A Fine Balance Between the NICU and the Professional Racquetball Tour

Few of her colleagues realize that Samantha Simmons, a nurse clinician on the neonatal ICU at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, is a nationally ranked professional
racquetball player. Or that some weeks, she may work three overnight shifts on the neonatal ICU, go home and train for two hours, and fly across the country for a tournament on the weekend.
Simmons can’t imagine making an unpredictable living as a full-time athlete. “They’re totally different careers,” Simmons says. “I get to potentially save lives and change people’s lives here at work, and I also get to take personal satisfaction in sports.” What’s more, each pursuit counterbalances the other. “People ask why I don’t work less and dedicate myself to racquetball,”  Simmons says. “Nursing makes me sane enough to go train.”
A 2015 graduate of the University of Maryland School of Nursing, Simmons says that her training has helped her become a stronger athlete. “I’m more cognizant that going to the gym and drilling over and over is not the only aspect of becoming a professional athlete. Cardio and strength are also important. I didn’t realize a lot of that until nursing school.”
As a young girl, Simmons and her sisters would accompany their father to the racquetball club he owned in Severna Park and played hide and seek. Gradually, though, the sport drew in Simmons and her two sisters. By the time she was 12, Simmons, coached by her father, was competing around the country. At 14, she made the Junior National Racquetball Team for the first of four times. Simmons and her teammates drilled every summer at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and competed internationally in the Dominican Republic, Bolivia and elsewhere.
When she aged out of the junior team, Simmons joined the Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour, the highest level of international professional play for female racquetball players. She’s ranked 26 among the nearly 1,500 competitors on the tour.
When it comes to her job, Simmons says it’s best to think optimistically and be positive for the families she works with. “Obviously, it’s our job, but we just see it as something we love to do,” she says. “My favorite part is when the babies finally get to go home. We have some babies who come for a week and some are here for three to six months. These parents experience such high stress, and there’s nothing more exciting than walking a baby downstairs to the front door and putting them in the car.”

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