Music has healing powers. So perhaps it was inevitable that exercise science major Akshay Alamuri would bond with a stroke patient over their mutual love of music.
Alamuri was doing his exercise science practicum at Project Walk Boston in Stratham, New Hampshire, assisting physical therapists at the specialty rehab center, when the patient came in for her first session. They hit it off, he says, and they talked while he assisted her.
She told him that she used to play the flute. Alamuri told her that he plays guitar and sings. From then on, every time he worked with her, she asked when he was going to perform for her. On the final day of his practicum, Alamuri brought his guitar with him and gave an impromptu concert, singing original songs and covers and even taking requests.
“It was a little goodbye gift to her. The trainers seemed to love it, too,” he says. “It was just before Thanksgiving, so I wanted everyone to leave for the holidays with a little pep in their step.”
As a high school student in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, Alamuri seriously considered pursuing music as a profession. He began studying piano in elementary school, joined the chorus in middle school and then took up guitar.
He also competed in Shotokan karate. At the state tournament his sophomore year, he suffered a hit to the head and a serious concussion. Through rehab, he learned about what he calls the hidden health professions of occupational and physical therapy. When he applied to colleges, he decided to pursue physical therapy as a more stable and, for him, more “selfless” career than music performance, he says.
Alamuri was accepted to several universities with bachelor’s to doctorate programs, including UMass Lowell. After a visit to campus, he decided it was the best program for his family’s finances and his own goals.
“Lowell seemed to have a lot going for its physical therapy program – a lot of resources for it, a lot of connections for the clinical experiences,” he says. “It was the perfect combo of cost meets strength of program: the perfect value, basically.”
For his practicum, he chose to work at Project Walk Boston, a specialized “ability center” where patients have challenging conditions, including spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries, that require exceptional training and equipment. Alamuri found the work fascinating because the trainers and physical therapists have to create unique exercise programs and adapt their equipment for individual patients, often to help them exercise muscles that they can’t feel anymore.
“It’s super-assisted exercise to try and connect your brain to your spine and body,” he says. “It’s not traditional physical therapy, and I’m a person who likes variety. I always seek out things that I don’t know.”
Alamuri still has that variety in his life, thanks in large part to music. He took a choral ensemble class his first year at UMass Lowell, and when he could no longer fit that into his schedule, he joined Vocality, a student a cappella group. He began writing his own songs, too. (He recently released an album online.)
He even accelerated his studies to graduate a semester early, so that he could take a break before starting his graduate program in May. Living at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, he used his time to write and record more songs – and make some money so that he could travel abroad once restrictions ease.
“I love to travel. I can’t wait to try new food again, and see the world,” he says.