Families are important to Dr. Vicky Baker.
So much so that the former River Forest track athlete and basketball and volleyball player takes care of them for a living.
“Being part of a team was like being part of a family and it helped me keep my life organized,” Baker said. “Early on it taught me the discipline I needed. It helps you set goals and achieve goals.”
Baker, who also played basketball and volleyball at Purdue Calumet (now Purdue Northwest), is a family practitioner at Marshfield Clinic in Wausau, Wisconsin.
“For me, success is being able to help other people,” Baker said. “It’s not about being rich or famous or anything like that.”
Baker also does mission work through her church, both medical and otherwise.
She was a state-qualifier in track for the Ingots and the team MVP in both basketball and volleyball. She set the program's high jump record, going 5 feet, 4 inches in 1985.
"Sports helps give you confidence. It introduces you to the dynamics of working on a team, which you have to do what you're in any sort of career," Baker said. "There are a lot of benefits from playing sports."
Baker’s in the River Forest athletics hall of fame. She was also the school's salutatorian.
Baker graduated from PUC in 1989 with a bachelor's degree in biotechnology.
Her time in New Chicago and at Purdue Calumet was important, Baker said. She had several teachers, coaches and other role models who served as mentors.
“I came from a single-parent family. My mom had to work a lot so she couldn’t always be at games and things,” Baker said. “The coaches were there and encouraging.”
She discovered her love of medicine as a teen while working at Camp Tecumseh in Brookston. The camp asked Baker to help with the diabetes and cystic fibrosis camp. She still wasn’t sure she wanted to make it a career, though.
“I like helping people,” she said. “I’m really interested in the science part of medicine and it seemed like a good fit to be helping people.”
Camp director Dave Wright taught her that “leaders should also be servants.”
“Normally a leader is out front, taking charge, ‘Come here and follow me,’” Baker said. “He thought more that a leader was someone who helps other people be successful.”
It wasn’t until around her sophomore or junior year of college when she decided she wanted to be a doctor.
Baker had family in the Badger state, so when it came time to apply to medical schools Wisconsin was on the list. She got in, left Northwest Indiana and as been there ever since.
“The medical school had rotations to different areas in Wisconsin that were more rural and I came over to Wausau,” Baker said. “I loved it and decided to stay.”
Baker graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1993. She worked for seven years at the Bridge Community Health Clinic before moving to the Marshfield Clinic.
She’s raising two kids as a single mom. She adopted both 6-year-old Timothy and 5-year-old Sarah from China. They’re splashed all over her Facebook page.
“I figured what the heck, I’ll give a couple of kids a place to live,” she said. “I’m really steering them away from being very competitive.”
Baker still plays volleyball in a local women’s league, she said. "It’s competitive and fun."
She’s weary of the specialization many modern prep athletes gravitate toward.
“There’s not just that general love of all sports and athletics,” Baker said. “Strictly from a medical standpoint, you’re at risk for overuse (playing only one sport). And I think you just get so focused on your one position and your one sport and you can’t look up and see the bigger picture, which is team play, the camaraderie you get with your teammates, fair play, things like that.”
Baker doesn’t think she’ll have the time to be a coach for her kids. But she plans to make sure they do have athletic careers and that they’re diversified.
“If you’re in a program that overemphasizes achievement and not the process of working toward your goal, or if you’re in a program that’s really pumping you up and giving you a big head and not helping you be humble, that’s not helpful,” she said. “Enjoy the game and don’t worry about the rest. If you’re at a point where you’re not enjoying the sport anymore, why are you doing it?”