Paying It Forward: Former Pioneers Are Physical Therapy Doctors in Training
By Heather Brocious
Two former Pioneers who have benefited from the care of talented physical therapists during their athletic careers will soon be paying it forward to help other athletes. Softball shortstop Katelyn Miele ’14 and men’s soccer midfielder Wes Ostrzycki ’14 are both currently completing their second year of physical therapy school.
Miele knew early on she wanted to pursue a career in a medical field, and discovered that physical therapists get to spend more time with their patients while also leading more active lifestyles during their workdays. Her desire to eventually attend physical therapy school helped narrow her college search.
“A lot of schools I looked at weren’t very interested in having an athlete who was going to pursue physical therapy or biology as a major, just because of the time commitment it would require on the academic side,” she recalls. “I knew academics were going to come first and softball second, but I did want to compete on the college level. After meeting with softball head coach Hallie Cohen and finding out the kind of person she was, I knew I would have the support I needed at William Paterson, and I would be close enough that my family would be able to watch me play.”
The Flanders native initially considered enrolling in an accelerated bachelor’s/doctoral program that would fast track her undergraduate degree completion, but realized she didn’t want to skip her senior softball season. The Pioneers are certainly glad she stayed, as the four-year starter was an unquestioned leader on and off the field. A four-time all-conference and three-time all-region selection, Miele helped the Pioneers secure a berth in the 2014 NCAA tournament as a senior while compiling career numbers that rank her among the program’s leaders in nearly every offensive category.
“Katelyn excelled academically while also becoming an immediate impact player and leader,” says Cohen. “She was the youngest captain to ever fill that role, and earned recognition as one of the top players in our conference and region. She always strived to be better every day and helped to leave this program better than she found it. Katelyn never chose the easy path, instead pursuing an extremely demanding schedule and set of standards for herself when she could have easily opted to focus solely on her academics.”
Miele enrolled at the Rutgers School of Health Related Professions in fall 2014, and following a year spent in classrooms and laboratories, she completed a clinical rotation at Chilton Hospital in Pequannock last summer. More classroom work and lab hours on campus this academic year will lead to three clinical rotations, followed by board examinations. While the program has been rigorous and demanding, she felt well prepared, thanks to her experiences at William Paterson.
“As a biology major, I know the anatomy and how to read and understand medical literature, which has been a big help,” says Miele, who was a Dean’s List student and Honors College graduate. “As a student-athlete, you have to learn to use your time wisely and be disciplined, to get your work done on the weekends or when you have any little bit of downtime. Now I’m in class from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, and I have to be just as disciplined about getting my studying finished.”
“We know our program prepares students academically, as the courses are difficult and the program is quite rigorous,” says Claire Leonard, a William Paterson professor of biology and the College of Science and Health’s pre-professional advisor, who has seen nearly 20 former students continue on to Rutgers’ physical therapy program. “Katelyn always knew she wanted to go to physical therapy school, and she was an energetic and animated student who was more than willing to help her peers. I always thought she would be a perfect candidate for a career in physical therapy because she has that love for athletics. She lives and breathes it.”
Physical therapy is a wide-ranging field, encompassing specialties from “pediatrics to geriatrics,” as Miele explains, and she is keeping her options open as she progresses through her program of study. Ostrzycki is focused on a career in sports rehabilitation after he graduates from the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine. When the Edison native transferred to William Paterson from Monmouth University in 2011, he determined that he wanted to study kinesiology, choosing to major in athletic training.
“I knew I didn’t want the kind of job where I would be sitting behind a desk all day,” the two-year Pioneer soccer starter explains. “My favorite part of the program was being in the athletic training room, developing treatment plans and helping athletes return to competition. That’s a real passion of mine, and that experience helped to solidify my decision to go on to physical therapy school.”
A certified athletic trainer, the Dean’s List student felt he was ahead of the curve when he began his graduate work, due to the knowledge he gained as an undergraduate at the University.
“I already knew the anatomy and how the body works and moves, so I have been able to help some of my current classmates,” he says. “I have even had the opportunity to help teach some of the classes I am in now at Miami, like orthopedics, taping, and evaluation. And it wasn’t a culture shock for me to work hands-on with patients in the classroom or clinical settings because it’s what you do every day as an athletic training student.”
“Wes always maintained high academic standards, and was self-motivated to complete all his course requirements and athletic training clinical experiences in an exceptional manner,” says Linda Gazzillo Diaz, professor of kinesiology and director of William Paterson’s Athletic Training Education Program. “In fact, during his senior year, he was awarded the prestigious Eastern Athletic Trainers' Association District 2 Kent Scriber Scholarship, and he passed the athletic training Board of Certification examination on his first attempt. Most notably, he was accepted into Miami’s doctor of physical therapy program, which is one of the top 10 programs in the country. I know that Wes’s intelligence, professional skills, and work ethic will promote his future success.”
Less than a week after earning his bachelor’s degree at William Paterson, Ostrzycki was in Miami to begin the program with a full year’s worth of classroom and lab work. Now in the midst of an eight-week clinical rotation at the Sports Physical Therapy Institute in Hillsborough, he will return to South Florida for more classes before beginning three consecutive eight-week internships next fall.
“We have the opportunity to take electives, which is rare for physical therapy schools,” Ostrzycki explains. “There are so many little niches, so an elective like going out and sailing with amputees can give you a good idea of where you want to take your career.”
When he is not working as a certified athletic trainer with Miami’s club teams or helping out the Pioneers part-time when in New Jersey, Ostrzycki is involved in the University of Miami community, participating in programs like the Hurricane Challenge with Miami-area schoolchildren. The demands on his time are challenging, but nothing new.
“For student-athletes, time management and discipline are big,” he says. “You have to be self-motivated to succeed, or you will fail. I learned that from being a soccer player, and because of what I experienced when I was injured, it helped me realize this is what I want to do. There are several other former student-athletes in my program, and I believe we have a distinct advantage over our other classmates because of the skills we developed as college athletes.”
William Paterson soccer head coach Brian Woods, who began coaching Ostrzycki on the youth level, has not been surprised by his former pupil’s achievements.
“Wes is one the most conscientious, self-driven people I have ever been around, both academically and athletically,” Woods says. “His intensity on the field was second to none, and he always knew how to take care of his body as an athlete. Wes has accomplished every goal, whether it was playing college soccer, having the highest GPA of his graduating student-athlete class, or getting into one of the top physical therapy programs in the country. I have no doubt that he’ll be just as successful after he graduates.”