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President's Blog: From the Heart

Camryn Yacks, adaptive skiing

The Joy of Serving

By Eric F. Spina

Camryn Yacks’ teammates shouted out encouragement after she air-balled her first shot playing wheelchair basketball.

As athletes with disabilities, they know it’s not easy the first time you wheel out on the court, even if you were a college athlete like Camryn.

“At first, I’d do the drills, but didn’t know the strategy behind the game,” Camryn told me. “It’s like being in bumper cars on the court. I’ve never had the experience where I walked into a room and was the different one, but the players welcomed me.”

Camryn, who will graduate from UD with a doctorate in physical therapy this spring, stopped in my office this week after finishing clinical rotations with FC Cincinnati, a professional soccer club. While we could have talked soccer all day, I wanted to hear about her immersive independent study project with Invictus Physical Therapy and The Bridge Adaptive Sports and Recreation, a nonprofit organization that promotes opportunities for individuals to participate — and compete — in adaptive sports to improve the quality of their lives.

Before we dove into her capstone project, I congratulated her for the research she did with two classmates and Dr. Joaquin Barrios on ankle joint mobility, which took first place in the Foot and Ankle Poster category at the American Physical Therapy Association’s annual scientific conference in Boston last week.

Do-it-all students like Camryn make me so proud as president because they are ambassadors for the University of Dayton’s mission of Learn. Lead. Serve. She’s a graduate assistant for Dr. Matt Day, who said Camryn is discovering her vocation through her work with athletes with disabilities. “She’s using her gifts for the betterment of the community in a way that brings joy to her life and that of others,” he observed.

I felt her joy and passion when she shared how she took a hands-on approach to designing her independent study. She studied and earned specialized certification as a trainer and devoted hours learning how to play adaptive basketball and tennis. She also spent time on the climbing wall as well as on the ski slopes, where she worked with instructors to help athletes steer and control their speed. As a physical therapist, she treated a CrossFit athlete experiencing shoulder and hip pain. In an effort to communicate the importance of adaptive sports for individuals with disabilities, she interviewed athletes and produced short documentaries about their achievements — through their eyes.

“A lot of disability awareness is simply normalizing their experiences,” she said. “These individuals don’t want to be seen as superhuman. They want to be seen as athletes. I’m sharing the people and stories behind each program.”

Camryn’s interest in the field started at an eighth grade career day when a Paralympic hand cyclist talked about overcoming adversity. That led to a high school stint volunteering with Special Olympics Unified Sports programs. After she graduated from Xavier University, where she played soccer and earned a degree in exercise science, she helped a soccer coach with a brain injury in his recovery.

This work has become her vocation.

“Your work — whether it’s service or earning a paycheck — should never feel like an assignment,” said Camryn, who is eyeing a future career in the niche area of adaptive sports rehabilitation.

Camryn came to the University of Dayton because she aspires to be more than a competent clinician. She wants to have an impact for others. She wants to be a servant-leader.

On the cusp of graduation, she’s being called to use her gifts to serve others.

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