Outstanding in the Field

As a former Ithaca College linebacker, Dan Cimino ’13 was used to chasing down elusive Greyhounds, repelling ornery Bulldogs and even corralling Red Dragons.

But for the first-year veterinary student, the unnecessary roughness of a spitting alpaca was something new.

To make it all more dramatic, the scene unfolded when Cimino and a handful of his Cornell classmates starred in Nat Geo’s new show, appropriately titled “Vet School.”

Not all of the seminars in Cornell’s prestigious College of Veterinary Medicine are led by professors, and on this day, Radar the alpaca was figuratively and literally leading the class. The powerful animal’s lesson? There’s a big difference between needing a pedicure and wanting one.

As he squared up with the alpaca, Cimino drew upon the experiences he had just one hill away. Everything before now was practice, not just over in Butterfield Stadium but also in IC’s classrooms and labs.

It might take a linebacker’s will to vaccinate an alpaca in the open field, but tackling the complex and ever-changing world of virology requires a delicate hand and a well trained mind.


Cimino developed those traits as a biochemistry major at Ithaca College. When he came to IC from New Paltz, he had been eying a future in a health field. In his junior year, he began volunteering at the SPCA of Tompkins County and shadowing local vets, applying what he had learned in class.

“I felt comfortable with the material and comfortable pushing myself to learn more even when it wasn’t asked of me by professors,” he said. “I saw how the work at IC was translating over, and I knew this is where I was supposed to be.”

He says that even today, knowing how to read the opponent’s hurry-up offense is the key.

“Being a linebacker has helped tremendously with the restraining of animals and also just being aware of the whole situation, seeing everything around me,” he said.

“You have to predict what’s going to happen, whether they’re going to run or pass the ball, and I find myself with the same instincts at the barn, predicting whether the horse is going to kick me or freak out.”

Even for a passionate vet student, those stressful moments can take their toll, and self-doubt can creep in, especially in that first year.

“You get that little voice in your head, like, ‘Just stop. Why would you do that to yourself?’ but then you realize it’s something you want. It’s your goal.”

And then the adrenaline kicks in again, like a linebacker getting ready to blitz.

“I’m only ever happy when I’m doing something new. Ultimately, I think I chose veterinary medicine because of that.”

Always a hard-working team player, Cimino now sees and appreciates the same qualities in the Nat Geo camera crew who followed him around.

“If I’m up at 5 a.m., they’re up at 5 a.m. to set up,” he said. “They lived it.”

And in the dairy barn, they weren’t just catching moments.

“Poop is flying everyplace, and they’re getting hit. We’re just used to it--nobody flinches--but they’re freaking out about it. So that’s kind of fun seeing them going through the same things we go through.”

There were, however, more glamorous times. Flown out to Los Angeles for media meet-and-greets, Cimino was put up in the Beverly Hilton, home of the Golden Globes and Daytime Emmys.

“I’m a poor college student, so it was nice. I’m beside the pool with a cheese platter and a little margarita.”

Not all Hollywood tales have a happy ending though. Cimino has since learned the show was canceled.

At least he got a quasi-video yearbook out of it, even if it includes him peering into the eyes of a stuffed animal and  learning something as simple as the infamous but vital “handwashing dance.”

“Someday it’s going to be really cool to look back and see how I was my first year of vet school.”