U.S. Under-17 Women’s National Team midfielder Taylor Racioppi loves goals. And not just the kind she scores on the soccer field.
The high school junior from the Jersey Shore has committed to attend Duke University and plans to major in pre-med. She has aspirations of a career in medicine, perhaps orthopedics or neurosurgery.
If this all seems rather accelerated for a 16-year-old, well, that’s just Taylor.
“I’ve always been goal-oriented,” said Racioppi (pronounced race-E-ope-ee), who says that her leanings toward the medical field began in middle school. “I’ve always had people guiding me and pushing me to know what I want and some really positive outside influences like my parents, my family and a lot of good teachers. I guess it also comes from my competitive nature of wanting to be the best. I feel like I’m just getting a jump start on what I want to do.”
That jump start includes attending a magnet public school named the Academy of Allied Health and Science in Neptune Township, N.J. The school of about 320 students accepts only the top applicants from Monmouth County based on test scores and middle school grades.
All the students there are focusing on careers in science and medicine, and needless to say, it’s highly competitive. Of course, highly competitive describes Racioppi on and off the field. In addition to being one of the USA’s most-capped players in this current U-17 cycle, she is a stand-out for powerhouse New Jersey club PDA, which produced current U.S. Women’s National Team players Tobin Heath and Heather O’Reilly.
The environment of U.S. Soccer, which provides all its national teams with top-quality medical care while on the road in the form of excellent physicians, athletic trainers and massage therapists, is a laboratory for her to learn.
“I’ve always been intrigued by soccer injuries, how they occur, what goes on when they happen and how to get back as quickly as possible,” said Racioppi, who some say bears a remarkable physical resemblance to Heath, and who possesses a healthy dose of the two-time Olympic gold medalist’s silky skills.
Racioppi spends lots of time in the training room on road trips asking questions and soaking up knowledge (it doesn’t hurt that the team snacks are also kept there). No one on the U.S. U-17 team would be surprised if one day they go to see Dr. Racioppi about an old knee injury.
“When someone comes in with an injury that is unusual, I always ask about it,” she said. “I’m one of the curious ones when it comes to what our trainers and doctors do. I talk to them a lot and ask how they got to where they are today. I like to have an open line of communication with them. I never want anyone to get hurt! But it’s really valuable real world experience.”
AAHS also provides Racioppi and her classmates with some remarkable real life experience. As a sophomore, she got to do rounds at the Jersey Shore University Medical Center. Every Friday for a semester, she would go to work at the hospital, familiarize herself with patient interaction and learn empathizing skills, as well as how to communicate with all different types of patients. She tended to patients to the extent the students were allowed, got water for them, made beds and talked to anyone she could to get used to being in a hospital setting.
“It was such a great program. I learned that you can learn a lot about people in five minutes, especially when they are in the hospital and things aren’t going well for them,” she said. “Sometimes you go into patients’ rooms and they didn’t want anything to do with you, and sometimes they were some of the most talkative people I’ve ever met. I learned a lot of life lessons. You learn not to poke and prod; sometimes you have to let people talk to you. It was amazing trying to learn that fine line with patient interaction.”
During her senior year, she will get to gather even more hands-on knowledge as she will be able to shadow a particular doctor for an entire semester. Three days a week she will leave school early and spend the whole afternoon with physicians and physical therapists, delving even deeper into the inner workings of the medical field while getting to watch surgeries close up.
In case you were wondering, Racioppi isn’t bothered by blood, surgery and all that goes with it. She’s fascinated by it.
Even with her hard-charging academic goals, she knows when to pump the brakes a bit. She’s still got a year and half of high school left, followed by four years of ACC college soccer with the Blue Devils, and her soccer goals are lofty, as well.
“I love this game and I am going to play as long as I can at the highest level I can, but my philosophy is that you can’t play forever,” said Racioppi. “Right now, I always try to find the balance in school and soccer and keep my grades up while always performing well on the field. If the opportunity presents itself to go further and accomplish my soccer goals and dreams, I’ll take full advantage of that and put my medical school goals on hold, but I just want to make sure I’m prepared for both. For now, I’m just a high school kid killing herself to get good grades and I’m having a great time playing for PDA and the National Team. We’ll see what the future brings.”
No doubt, it will be bright.