The path to realizing one’s dreams is seldom a straight line.

Elizabeth Garcia knew it. That didn’t make her decision to leave a good athletic training job at a Division-I university for an internship any easier.

Still, the Merced College alum’s ultimate goal is to work in the NFL and Garcia figured a summer internship with the Chicago Bears was an opportunity to get a foot in the door. Garcia did that and then some, impressing the Chicago training staff, coaches and even management with her hard work and attitude.

Garcia’s gamble paid off with an offer of a seasonal position beginning with training camps in April.

“The NFL was always my dream,” Garcia said. “Football is just a faster pace than any other sport I’ve done and the NFL kicks that up a notch. When you’re on the field, you’re constantly moving around. You have to keep your head on a swivel and keep an eye on what’s going on.

“I really enjoy the way there’s always something to do.”

Garcia said her love of football and athletic training started at the high school level. She’d shadow the head trainer before, during and after Merced High football games, absorbing as much knowledge as she could.

Garcia’s passion for athletic training intensified in her time at Merced College (2010-2012), working with athletic trainer Scott Lemberger.

“I really got into it my second year at Merced College,” Garcia said. “I was never officially part of the athletic training program, but I helped out Scott with pretty much every sport. Football was still my favorite.

“I got into the training program when I transferred to Fresno State. That first year, I got my feet wet and did a little bit of everything. I kept with it and got my Masters at the University of New Mexico.”

Upon her graduation, Garcia was hired on as an Assistant Athletic Trainer at Southern Methodist University. She said she’s worked there the last two years, focusing on the football and equestrian teams.

It was there, with her career on a nice upward trajectory, that Garcia was forced to make a difficult call.

“The NFL internships are usually for college students,” Garcia said. “They’re very popular and I wasn’t able to get one when I was in school. My old boss at Fresno State was friends with someone in the Bears’ front office and helped get me the opportunity.

“It was a lot of hard work, but I was expecting that. I’d talked to a lot of my friends that had done one and knew I was going to be taking a step back in my career, being more of a student and doing a lot of the heavy lifting. I didn’t mind. There’s only about six to eight teams in the NFL that even have women on their staff, so I knew it was a big opportunity.”

Garcia hit the ground running, happily starting every day around 5 a.m. and often not finishing up until 11 p.m. Her work ethic and attitude garnered her an invitation back in spring 2019.

“The whole experience with the Bears was great,” Garcia said. “One of the assistant (General Managers) had noticed my work and mentioned it to the head trainer. I’m touched by it.

“To know that my effort was appreciated was amazing. I can’t wait to go back.”