So far, Nick's career has included a lot of luck—Indianapolis Colts' quarterback Andrew Luck, that is. After earning a master's degree from Purdue University, Tjeerdsma landed a prize internship with the NFL team and was a fixture on the Lucas Oil Stadium sidelines during the 2012-13 and '13-14 seasons. Now he's putting his big-league experience to work as a trainer for NCAA athletes but is open to being "drafted" by a professional sports team again.
Did you ever dream you’d work in the NFL?
I remember in my interview to get into Northwestern’s athletic training program telling my professors that one of my goals was to work in the NFL as an athletic trainer. I might have raised a few eyebrows, but they were supportive and encouraging of that goal—and my internship for the Indianapolis Colts fulfilled it.
What did you love most about your internship?
Just being around the players. The atmosphere was really fun. I really liked working with, rehabbing and treating the guys and seeing them go from their lowest point after being injured to getting back on the field. It really made me feel like I was a part of things when I helped them get better.
How did you get interested in athletic training?
My mom’s a nurse and she told me about it. I thought it sounded like a pretty cool profession—something that involved medicine and also sports. I didn’t want to teach or coach but I knew I wanted to stay involved in athletics, so I thought athletic training would be a good fit for me. My dad ran track for Northwestern. I was recruited for football and track and ended up running track. At a lot of bigger colleges, they don’t allow athletic training students to be in a sport and do athletic training, so it was definitely a bonus that I could do the major and compete in athletics.
What is Northwestern’s athletic training program like?
I got a lot of hands-on experience because we had smaller class sizes. It was hard work, but it was fun at the same time. For clinicals we pretty much got to work with every sport. The type of learner I am, I learn by doing things—by working and applying knowledge.
Why would you recommend Northwestern to others?
There’s something about a small Christian college in terms of the quality of the education and experience you get that you’re not going to find at a big school. You might get the big-time Division I football at a big school, but I don’t think students get the hands-on experience and the one-on-one attention from certified athletic trainers like you do at Northwestern.
How did Northwestern prepare you for graduate school and your internship?
After earning my bachelor’s degree at Northwestern, which is a smaller NAIA school, I knew I wanted to get a different experience by being at a Division I or Big 10 school. Purdue offered me a graduate assistantship my senior year at NWC. Working with the Raiders’ football team my junior and senior year definitely helped me get my graduate assistantship and internship. There’s just something about working with football that you can’t duplicate because the contact in football is so much different than in any other sport. But what really prepared me was Northwestern’s athletic training program itself. With the small class sizes, you get a lot experience, and the athletic trainers are really good at pushing you to think creatively and independently—to make your own assessments and judgments.