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Both Mike Trudell (left) and Robby Sikka (right) grew up as diehard Minnesota sports fans. In middle school they promised each other that they would end up working in sports. Now over 20 years later, both kept true to his word, albeit in different aspects of the industry.

Predicting the future isn’t easy.

When he was in middle school in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Robby Sikka agreed with close friend Mike Trudell that the two would end up in the professional sports industry. They didn’t know what the path would look like, but they had a destination in mind.

“We realized that the sports industry is a great way to experience a lot of human emotions without the maximum stakes that can go with something that’s a little more serious,” Trudell, a 2004 Northwestern graduate, said.

“It’s not a war zone, but you can experience human joy and sadness and triumph and determination and heartbreak. We were both huge sports fans, so the question was how would we channel our respective skills into actual careers.”

Now, over 20 years down that road, Trudell works as a sideline reporter for the Los Angeles Lakers, while Sikka, a 2004 Penn graduate, is … well, it’s hard to know exactly what he’s up to at any given moment. Between a full-time job as an anesthesiologist, conducting clinical research for TRIA Orthopaedic Center in Minneapolis and running the Sports Medicine Analytics Research Team (SMART), it’s safe to say Sikka has his hands full.

If you’re wondering how Sikka balances all his passions and careers, you’re not alone.

“I have a five-day-a-week private practice anesthesia job, and each evening I come home, and I do research, I write papers, I’m a lead clinical scientist at TRIA, pretty much until I go to sleep I’m working on something,” he said.

“I probably sacrifice a fair amount of sleep, but at the end of the day this is a dream job.”

He’s built a niche for himself in medical analytics through his energy and determination. A large part of developing that niche has come through SMART.

Sikka founded SMART to consult with professional, collegiate and high school sports programs to develop injury prevention strategies based on analytics. Part of his interest in predictive modeling and injury analytics came from a personal source, a desire to know if his own eye condition could have been predicted.

Through SMART, Sikka has worked with a number of NFL, NBA and other professional sports teams, though teams keep information about who consults with them private. One of the company’s focuses has been the NBA as he and his business partner apply injury data from the past 15 years to modern injury prevention.

Sikka is also working directly with the NFL operations department to help teams and coaches understand how injury analytics can factor into their lives.

While at Penn, Sikka knew that his path was medicine rather early on. The summer following his freshman year, he interned at TRIA, where he still works today as a research scientist. TRIA works directly with a number of professional sports teams in the Minnesota area, including the Vikings, Wild and Twins.

“My first summer I interned with the Vikings team docs and that was the summer that included Korey Stringer, the former offensive lineman, dying. Ever since then there’s been an impetus […] to look at data and use research to improve care,” Sikka said.

“I never really left TRIA. I’ve worked there for 15 years, […] and that gave me access to a life that I really enjoyed.”

As someone who grew up as a Minnesota sports fan, the ability to work directly with the team and help both players and general managers predict and prevent injury was intriguing to Sikka.

After attending medical school at USC, Sikka returned to Minnesota and continued to work for TRIA. In 2010, he entered a residency program at the University of Minnesota to become an anesthesiologist and has now been practicing for the past two years.

Though he’s now over a decade removed from his time at Penn, Sikka has stayed involved as an alumni interviewer and currently serves as the statewide director for alumni interviews.

“I loved Penn, I had such an amazing experience that I wanted to do something where I could stay involved and help Penn get the best students from Minnesota,” Sikka said.

All throughout his journey in the world of sports medicine, Sikka has stayed in constant contact with Trudell, though their geographic locations have rarely intersected. It’s almost comical. While Sikka was in medical school at USC, Trudell was working with the Timberwolves in Minneapolis. When Trudell moved down to Los Angeles to take a job with the Lakers, Sikka moved back to Minnesota.

“Despite growing up together, we criss-crossed our time in Minnesota,” Trudell said. “The funny thing is while I was working for the Timberwolves, I had people from all around the country come on be correspondents for certain teams, and he was my Los Angeles correspondent.”

Regardless of location, the two have found professional benefits to their friendship. Whenever Trudell needs to write or speak about an injury, he’s able to get information from Sikka on the injury’s impact, while Sikka has benefitted from Trudell’s contacts in the industry.

One of Trudell’s favorite stories in that vein is when Sikka received an invitation to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference through a college friend of Trudell. While there, Sikka networked with professional sports executives and spread his vision of medical analytics.

“You get into a big conference, you figure out a way to talk to people and pitch your ideas, then you actually follow through on them without annoying people, and that’s a very difficult thing,” Trudell said.

“That’s the sort of work you have to do if you’re someone who’s going to be successful on that next level.”

It’s that combination of intelligence and hard work that’s gotten Sikka to where he is today. As he puts it, he’s “at the center of a unique Venn diagram including sports performance, sports medicine, technology and data.”

And there's no place he'd rather be.

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