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05-22-2003

Five Clarkson Physical Therapy Grads Head To Ireland To Volunteer At 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games

Although the ink may still be wet on their diplomas, five recent Clarkson University Master of Physical Therapy (MPT) program graduates will donate their expertise and their time serving as volunteers at the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games to be held next month in Dublin, Ireland.

Rebecca Collins and Laura Mandell of Potsdam, Sara West of Conway, Mass., Heidi McCarthy of Milford, N.Y., and Amy Morgan of Niskayuna, N.Y., will be part of a team of volunteer physical therapists who will take part in the FUNfitness Campaign, an on-site health screening that evaluates each athlete’s flexibility, strength, and balance.

The Special Olympics was founded in 1968 as an international organization dedicated to empowering individuals with mental retardation to become physically fit and productive through sports training and competition. Some 7,000 athletes from 160 international delegations will participate in 21 sporting events at this year’s World Summer games.

“We are all very excited to have the opportunity to begin our physical therapy careers at such an important and historic event,” said Laura Mandell. “Our education and clinical experiences have taught us the value of compassion and service and we are proud to be part of the volunteer team assisting at the Special Olympics.”

The FUNfitness screening is part of the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes initiative that offers health screenings to assist Special Olympics athletes to improve health and fitness. The FUNfitness screening was first developed by physical therapists from the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) for use at the 1999 Special Olympics Summer Games in North Carolina. 

The assessments include hamstring flexibility, calf muscle flexibility, hip flexor tightness, functional shoulder rotation, balance and more. The screenings help determine an athlete’s conditioning at the games, and also provide educational information on the importance of stretching and strengthening with diagrams and instructions on exercises.

The Clarkson graduates’ interest in volunteering at the games was sparked by an article in the October, 2001 issue of PT Magazine that caught the eye of MPT student Sara West. The article highlighted the benefits and rewards of physical therapists volunteering for the Special Olympics. West had been a counselor for five years at a camp for children and adults with developmental disabilities and the idea of participating in the Special Olympics particularly interested her. She brought the idea to her classmates and Samuel Feitelberg, associate dean of Health Sciences. Inspired, and with Feitelberg’s encouragement, the students began making plans to volunteer for the 2003 World Summer Games and to devise strategies for fund-raising.

Their primary fund-raising activity was “Brittany’s Knee Injury,” an educational program funded by the Northern New York State Area Health Education Center. “Brittany’s Knee Injury” is a Problem-Based Learning experience for local high school students that allows them to learn about physical therapy. The 2003 graduates organized and taught 75 students from local communities over four Saturdays in the spring of 2002.  The volunteers themselves will pay the remainder of the costs.

The five participating students are each members of the third class to graduate from Clarkson University's MPT program, which graduated its first class in December 2001. The program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education of the APTA. This certifies that the program meets the APTA professional standards for quality and that graduates of the program are qualified to become licensed physical therapists.

The MPT program at Clarkson emphasizes problem-based learning, a collaborative and self-directed method of learning that involves student teams using patient case studies to explore and learn about critical health issues. Students in the program continuously participate in clinical experiences during their two years of education. As students gain experience, they are placed in full-time clinical affiliations at 150 different settings across the nation, where they learn first-hand the role of a physical therapist.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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