Niki Rybko MS, ATC, LAT, Director of Sports Medicine and Well-being for the Department of Physical Education, Recreation and Athletics (PERA) at Wellesley College has been named the 2021 recipient of the Athletic Trainers of Massachusetts (ATOM) Athletic Trainer of the Year Award. Rybko was announced as the recipient at the ATOM Annual Meeting earlier this month.
The ATOM Athletic Trainer of the Year award recognizes an individual (or group of individuals) for their extraordinary contribution to the field of athletic training in a given year. The award is given to a Massachusetts athletic trainer who, over the past year, has gone above and beyond the call of duty in promoting and improving the profession, all while performing their normal duties as an athletic trainer.
Rybko's contributions throughout an unpredictable year marred by the COVID-19 pandemic helped to serve student-athletes at Wellesley and beyond. As the Chair of the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) Athletic Trainers Group, she also put great thought and effort into making Wellesley College an approved provider so that Wellesley could put on continuing education seminars for the entire conference.
"She is the perfect balance of a fierce advocate and has the warmest presence you could ask for," noted former Wellesley Assistant Athletic Trainer Autumn Overhiser-Rush, who worked with Rybko from 2019-2021. "When the pandemic hit, she did not shy away from staying busy, she quickly jumped on to be a COVID-19 tester and a contact tracer for the entire campus. She took on these additional roles while our athletic training facility was still seeing patients, and the multiple committee meetings she had, both for our conference, and our institution were never ending. The roles of athletic trainers have certainly shifted with this pandemic, and she has taken on every challenge with a smile."
Rybko joined Wellesley in 2015 after spending four years at Harvard University. Prior to arriving at Harvard, Rybko spent six years at Brandeis University. She is a Certified and Licensed Athletic Trainer and a 2001 graduate of the University of Florida with a degree in Exercise and Sport Science/Athletic Training. She received her Masters in Exercise Science from the School of Public Health at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2004.
Bethany Ellis, Director of Athletics and Chair of the Department of Physical Education, Recreation and Athletics:
"Niki is incredibly deserving of this recognition. While I knew that she was an excellent Athletic Trainer prior to the pandemic, the conditions of the past few years have truly highlighted Niki's leadership, expertise and professionalism. We have relied on her so much during this time and she has stepped up to every challenge. She is a loyal, caring, and resilient leader who is incredibly respected by all who work with her. I have the utmost trust in her decisions, value her perspective and am extraordinarily grateful for her efforts."
Dr. Jennifer Schwartz, Wellesley College Medical Director of Health Services and Sports Medicine
I cannot think of someone more deserving of this award then Niki. She is one of the most dedicated, passionate, and capable athletic trainers I have worked with. She makes my job so much easier (and more fun!). Whether it is a fun Zoom background, silly gifs, or inflatable Halloween costumes, her positive attitude is contagious and she models this for her athletes as well. It is clear how deeply the athletes trust her and her advocacy for them is limitless. She is always available for her teams (or for me), whether a physical or personal need. And even with all of this, she has still somehow managed to be a contact tracer and develop COVID sports medicine policies. Wellesley College is lucky to have her as a sports medicine leader. The athletes are lucky to have her as a role model. And I am lucky to have her as my teammate!
Patrick Summer, Executive Director of the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference
"During a very uncertain and chaotic time for institutions, athletic programs, head coaches, administrators and student-athletes, our athletic trainers were asked to take on unprecedented responsibilities and processes to keep our communities safe and healthy. Niki Rybko, who serves as the NEWMAC Athletic Trainers Committee Chair, was a constant source of information, leadership and collegial support to the membership. Assisting in the development of the NEWMAC COVID-19 Health and Safety Best Practices, Niki was instrumental in the conference's ability to resume practice and competition as were the other NEWMAC Athletic Trainers. Niki also serves on the NEWMAC COVID-19 Working Group and has worked closely with the conference office to provide professional development to our athletic trainers on a regular basis. The ATOM Athletic Trainer of the Year Award is well deserved and we are fortunate to have Niki as part of the NEWMAC!"