Eleven Chapman Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) students took their first day of winter break to support athletes at the Southern CA Special Olympics. They along with two physical therapy faculty members conducted fitness tests for athletes preparing for the Fall Games.  The FUNfitness program is a worldwide program through Special Olympics provided by physical therapists and physical therapy students.  The fitness testing consists of assessments of aerobic fitness, strength, flexibility and balance.  Following the testing, each athlete is provided with a personalized home program to address any limitations identified through the testing.  The physical therapists also provide information and resources for the athletes’ family members and coaches.

Working with the Special Olympics athletes inspired the DPT students. First year DPT student Jackie Gardner-Hoag commented, “It was a pleasure to listen to athletes talk about their sports and how excited they were for the games. I’m looking forward to working with Special Olympics again!” The students were impressed by the resilience of the athletes, as Peymon Sedaghat-Yazdi noted, “The best part of this experience was getting to interact with and meet all the Special Olympics participants. To know that they all had some sort of disability but were able to overcome it to be able to participate in a sport they loved was amazing.”

The students also learned important lessons about communications. Kelly Isaacs explained, “It was a great experience requiring a lot of adaptation to communicate effectively with and motivate each individual.” The first year DPT students also had their first experiences of putting their classroom studies into action. Monica Alvarez Pena commented, “It was great to see things we have talked about in class and things we will learn in the future put to action. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to bring a smile to each of them and contribute in a small way to their physical fitness progress.”

DPT faculty member Sara GIlliland (Chapman’s Special Olympics FUNfitness coordinator) enjoyed the opportunity to work side-by-side with students.  Service activities such as Special Olympics provide opportunities for faculty and students to share their skills and help others in the community.  The Special Olympics athletes enjoyed the one-on-one attention they received from the FUNfitness volunteers and coaches and parents appreciated the support and resources.

FUNfitness provides opportunities for DPT students to practice their clinical skills in a supportive and fun environment.  The work also allowed students to work together with DPT students from other universities and physical therapists from the community. Clinical coordinators commented how much they appreciated the professionalism and enthusiasm of the Chapman DPT student volunteers. Other students participating also noticed the commitement of the Chapman DPT students as Marissa Delos Reyes reflected, “It was great to see that our work at the event motivated prospective DPT students to come up to us and ask questions about our involvement and the profession as well.”

Chapman DPT students and faculty are eager to return to Special Olympics for the Southern California Summer Games in June 2015 and the World Games held at UCLA and USC in July 2015.