Volleyball prepares local nurse for challenges during pandemic

Former Notre Dame Academy, Owens Community College player uses lessons learned on court in medical field.

By Mark Monroe / The Blade
Thu, 21 May 2020 21:30:00 GMT

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Lisa Urbanski often draws on the lessons and skills she learned on the volleyball court to perform her demanding duties as a registered nurse on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

A former defensive specialist at Notre Dame and Owens Community College, Urbanski said sports provided a foundation that she relies on in her career in the medical field.

Urbanski said the mental preparation, teamwork, communication skills, and camaraderie involved in volleyball translates well to her duties as a night shift nurse at Bay Park Hospital in Oregon.

“The big thing with us at the hospital is teamwork,” Urbanski said. “It's a whole lot of teamwork and it has been tremendous. It's been especially important with COVID.”

Urbanski's mettle has been tested while attending to coronavirus patients at Bay Park. The deadly disease has claimed the lives of more than 94,000 in the United States and 206 in Lucas County as of Thursday.

“I never thought in my nursing career that I'd be going through this,” she said. “It's been very rewarding to help others. In the beginning it was so new. Things were changing so rapidly. You had to stay on your toes and be ready for anything.”

The 2012 Notre Dame graduate earned All-Three Rivers Athletic Conference honors as a senior. She then played at Owens, helping lead the Express to the NJCAA national semifinals. She then earned her nursing degree from Lourdes University.

At just 5-foot-4, Urbanski found her niche on the court in the defensive specialist position of libero.

“I was always the hustler. I always wanted to be on the ground. I was only 5-4, and that kept me in the back row,” she said. “I love to be scrappy. There were always competitions between the girls, who had more marks on their legs and rug burns. I just loved the diving.”

Notre Dame volleyball coach Jeff Pitzen said Urbanski was always dedicated and focused.

“Lisa was very easy to coach, respectful, hard-working, and an all-around great kid. She was totally willing to hit the court when needed with no hesitation,” Pitzen said. “Lisa had many good qualities, so it’s no surprise to me that she’s helping others. I’m unbelievably proud of her.”

Urbanski works the night shift at Bay Park from 6:45 p.m. to 7:15 a.m. She works the 12-hour shifts three days per week.

Each shift brings unique challenges, but she said each starts in a way similar to the preparations for a volleyball game.

“At the start of each shift, I have to mentally prepare,” Urbanski said. “We have a team huddle where we get everyone together.”

The nurses then go on rounds to meet their patients for the night and do assessments. Medications are distributed. Urbanski generally works with three patients each shift with a maximum of four.

“In my unit we get a bunch of everything,” she said. “Within the COVID setting we have up to three patients.”

She said once again teamwork becomes pivotal with the nurses checking in on each other.

“The nurses work with so many different people,” she said.

She said the nurses not only work with each other and the doctors but also other personnel such as respiratory therapists, pharmacists, and housekeeping. Workers who also come in to help from other area hospitals must mesh together.

Urbanski said there have been many challenging times.

“There have been many times that there have been patients at the lowest of low. It's difficult when some family members can't be there,” she said. “We've been using iPads so that they can communicate with their families.”

Pitzen, who coached Urbanski from the age of 13 on her club team through her high school career, said she was a captain as a senior.

“She was always driven, dedicated, and approached practice with 100 percent effort. She's an intelligent young lady who picked up new skills with ease,” Pitzen said. “She was always willing to do what the coaching staff asked of her. I’m sure that the dedication she put into volleyball transferred to high school, college, and now her career.”

Pitzen said sports help young people develop structure.

“Student-athletes have to figure out how to manage so many things in life, their studies, social life, practice, games,” he said. “I’ve always been impressed with the girls at Notre Dame that do so well in school and play volleyball year-round. Lisa was one of those young ladies that managed that well.”

In 2012, Urbanski helped lead Owens to the NJCAA national semifinals under legendary coach Sonny Lewis.

Urbanski said the community support that her teams received is similar to the support medical professionals are now earning.

“It's almost like everyone in the community have become our fans, just like in sports,” she said. “People come to the parking lot. They're outside praying and with signs. Even walking into work in the hallways we have a bunch of signs made by kids of all ages. People are asking if there is anything we need. Companies have donated [equipment]. That's something that makes me feel good.”

Urbanski said she takes precautions at her home in Sylvania where she lives with her fiance Austin Schwierking. The couple had the difficult task of moving during the early stages of the pandemic in March. She said she does FaceTime with her parents and brothers and sisters.

“I try to keep my distance from my parents,” she said. “It was hard, especially at the beginning.”

Urbanski said family support was always key in her athletic endeavors. She started playing sports when she was 5.

“I played every sport you can think of, and then I had to narrow it down,” she said.

Urbanski began playing club volleyball in the fifth grade. She played both basketball and volleyball for her first two years at Notre Dame before focusing fully on volleyball. She earned All-TRAC honorable mention as a senior.

“It took a lot of my time. But I made such great friends. I just loved playing volleyball,” she said.

She said she misses watching live sports.

“But lately I haven't had time for it,” she said.

Urbanski continues to be involved with sports as an assistant coach with Toledo Volleyball Club and as an assistant basketball coach at Timberstone and McCord junior high schools in Sylvania.

“I wish I could be more involved,” she said.

Urbanski said the last two months have been a blur.

“It's been rewarding. But it's tough that it is happening,” she said. “It's amazing how people have come together. This virus has been crazy. But there have been some positives. The support from the community has been great.”