an athletic trainer in rehabilitation, she was inspired.
“I saw so many athletes come in with injuries during that time and my athletic trainer was able to diagnose them, treat them, and get them back on the playing field,” she said. “I knew then that I wanted to do that.”
The Merrimack program requires students to serve as an athletic trainer for a sports team each semester; Curtis has been working with the men’s basketball team, helping players with injuries and providing support at their games.
After she graduates in May, Curtis hopes to work toward a master’s degree in sports medicine. She has been looking for schools with graduate programs in sports medicine and working with her adviser and the sports medicine department to create a resume and get reference letters.
“Nicole is in a grueling major that has both an academic and clinical component,” said Heather Carr, 28, of Methuen, Curtis’s instructor for her clinical rotation. “Most collegiate athletic training jobs require a master’s. In professional athletics, you will see dual credentials.”
But Curtis chose Merrimack College for more than its athletic training program. She has also been the goalkeeper for the women’s soccer team.
She started playing soccer at 6 years old and continued through high school. She said she has always loved the competition and being part of a team, so she knew she wanted to continue at the collegiate level. Her skills earned her an athletic scholarship to Merrimack.
With preseason beginning in August and the season running until November, she practiced each summer to prepare. The most exciting day of the year, she said, was the first game.
“Nicole's contributions to the team are numerous,” said head women’s soccer coach Gabe Mejail, 59, of Reading. “As a goalkeeper she had the unique position of being our last line of defense and came through for us time after time. She is calm, collected, and has the trust of her teammates, which in turn added to her role as team leader as well.”
With the last season of her college career over, Curtis said she couldn’t imagine not having soccer in her life. After graduating, she hopes to play in competitive adult leagues or even coach a high school team.
While juggling academics, athletic training, and graduate school preparation has kept her busy, Curtis said she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I have been an athlete my whole life, so working with athletes is an ideal job for me,” she said. “The feeling you get when you return an athlete to play after a debilitating injury is one of the best in the world, and if I can do that every day I will be blessed.”