By Alan Babbitt
Amid the long, demanding and exhausting days required to prepare for his chosen career, Blair McCormick remains driven to care for others in need.
Making a game-clinching save on the soccer field is another thing Hope College's four-year starting goalkeeper strives to do, too.
The senior nursing major from Wadsworth, Illinois, finds purpose and meaning in the study and practice of both his sport and his calling.
McCormick has been inspired to work in the health-care field—and particularly nursing—since his last two years at Warren Township High School. He vividly recalls the two defining moments that led him to consider a nursing career.
Photo of Blair McCormick, second from right, with fellow Hope nursing students. Contributed
"My junior year, I was driving to school one day. It was winter. There was snow on the ground," McCormick said. "This girl was walking to school, and she suddenly collapses when I was driving by. She started having a seizure. I hopped out of the car and went to help her, knowing what to do from my experiences with family members. Being able to help her really gave me a sense of fulfillment. I never got to talk to her in person, but she said she was grateful for my help."
And then this:
"My senior year, my grandma got sick. She had a male nurse when she was in hospice for a couple of weeks. How much joy he was able to give her, how well he cared for her, how happy and comfortable I saw he was able to make her, was really inspiring to see. I said I think I can do it. I want to help people like this guy."
These poignant memories fuel McCormick as he tackles the dual challenges of being in Hope's nursing program and a student-athlete. The path is not for everyone.
Last season, McCormick started every game for a 14-win Flying Dutchmen soccer team while also juggling a full schedule that included training, morning classes and lengthy clinicals on Mondays and Tuesdays at Spectrum Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids.
McCormick missed every Monday practice during the 2018 season because of his afternoon clinicals. Tuesdays, on the other hand, included all that nursing classes and soccer could throw at him. He hopped out of his car after returning from Grand Rapids to Van Andel Soccer Stadium, changing from his nursing scrubs to his practice gear in a matter of minutes. And if it was game day on Tuesday, that meant a 4:45 a.m. wakeup call and a past-11 p.m. bedtime.
"Mondays and Tuesdays were just exhausting days for me, but I made it through," McCormick said. "You've got to grind through it. I try to not look at the big picture too often in-season. You have to take it little by little, otherwise it overwhelms you. It overwhelms people all the time. Not everyone makes it. It's nonstop. You have to learn how to use your time. I got good at my time management my freshman year before clinicals because I knew I wasn't going to have as much time as everybody else. I take more time to study than others, too."
Photo of Blair McCormick kicking on a restart during a match. By Lynne Powe
McCormick is one of five male students in Hope's nursing program this year who also play competitive sports for the Flying Dutchmen. It's an unusually high number in a single year for a profession that, despite growth since the 1970s, still features only 9.6 percent men, according to the United States Bureau of Labor.
Head coach Dave Brandt marvels at McCormick's ability to manage all of his responsibilities.
"He reminds me of my former players at the Naval Academy," Brandt said. "Very organized and disciplined."
Fellow nursing student Trace Slancik — a starting catcher of the Flying Dutchmen baseball team – is impressed, too.
"One of the things I've noticed from Blair is that he does extremely well with his time management. Being a nursing student, you have clinicals. We're in the hospital a good amount of hours during the week. We have that on top of class, practice and the weight room," Slancik said. "Blair does a really good job of 'I have class at this time, I've got to work out at this time. I've got to practice, then sleep.' If we have a project, he's pretty good with scheduling around this time and working with my schedule. We help each other out. His time management is superb."
McCormick has his immediate career schedule mapped out, too. After graduating from Hope, he wants to attend graduate school in the Chicago area or in southern Wisconsin and eventually work as a family nurse practitioner.
This fall, though, McCormick will give his all on the soccer field, even with another round of clinicals starting in October. He makes the necessary sacrifices, even if that means a late-night training session before a big match to make up for a missed practice.
"Since I was younger, soccer was the sport that brought me the most joy," McCormick said. "Coach Brandt says to always keep all your plates juggling high. Soccer is a good release for me. You go out on the field and play. I just love to play."