I moved to New London in 1971. Colby-Sawyer was a junior college then, and I saw all the wonderful changes the institution underwent during the 30-plus years I lived there.

In 1986, though, I found myself divorced with two small children, armed only with a B.A. in German literature from Smith College and without any mar­ketable skills after years of running a household. An avid athlete who’d had a variety of sports injuries throughout my life, I aligned myself with Colby-Sawyer’s new Sports Science Department (now Exercise and Sport Sciences), whose faculty encour­aged me to enroll for another degree.

I pursued a degree in exercise and sports science because I knew the degree could lead to many pos­sibilities. The college accepted my courses from Smith as general education credits so I just had to take the major’s requirements. I received crucial support as an “older student” and established invaluable friend­ships that got me through a tough time.

With my new degree (and salutatorian honors), I was ready to choose a career in sports medicine. I applied to a master’s program to become a physician assistant (PA) specializing in sports med­icine/orthopedics and do what I had always hoped to: treat sports injuries and help athletes avoid inju­ries and surgeries such as I’d experienced.

Physician assistant working with patient.

After graduating and gaining a few years’ experi­ence as a sports medicine PA, I was ready to migrate to a warmer climate. Since 2003, I’ve been healing the Marines at Camp Pendleton in Southern California and treating their musculoskel­etal injuries. I get our troops back into training quickly like the professional athletes they are. No other job has given me the same sense of accom­plishment and reward.

I work in an old barracks nestled in the wilderness of the School of Infantry where the Marines train to become riflemen. They’re programmed to hide their injuries and, in contrast to the baby boomer patients I used to work with, they must be held down in order to heal. I love this valor that they harbor, and I love the challenge of convincing them why they must rest. I’ve learned to connect with them; I share my stories, including my mistakes, and they come to trust me. Medicine works best when you enlist the assistance of your patient to reach a goal together.

There’s no substitute for the personal attention I give my Marines, a skill I learned from my experi­ences at small liberal arts colleges. My mentors supported and coached me as I sought to heal myself and move forward on a new path, just as I now coach my Marines to heal and move forward in their training. Colby-Sawyer enabled me to arrive where I am today, and I am ever grateful for all it’s given me.

Robin Rainie-Lobacz ’86 was named one of the top five providers of Navy medicine based on patient satisfaction surveys in 2010; in 2013, she was awarded the coveted Navy Meritorious Civil Service Award for her service to Marines at Camp Pendleton. She was recognized in 2014 as a Distinguished Fellow of the American Academy of Physician Assistants. She resides in Dana Point, Calif., with her husband, Kenzie Lobacz.