By Karen Angelo
Daniele Crutcher ’15 loves going to work every day.
“The best part of my job is helping those who have sustained lifelong injuries get a second chance at life,” says Crutcher, a graduate of the exercise physiology program and team leader at Project Walk, a spinal cord recovery center in Stratham, N.H. “We help people improve their abilities to do daily living activities. This could include walking, sitting independently and lifting objects.”
Crutcher is one of three students who have been hired by Project Walk, a franchise owned by Jacqueline and Larry Arlen. The couple started the rehabilitation center after their daughter Victoria was paralyzed and learned to walk again with help from Project Walk in San Diego. Jacqueline Arlen says that the exercise physiology students are a huge asset to their program.
“I couldn't be happier with our three trainers who graduated from the UMass Lowell program,” says Arlen. “They are incredibly prepared and have hearts of gold, a big-time requirement for sure.”
UMass Lowell has partnerships with 35 varied organizations where senior exercise physiology students can complete their required clinical practicum — a work experience supervised by professionals in the field. Students gain experience at fitness and rehabilitation centers, strength and conditioning clinics, school systems and hospital-based cardiac rehab programs.
“The university’s practicum program gives students opportunities to apply what they’ve learned in class while gaining valuable communication and professional skills needed to be successful in the real world,” says Michele Fox, associate program director of the doctor of physical therapy program.
Seeing her clients reach, walk, stand or move in ways that they couldn’t before changed the career path for Courtney Jenkins ’16. She thought she’d jump right into graduate school, but the satisfaction of witnessing her clients’ progress during her practicum experience changed her mind.
“I did my practicum at Project Walk, and honestly, I fell in love with what was being done here,” says Jenkins, who was hired as an aide until she takes the exams to become an assistant specialist. “I really wanted to continue and see the clients progress more than I already had. The environment at Project Walk is also always incredible and positive, and I love coming to work each week.”
Derrick Albrecht ’15, who works at Project Walk as a recovery specialist, designs customized exercise programs for each client depending upon their individual goals.
“We have to be creative in our approach and learn to modify traditional exercises to suit each client’s ability,” says Albrecht. “When they do accomplish their goals, I can literally see how happy it makes them, especially when I see their tears of joy. It is a powerful thing.”
Crutcher, who was trusted by Project Walk’s owners to set up the practicum program with UMass Lowell, says that the exercise physiology program prepared the students for an exciting career that makes a difference to people’s lives.
“UMass Lowell students come to us with a clear understanding of how to develop an exercise program,” says Crutcher. “Students learn about disability in their advanced studies class, and they understand the biomechanics of various exercises as well as what muscles are being targeted. This job requires thinking outside of the box, and the students are bringing new eyes into the facility that help our trainers think of new exercises and adaptions.”