If you could measure the success of a speech in head nods, the one Dr. Aneesh Garg ’97 gave to the entire student body this past April might just have earned perfect marks. Through humility and full transparency, Garg drove home a message that centered on the importance of finding and defining your life’s path on no one else’s timeline but your own. As he delivered the assembly presentation in a calm cadence and soft but controlled voice, students hung on every word, nodding along in agreement as he detailed his long journey of self-discovery that began in that exact same gymnasium nearly twenty-five years before.
“This speech is dedicated to the people who are on autopilot right now,” he said to the audience. “The ones who are just going through the motions because of a feeling of obligation. This is for you because I was you,” he added.
Overcoming Early Adversity
Much like his path to becoming a sports medicine physician specializing in musculoskeletal injuries, including concussion management and fracture care, Garg’s speech started unconventionally. It followed a presentation from two student members of the Hopkins Ping Pong Club who had just asked the audience to help them raise funds for a new Ping Pong table on campus, and before he could enter into his own story, Garg pledged support (and cash) for the cause. As the student body would soon find out, Garg didn’t make the donation just because he had the money on him; he did it because he appreciated how the students were “respectfully persistent” in their approach to their fundraising. Throughout his personal and professional lives, Garg has deployed that exact same tactic to overcome each obstacle along the way.
Take, for example, the story of how Garg came to Hopkins as an adolescent. He initially hoped to attend in seventh grade, but because his grades and test scores were low, he wasn’t accepted. He stayed persistent, however, and began applying himself academically until he was eventually accepted to Hopkins as a sophomore. Although the initial rejection was hard to swallow, Garg has come to appreciate how it all played out.
“What I learned was, it’s not that it’s never going to happen, it just wasn’t meant to be at the time,” he said. Starting a new school can be hard for any student, but starting in tenth grade while many peers had already built friendships was difficult for Garg as his first semester began.
“I was still trying to gain an understanding of the kind of person I wanted to be, which can take time,” he said. “When you don’t have a good sense of who you are, you end up projecting who you think you should be rather than who you really are,” he added.
Athletics allowed Garg a quick introduction to the community. He recalled draining a three-point shot in the Athletic Center during one of his first weeks on campus, which caught the attention of some of his classmates. Though he was beginning to find his place through athletics, Garg says he was still trying to put the pieces together of who he was and what he wanted to do with his life.
“What I did know was that I was the kind of person who stuck up for the little guy,” he said. “I had good role models in my family members, and while I had—and still have—room to grow, having respect for others became a good foundation,” he added.
Finding and Protecting the Dream
A knee injury while playing sports at Hopkins helped plant the seed for Garg’s future career trajectory. Garg recalls how the team of Hopkins athletic trainers, led by current Director of Medical Services Don Bagnall, helped him understand his injury.
“They were there for me and took care of me. They helped me feel reassured about my injury and taught me what to expect going forward. That has always stuck with me,” he said.
Garg also comes from a family where the majority of its members are medical professionals. Despite being inspired by the Hopkins staff and the hard work of his family members, he initially resisted the path to medicine.
“I tried really hard not to be a doctor,” he said.
Garg says the reason he initially tried to go in a different direction is that becoming a doctor was what others wanted of him and not what he felt was right at the time. That would eventually change. After majoring in sociology at Trinity College in Hartford, Garg worked in prep schools, restaurants, and even coached baseball for a short stint back at Hopkins as he continued to search for a career path that fit.
“I always encourage others to try everything. It’s the only way to find out what you truly want,” said Garg.
While coaching baseball at Hopkins, where he reconnected with Athletic Director Rocco Demaio, who remains a close friend today, Garg saw himself helping students the same way his Hopkins athletic trainers had assisted him as an adolescent. That’s when his interest in sports medicine began to catch fire. Before long, his resistance to join the medical field began to fade. All of a sudden, the kid who didn’t want to become a doctor was applying to medical school.
“I started medical school when most people I knew were finishing,” Garg said in his speech. “The reason I’m telling you this is that it’s okay to not have your whole life planned out. It’s your life and not someone else’s.”
In 2011, Garg took a giant leap forward by being placed in a residency at Yale New Haven Hospital. Upon arrival, he was encouraged to work toward becoming an ICU doctor despite his desire to pursue sports medicine. Garg once again had to deploy respectful persistence to achieve his goals.
“I showed up every day and asked for a sports medicine rotation. They kept telling me no, but I just kept showing up and asking,” he said.
During residency at Yale, Garg had to deliver presentations. For every speech, he added a sports medicine element to it. For cardiology, he presented on EKGs in athletics. For nephrology, he delivered a speech on dehydration in athletes. For neurology, he spoke about concussions. This continued, as did his requests to be placed on a sports medicine rotation, until he was finally allowed the opportunity. He hasn’t looked back since as he now runs his own practice focusing on private sports injury consultations.
“No one is going to look after your life as much as you are,” said Garg while reflecting on that pivotal moment in his medical career. “The common denominator of all your life experience is you, and you’re the only one who is going to fight for what you want.”
A Passion Goes National
Garg’s commitment to remaining steadfast in pursuing his dreams didn’t stop in medical school. His love of sports (in particular hockey) drove him to take on his next professional goal: joining the USA Hockey National Development Program as a team physician. But how do you seize an opportunity when you don’t have connections or easy inroads to the job?
Dare we say it? Respectful persistence.
In 2015, following his fellowship, Garg approached the Medical Director of USA Hockey, Dr. Michael Stuart, who was speaking at a hockey conference in Toronto, and made it clear that he wanted to work with him and his team in any capacity. Garg had done his homework on Stuart and had thought it all out.
“I presented him with my résumé and told him I wanted in,” said Garg.
Stuart told Garg he had the pedigree but that there was no room at the time. Once again, rejection didn’t deter him. From that moment on, every time he crossed paths with Stuart at a conference, Garg made a point to say hello. He would also send Stuart periodic updates via email on how his career was going. When Garg
was asked to be the Head Physician for the Frozen Four hockey tournament (the highest collegiate hockey competition of its kind), it caught Stuart’s attention. It had been two years since that initial meeting at the conference in Toronto when Garg was asked to join his first international trip with the USA Hockey Team. He remains a team physician for Team USA today, a role that has taken him around the world.
The lesson Garg said he gleaned from this experience is that rejection doesn’t mean it’s a dead end.
“You have to be okay with failure,” he said to the audience during his presentation. “Every meeting, every interview, every encounter doesn’t always work out, but it’s always an opportunity to learn something about yourself,” he said.
Following his assembly presentation, Garg was surrounded by students who were eager to share their own stories. Some of them had hockey questions but many more of them had questions about how to find and hold onto their passions. Garg took the time to sit and answer all questions, and later joined members of the Hopkins baseball team for a practice, just like old times.
The day was a full circle moment for Garg, but he says it wasn’t the end of his story.
“The two biggest things I wanted to leave the kids with was that your journey of self-discovery is never finished and you should be intentional in everything you do. I still have so much I need to learn about myself, but it all begins with accepting that it’s okay to not have it all figured out today,” said Garg.
This article was originally printed in the Summer 2022 edition of Views, the Hopkins School Magazine.