Peter Azzam held a basketball for the first time about 15 years ago. At 7, he was a shy child obsessed with science and medicine, but playing sports helped him build confidence and strengthened his relationships with friends.
Azzam said he is still an academic person, but no longer a quiet one. After he earned his bachelor’s degree from UCLA in June 2015, Azzam used his passion for sports and medicine to co-found a new campus organization – the Sports Medicine Club at UCLA.
The club, founded last fall, promotes participation in sports and aims to give athletes instructions that can prevent sports injuries. Club members also shadow sports physicians, give athletes baseline concussion evaluations and suggest stretching regimens, Azzam said.
“As a sports fan, I encourage health through sports,” Azzam said. “As a pre-med student, I know safety is also important. That is what we do at the Sports Medicine Club – achieve both.”
Azzam said interested students from all departments are welcome to join the club.
Daniel Azzam, Peter Azzam’s brother and co-founder of the club, said their father, who is a cardiologist, set an example for the pair to pursue careers in medicine and ignited their passion for sports like basketball.
Peter Azzam said he thinks sports and medicine have a lot in common because both can connect people. During his childhood, he learned about cooperation and support between teammates, and admired the personal attention doctors pay their patients.
“This is the sort of connection among people I have been craving my entire life,” Azzam said.
Azzam said four members of the club made their first donation of sports equipment to the Flying Samaritans clinic in Colonia Margarita Moran, Mexico, in fall. The volunteer medical clinic aims to provide supplemental medical care in remote, underserved areas.
Daniel Azzam said people in the Colonia Margarita Moran area are at a high risk of diseases like diabetes and heart problems.
“These diseases are not easy to cure, so the best way to combat them is prevention and precaution,” Azzam said.
He added club members played soccer with the children in the open space near the clinic’s health site and introduced them to American football.
Peter Azzam said he thinks the combination of playing with and educating kids is a good way to help them learn about the benefits of sports and develop healthy exercise habits.
The club also introduced stretching techniques and discussed ways to protect against concussions, said Sunny Bajjuri, a club member and first-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student.
“I expected children there would be most interested in playing and doing sports,” Bajjuri said. “But to our surprise, they paid lots of attention to our presentations too.”
Peter Azzam added they prepared little gifts as prizes to motivate the children to answer questions during the presentation. Daniel Azzam said he hopes the club can conduct follow-up visits to strengthen the children’s knowledge about exercising and create long-term impacts.
He added the Sports Medicine Club at UCLA also offers professional instructions for future medical students like himself.
“We want to help other students with aspirations in sports medicine get first-hand experience through internships and basic medical training,” Daniel Azzam said.
Rhea Palsule, a first-year biology student, a pre-med and an officer of the sports medicine club, said she was able to learn useful techniques from observing first-aid treatment on sports fields and heard personal perspectives from team physicians when she shadowed them at local high schools.
“I also joined sports medicine clubs in high school, but this is the first time for me to learn what a physician’s occupation is actually like,” Palsule said.
Peter Azzam said the sports medicine club members are contacting sports teams on campus to expand their influence and create more sports medicine experiences for students at UCLA.
“It would be really amazing if what I learn can help more people,” Azzam said. “I have already made my first step.”