UB's Athletic Trainer Dan Smith Featured in Connecticut Post
ELSBERRY: Once a trainer all over the world, UB's Smith happy to be home
Published: 11:07 p.m., Saturday, February 20, 2010
BRIDGEPORT -- For 15 years, he traveled the world, spending time in such countries as Canada, Russia, Japan, Norway, Italy, Germany, Austria and Slovakia, helping American athletes realize their Olympic dreams.
When the United States competed in World Cup or Intercontinental Cup luge events, Dan Smith was there. When the U.S. doubles team captured silver and bronze in Nagano, Japan, in 1998, Smith was there. Four years later, in Salt Lake City, when the United States again won silver and bronze in the doubles event, Smith was there.
But spanning the globe wasn't exactly the kind of lifestyle that Smith wanted to keep doing. His heart ached for a place he hadn't seen a lot of in a fairly long time.
And three years ago, when Smith's son, Braiden, was born, he decided it was time to go back home. For good.
Two years ago, Dan Smith said goodbye to the world of luge and hello to collegiate sports. Since the fall of 2008, Smith has been working as the head athletic trainer at the University of Bridgeport, helping athletes realize their dream of simply competing in the sports they love.
"I was literally traveling six months out of the year and that's a huge part of my son's life that I didn't want to miss," Smith said. "Though what I was doing was worth it, I just didn't feel that it was something that I wanted to keep doing. So I started looking back at the college setting."
So, Smith, 43, started firing off resumes. Since his wife, Jean, is from New York state, the focus was finding a job on the East Coast. A school in Maine needed someone. So did Quinnipiac University, which was looking for a strength and conditioning coach and an athletic trainer.
Then, Smith, who's from Cincinnati, got a call from Bridgeport athletic director Jay Moran.
"I talked to Jay and I thought it would be a good fit here in the sense that they (UB) are very progressive here, they're looking to move things forward," Smith said. "I didn't want to come into a stagnant program where they felt like what they had was fine. From all the coaches I talked to and from all the articles I read, they said how Bridgeport has really moved forward, the city as well as the university, over the past 10 years, and the goals of the university were in the line where I wanted to be able to take a program."
Smith stumbled into this world of athletic training almost by accident. He was a wrestler at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and he injured his knee during his sophomore season in 1988 and needed surgery. While he was recovering -- and doing rehabilitation in the training room -- he caught the medical bug. Smith asked the trainer how he could get involved, and he quickly signed himself up for an athletic training class.
"I was in computer engineering and it was kind of boring for me. I'm more of an interactive person. I like being out and about, so when I was in the training room, I was like, `This is pretty cool.' There was science, medicine and sports," Smith said. "I took his class, got an `A' and he hired me to be student worker. I changed my major (to sports medicine) ... ever since then, I've been doing this."
When Smith graduated in 1990, he got a graduate assistant's job at the University of Connecticut, working for coach Joe Morrone as the head athletic trainer for the men's soccer program. He left UConn in 1992 with a master's degree in exercise physiology and headed for Detroit, where he spent the next three years as the trainer for the Detroit Rockers of the National Professional Soccer League and working at the Henry Ford Hospital's Center for Athletic Medicine, where he worked with and treated several members of the Detroit Tigers, the NHL's Red Wings and the NFL's Lions.
In 1995, Smith was hired to work for the United States Luge Association, rubbing elbows (and treating them) with such U.S. sliders as Duncan Kennedy, Chris Thorpe and Mark Grimmette. In 1998 in Nagano, Japan, the United States won its first luge medals as Thorpe and Gordon Sheer took silver and Grimmette and Brian Martin bronze in the doubles competition. Four years later in Salt Lake City, the places were reversed as Grimmette and Martin won silver and Thorpe (with Clay Ives) took bronze.
"It's the elite of the elite. You're working with athletes that are looking for 1,000th of a second. That's cutting edge," Smith said. "We had all the resources. The excitement and the prestige of being at that level and working with those types of athletes, I miss it, but I can tell you that the athletes here are so appreciative of all the stuff that we do. That more than makes up for it."
And although he's not with the team anymore, the ties still run deep. When Grimmette -- a veteran of four previous Winter Olympics -- was voted to carry the American flag in the opening ceremonies in Vancouver last weekend, Smith was one of the first to text him congratulations.
And his greatest Olympic memory?
"Obviously, the first Olympics (in 1998) was spectacular in Japan, but the best thing I ever felt was walking into the U.S. stadium in 2002 with the team," he said. "Marching in, in front of a home crowd that was absolutely going wild. That was one of the most exciting things you can ever imagine. I sat next to (President) George Bush in the stands when he came and talked to the team before the ceremony. That kind of feeling, you just don't replace with an everyday event."
Smith still has much of his Olympic swag -- each participant receives a participation medal -- but he doesn't flaunt any of it, although he does wear the occasional T-shirt. These days, however, his polo shirts are pretty much one color -- UB purple.
"When I came here, they already had two very good assistants here who had been running the program without much guidance or overseeing. They were both very experienced and I knew I was going to move into a position with two full-time assistants," Smith said. "This afforded me a chance to come in, use some of the skills that I've learned, give something back to this program and hopefully start to take it to the next level."
Smith's main responsibilities are the men's basketball team in the winter, the women's volleyball team in the fall and the baseball team in the spring. His two assistants -- Ashley Jones and Amanda Kovacs -- continue to work with the same teams that they had before Smith arrived.
Being an athletic trainer isn't exactly a 9-to-5 kind of job. In fact, Smith usually arrives at the Harvey Hubbell Gym around 10 or 11 in the morning and, depending on if it's a game day, stays until around 10 or 11 p.m. But this allows him to spend quality time with Braiden in the morning and be home every night.
"I get my son up in the morning, get him dressed, get him breakfast, take him to day care, spend some of the day with him and then I come to work," Smith said. "There are certain nights when I'm home for dinner and things like that. That's the nice thing. I'm not gone six months out of the year. I work long days, but I'm home at night and that's great."
Contact Chris Elsberry at email@example.com