Feb. 3, 2012
By Amy Hughes
Taylor Hobson has spent his UCLA career trying to leap higher and farther.
After qualifying for the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championship in the high jump as a freshman and sophomore, Hobson's progression was interrupted by injury during the 2009 Pac-10 Championships.
"I was doing the long jump and it didn't feel right," said Hobson. "I was over-rotating a little bit when I took off for my jump, and I decided I was going to land on my feet and not finish the jump. I came down a little funny and hyper-extended my knee pretty badly. I was really fortunate to only have a torn meniscus, but I didn't even know that. I just took some ibuprofen and kept jumping on it."
Hobson finished seventh in the long jump (24-3.5) and second in the high jump (7-0.5) at that meet and went on to finish tied for 15th at the NCAA Outdoor Championship in the high jump less than a month later, clearing a height of 6-8.75.
What followed was a year of managing his injury and, eventually, a redshirt season in 2010 as he underwent knee surgery in April of that year. That surgery was a turning point in many ways for Hobson.
Prior to his surgery, Hobson had been an average student.
"My first quarter here actually went a lot better than I thought it would," said Hobson. "I had taken calculus in high school, so my math class wasn't too bad. My chemistry class kicked my butt a little bit, but I had an `art of listening' music class that was pretty easy. I thought that I was going to be able to put that little amount of work into the academic side of things throughout my college career, but that was definitely not the case."
The current senior from Upland, Calif., would promise himself that he would buckle down but continued to fall short.
"I definitely had a dip where my grades were not good at all," said Hobson. "It finally hit me that I needed to focus a little more. These classes weren't as bad as I was making them seem; I just wasn't putting the work in. I was working harder on the track than I was in the classroom, instead of working equally hard at both."
Hobson's wake-up call coincided with his knee injury and redshirt season on the track.
"When I had to sit out that full season, it made me reflect on everything else I had going on for me," said Hobson. "I couldn't do track any more. I realized there is a lot more out there. I had to represent myself well as both a student and an athlete."
That realization came in tandem with a serious interest in going to medical school.
"I knew I wanted to do something in the sciences," said Hobson, who started as an undeclared life sciences major. "As I started taking more science classes, I fell more in love with it. I started an internship in February, 2010, with a program called Care Extenders at the Santa Monica Hospital. I did rotations in four different departments; orthopedics, radiology, critical care and the emergency room. Through all those experiences, it really hit home that this is what I wanted to do. This is where I belong, in a hospital."
Hobson is currently gunning for surgery, possibly orthopedics, in part because of his own experiences as an orthopedic patient.
"A lot of student-athletes get their entrée into thinking about medical school because of injury," said Dr. Michael Teitell, Professor and Chief, Division of Pediatric and Neonatal Pathology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "He got to interface with the sports medicine aspect of the hospital and saw that `Hey! This is something I could do. This is interesting.'"
Teitell has served for many years on the Intercollegiate Athletics committee for UCLA's Academic Senate. Through that position, he was approached by UCLA's Faculty Athletic Representative, Don Morrison, to counsel student-athletes interested in medical school. Hobson is among the first group of student-athletes that Teitell worked with on medical school applications.
"What struck me first about Taylor is that he's tall and thin and very athletic, and he's articulate and charismatic," recalled Teitell. "It's easy to connect with him. I'm a physician, and I know that if you're a patient, that's what you want. You want somebody who not only can grasp the material and understand the science of medicine but also the personal side. My first impression of Taylor was that here's a guy who can definitely connect with his patients."
With the taxing schedule that comes with being a student-athlete at an elite school like UCLA, many students start considering post-graduate work like medical school and worry that their lack of traditional extracurricular activities may be a disadvantage. Teitell sets them straight.
"What Taylor and the other student-athletes seem to have in common is that they come to me thinking that it is a disadvantage to be a jock," said Teitell. "I tell them they couldn't be farther from the truth. Balancing two incredibly demanding things like school and athletics means that your time management skills must be very strong. Your leadership qualities as part of being on a competitive team are there, especially for younger members of the team. That's something medical schools look at. And, in terms of diversity, no medical school just wants guys like me - nerds who go through the science classes and crush them. We're often not the best doctors. [Student-athletes] need to sell their time management skills and leadership qualities. If you sell it, people will gravitate to that, especially if you are charismatic like Taylor."
"It's hard to top the rigors and expectations of being a student-athlete at a school like UCLA," said Hobson. You have expectations from your coaching staff, academic counselors, strength coaches and as far as track and field goes, both our event coaches and our head coach. You have a lot of people expecting you to do all of these different things and just being able to fulfill them."
Hobson has been accepted to two medical schools, Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., and the Stretch School of Medicine at Loyola (Chicago). He is waiting to hear the status of the remainder of his applications before deciding on a medical school.
"I have been very fortunate throughout my whole life to have a very supportive family," said Hobson. "They're so excited that I got in to medical school that they're not even thinking about where, exactly, those schools are. I'm already getting questions about different problems they've had. I keep saying `give me a few years to finish this degree and start practicing a little bit, and then I can help you.'"
Meanwhile, Hobson has a track season to finish. He is healthy and regaining the form that brought him national success in 2009 and enjoying his last few months of training full-time on the track. A truly successful and healthy 2012 outdoor track season could lead to a summer of training for the U.S. Olympic Trials, but that will put an endcap on his competitive jumping career.
"I enjoy every moment I spend on the track with my teammates," said Hobson. "I may go to some open meets or all-comers meets [after his UCLA career concludes] and just have some fun with it. At least right now, I don't see myself continuing to train full-time once I start medical school. I'll find other ways to stay in shape and have fun with it. It will be nice to be a regular student for once."
"He's a great kid, and I couldn't be happier for him," said Teitell. "When you meet him, he lights up a room."