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Be a Part of the Solution

Grad Fellow in Athletic Training is creating opportunities for those in need

5 Questions with … Richie Wells

by Ryan Clark
CHS Communications Director

Growing up in the Bronx, Richie Wells always knew he was fortunate. He knew his parents sacrificed to send him to private schools, and he worked hard because he didn’t want to let them down.

That hard work and drive resulted in a bachelor’s degree in Athletic Training from SUNY-Cortland, and then a graduate fellowship in Athletic Training with UK’s baseball team. 

Now, the 22-year-old is continuing his studies, and developing an organization to help others less fortunate receive internship opportunities. 

“There is a sense of gratitude — I'm very thankful and privileged,” Wells said. “And I knew what I wanted to do. That’s rough for kids in low-income neighborhoods. They may not have an opportunity to mess up, and they might not even know what’s available.”

For about eight months, Wells has participated as a fellow in the Athletic Training program. He’s seen the impact one person can make. He thinks he can do even more. 

“You could have an impact on countless lives by just giving them opportunity,” he said. “You never want to be part of the problem. You want to be a part of the solution.”

Here’s five questions with … Richie Wells. 

Why AT?

It wasn't my initial career choice — I was actually on the PT track. I was a baseball guy. I’d played baseball since I was 4 years old and in high school, and it was early in the preseason when we were doing relay races. I ended up straining my hamstring.

I was trying to win and I ended up getting last place and hurt myself. I ended up going to a physical therapist nearby and he treated me.

So I used to say I was blessed because of that, because I knew what I wanted to do.

I ended up going to college at SUNY-Cortland and I saw they had this athletic training program. I saw it was similar to what PTs do, but I’d get to be around sports.

I was just like, ‘This is for me. This is where I can make the biggest impact.’ I knew I could help kids through these four years.

So that's kind of how and why I do what I do.

Why UK?

I thought going to a place like UK was so far out of the realm of possibility.

It’s not so much a lack of confidence in myself, or my abilities and training, but it's more of just this: I’m a kid from the Bronx, and coming down here, I’m working with some of the best baseball players in the country.

I think it comes from more of a perspective of me being really thankful to be here.

I applied for this job because I saw it was available. I ended up getting an email back and they asked me to come down here and interview, and when I came down, I saw people that were just amazing.

They were people that I not only admired, but that I felt like I could get along with. It was an environment that I felt would push me but also allow me to feel comfortable and to grow.

This is the first year that we're doing this athletic training fellowship, and I am enrolled in the graduate certificate program for musculoskeletal injury management. It’s a two-year program, 16 credits total. It’s really, really good material.

So there are eight other people in my program, and we're all professionals with varying levels of degrees. We share stuff along with the classroom material. It makes for really interesting discussions and really good engaged learning.

The classroom setting comes along with my work. I function as a certified athletic trainer for the baseball program and I work under my supervisor Josh Walker.

What’s your most memorable experience so far at UK?

I called and tried to check in with a lot of the guys over the break just to make sure everybody was doing okay, and if we had any outstanding things that we were trying to take care of.

So one of my players gets here, and I guess his mom drove up with him. He says, ‘Hey, I'm coming to the field with my Mom.’

I’m like, ‘Okay that's fine. Come by, whatever.’ And he calls me and goes, ‘Hey, come outside. I really want you to meet my Mom.’

So I’m like, ‘Okay, that's fine.’ So I went out to meet her and she gives me a hug and says, ‘My son talks so much about you.’ 

It’s so awesome. They’ve invested in you because you’ve invested in them. You make a connection. It’s one of those things that seems so small, but it really means a lot.

What led to NXT STP?

Last summer, there was so much going on in the world, you know. It kind of felt like there was tension in the air and it seemed like everybody was just creating all these different problems. I just felt like, ‘I'm so tired of the problems.’

Like people not caring about one another; it was a period full of hate, and it was just crawling all over me.

I felt like I had to do something. I couldn’t be about the problems and the negativity. I needed to find a solution to a problem.

I thought about my own personal experience, especially with athletic training and even with physical therapy, and I know those experiences changed me. I imagined if we could give all students in high school some similar experiences. It could help guide their way and help them figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives.

So I developed NXT STP, a program to provide internship experiences to high school children who have limited opportunities — low income, minority status, etc. Kids need those tangible experiences to help them find purpose, because if not, they're just kind of throwing a dart at a dartboard, seeing what sticks.

Like kids in low-income neighborhoods. I was a kid in the Bronx man, and my parents scratched and clawed to get me in the positions that I was in to go to private schools. A lot of kids don't have that and there are a lot of public school systems that don't provide these experiences.

If we give these kids people and things to chase, they will chase them. We can provide them with tangible experiences.

All of this led me to the idea. I just thought, ‘What if we provided a wide variety of internship opportunities, based on their interests or based on their character traits or whatever the case may be?’ And we give them a few different things, where they can go and see what they like and see what they don't.

That trial and error process is so important. Now we're going to go forward and try and make this thing real. Let these kids take the next step in their lives. We’re looking for mentors and other partners now to get this going. 

What would you tell someone who is interested in coming to UK for AT?

The people here are outstanding and the environment here is conducive to growth. 

It’s got all of the things you want, and it’s in a place that you will want to live in for however many years you choose to spend here. It’s a wonderful place. 

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February is Black History Month

Since 1976 the United States and Canada have designated the month of February to recognize the contributions of people of the African diaspora. The College of Health Sciences will be recognizing and honoring some of our own Black alumni and students throughout the month – celebrating success while we also acknowledge both historical and current inequity and the work that each of us must do to dismantle systemic racism.

To help volunteer with NXT STP, contact richie.wellsjr@uky.edu.

 

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