Dream Job

Arnold Lee with Chicago Bulls player Wayne Selden Jr.

Chicago Bulls Assistant Athletic Trainer Arnold Lee BS ‘10 prepares the team for tonight’s season opener.

The Chicago Bulls will face the Charlotte Hornets tonight in their regular-season opener in North Carolina. UIC alumnus and Bulls Assistant Athletic Trainer Arnold Lee BS ’10 will be there, helping prepare them to open the 2019 season with a win by keeping the players in top physical form.

Before games, Lee stretches the players and does tissue work. Throughout the year, he also leads injured players through therapeutic exercises and, along with the strength coaches, monitors them in the weight room. As an avid sports fan and long-time Chicago resident, he is passionate about the job. “I didn’t think that your passion and your career could be the same thing,” says Lee, noting that getting this job was among the best moments in the past few years, as it came at a time when Lee was at a crossroads.

Lee’s story begins with his father, who moved to the U.S. from South Korea. He had an MBA back home, but because of the language barrier and the immediate need to support his mother and sisters, in addition to his own wife and children, he was forced to take three manual labor jobs to make ends meet. Eventually, he opened a series of businesses that all required him to perform manual labor. “Manual labor wasn’t his passion; he was forced into this career to provide for his family,” Lee says. “That was always ingrained in me.”

With this in mind, Lee first entered UIC in pre-dentistry, a good profession, but not his passion. He switched majors to kinesiology and took an introductory class with faculty member Karrie Hamstra-Wright, whose excitement was contagious. That’s when he knew he had found the right direction and began to realize his passion could be his career.  “Karrie had such an impact on the direction of where I wanted to take my career. I don’t think she really knew how much impact she had,” says Lee. His time at UIC taught him to stay open to learning and asking questions, something he carries with him to this day.

After graduating from UIC, he earned his MS at California Baptist University in athletic training and got his first job at Kennedy King College on Chicago’s South Side. His students were from differing backgrounds, many of them using sports to access higher education and emerge from poverty. “I formed so many bonds that I could never replace. But on a career level, I felt like I wasn’t growing, like I needed to move on.” He considered giving up athletic training and switching careers to something more practical. In addition to a career reckoning, he had just married UIC alumna Jane Ahn BA ’11, and felt it was time to provide for his own family.

But an opportunity to intern for the Chicago Bears came up, and Lee took it. “I found the joy in my career again. I love helping people return to health and the bond that you form with your athletes,” he says. Lee decided to stay in the field, and he scored a job with the Windy City Bulls. A year later, he saw his current position open up, and he jumped at the opportunity.

In the preseason, Lee has been keeping players healthy and prepared for the regular season. But once the season starts tonight, there won’t be time to think, he says. He will be traveling with the Chicago Bulls for four of the first five games, making sure the players are ready to open the season with a winning streak.