Longhorn Hall of Honor: Tina Bonci
Nov. 14, 2010
Tina Bonci grew up in a loving Italian family. Her hometown of Greenville, Pa., had numerous parks, so she quickly became adept at softball, basketball and golf.
Somehow, she also developed an affection for horses and cowboy hats. That was a sign of great things to come as she pursued a career in athletic training/sports medicine, and, 26 years ago, was hired as the head women's athletic trainer at The University of Texas.
Bonci graduated from Lock Haven State University and later earned a master's degree from the University of Rhode Island. Her classmates, professors and colleagues thought she was perfectly groomed for the sports medicine profession.
She had the intellectual capacity of a medical doctor, the tender loving caring ways of a nurse and the heart of an Olympic competitor.
"My job is to give information," says Bonci, co-director of athletic training/sports medicine for UT Intercollegiate Athletics. "I can't make decisions for anyone, but I can help them become students of the process and help them ask good questions. I just show that I care."
Bonci was head trainer for Coach Pat Head Summitt's 1984 USA Olympic women's basketball team. That squad won a gold medal in Los Angeles. One year later, while working at the University of Pennsylvania Sports Medicine Clinic in Philadelphia, Bonci was called by Texas women's athletics director Donna Lopiano and basketball coach Jody Conradt to join the Texas staff.
"I actually got a letter from Donna Lopiano. It was a recruiting letter, and it was a long one," Bonci remembers.
She followed in fellow Hall of Honor member Becky Marshall's footsteps and took the UT women's athletic training program to national prominence. She wrote the training room manual from scratch, a volume of policies and procedures that today serves all 500 men and women student-athletes at The University of Texas. She hired excellent assistant trainers and team physicians, many of whom are now MDs, physical therapists or head trainers themselves.
But Bonci is best known for the treasure chest of relationships with the many student-athletes and coaches she has served.
She was the patient advisor for the injured athlete, lending support and encouragement during brutal rehabilitation and healing regimens. She was the head coaches' conscience -- quietly advising when an athlete needed rest or needed to be pushed a bit more.
"Culturally, I had to adapt to Texas. Being from the east, people always said I was very business-like," Bonci says. "I had to change my whole approach, and I really worked on my people skills. The relationships have always been the most important things to me."
No injury or condition was too complicated for Bonci to solve. Local, regional and national physicians are in awe of her skills. She has revived hundreds of athletic careers, treated thousands of sprains and breaks, and prevented scores of injuries thanks to state-of-the-art testing and preventive sports medicine routines.
Yet, some ironies do abound for Bonci. In 1989, she was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic. Fifteen years later, that condition led to a complicated cancerous abdominal sarcoma. After major surgery at MD Anderson in Houston, Bonci recovered and returned to work, albeit with a new attitude toward life-work balance. She continues her prolific work, but has lessened her travel with teams.
Today, she is cancer free and active as a fundraiser for the American Diabetes Association. In 2006, she received the Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer award from the National Athletic Trainers' Association. She chairs the clinical program for the Southwest Athletic Trainers' Association and has authored a nationally-acclaimed document about detection, management and prevention of disordered eating in athletes.
Bonci resides in Austin with America's most spoiled puppy, her Jack Russell Terrier, Seiko.