“Team Handball is a sport that America could embrace,” says Zoe Lombard, 27, right forward for the USA Team Handball Women’s National Team, set to compete at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru from July 24-30. “The fast pace and high scores add to the excitement.”
Lombard, who hails from Belleair Bluffs, Florida, also a second-year medical student at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) in Spartanburg, is currently with the team in HaBloch, Germany, after a week of camp in France. “This week we have several games, many hours of yoga, film and practice ahead of us as we prepare to fly to Peru on July 20,” she says. “We started in Cretil, France at the Handball Maison, traveled to Lille, France. I flew out of Charlotte the day after classes ended.”
While handball is popular in Europe, with France, Germany, Norway, Spain, and Denmark boasting professional leagues and teams, it has yet to reach similar ubiquity in the United States. The sport as it is now played was established in Denmark, with two teams of seven players each (six on court, one goalie) and goals on either end. The gameplay resembles an adrenaline-fueled mix of soccer and basketball, although players may not kick the ball.
“The ultimate goal is to score as many goals as possible during the sixty minutes,” says Lombard. “After receiving the ball, you can take three steps and either pass or dribble. Once you stop dribbling, you have three more steps before you must pass.”
“It’s a combination of several of the United States’ favorite sports,” Lombard continues. “There are both tactical and technical aspects of the sport. It involves throwing, similar to baseball, with high-speed counter-attacks as seen in basketball.”
Like most other players in the U.S., handball wasn’t Zoe Lombard’s first sport. Before her initial tryout for the team in Auburn, Alabama in 2014, she had played soccer for Boston College, from which she had graduated that year. It was the athletic director at Boston College that recommended she try out.
“I was aware of the physical requirements for team handball,” Lombard says, “so I continued my soccer training. But I had to research the technical aspects of handball, as well as the rules and regulations since it was so different from soccer. Although it was frustrating to learn a completely new sport at the age of 22, I have come to love the game.”
The oldest of five children, Lombard began playing sports at an early age. “One of the stipulations of playing a club sport was to maintain good grades,” she recalls. “Since then I have been developing my organizational skills. As an athlete, especially in college, the only way to do well and excel at your sport is to manage your time in an efficient way.”
That’s especially true for students in medical schools, which feature some of the most rigorous curricula in the sphere of higher education. But Lombard is not intimidated.
“Most of my days start around 5:15/5:30,” she says. “I try to do my fitness routine before classes start. Once I get back, I make breakfast and study prior to the start of class. I go to school most of the day and then home to make dinner. After that, I usually go back to school to study for a couple of hours before I head home for bed.”
One of the keys to Lombard’s success is an ever-widening support network. “As a member of a larger family, I could always count on my siblings, parents and friends to help get things accomplished,” she says. That network grew when she joined USA Team Handball, and expanded still more when she started medical school.
“The idea of teamwork has been a consistent theme throughout my life,” says Lombard. “Now I count on my roommates, teammates, fellow Medical students and VCOM to help me accomplish my goals. The support and understanding of others is of the utmost importance in my life. Since the first time I set foot on the campus for a tour, I have been treated like family. VCOM has not only supported me in my dream of becoming a physician, but has also supported me in my quest to compete in the Pan American Games.”
For Zoe Lombard, sports and medicine support one another, providing her with a multi-dimensional point of view and a toolkit for coping with the complexities of her dual career.
“Sports have helped me develop time management, given me opportunities to perform in high stress environments and instill a sense of hard-work and dedication in all that I do,” Lombard says. “Team handball has been an excellent stress reliever in the trying times of being a medical student!”