Wednesday, February 21, 2018


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Kaitlyn Smith 2012 Winner of the Cross Keys Physical Therapy Scholarship

kateFrom early childhood, I lived a very active lifestyle, which revolved around sports.  By age ten, I played every sport I could get my hands on, but by middle school, my heart belonged to cheerleading. I loved the challenging stunts we performed and I was never afraid of a little spotlight. As my cheerleading and gymnastic abilities advanced, so did the stunts. They became gradually more difficult to perform and were growing more and more dangerous if not executed correctly.

At a particularly long and enduring practice, I was dropped onto the gym floor by accident which resulted in painful fracture in my coccyx. I however, managed to stay dedicated to the sport I loved. I enjoyed the competition, friendships, and mostly, the ability to inspire my fellow cheerleaders to work longer, and compete harder. I noticed I was a good motivator and my enthusiasm for the sport was contagious, which earned me the “cheer nerd” paper plate award. By senior year in High School, I was not only a captain on two cheerleading teams, but also worked as a part-time cashier at Wegman’s Supermarket. Life was hectic, but doing what I love made it all seem worthwhile.

Spanning from long years of cheerleading and immense amount of pressure on my body, I began to experience extremely painful spasms in my lumbar spine, which hindered my ability to perform the stunts I was so used to doing with ease. Subsequently, I was advised physical therapy. I just two months, my pain was alleviated and the spasms were completely gone. It was then that I realized the full benefits that physical therapy can offer and my curiosity to learn more was triggered. Not only did my body benefit from physical therapy, but the sessions also educated me on what I could do outside of therapy, in order to prevent injury from reoccurring.  

Shortly after, my brother tore his ACL and meniscus while snowboarding.  He was an avid snowboarder and therefore devastated by the injuries. While monitoring his progress through therapy, I became fascinated by the profession and the way it allowed my brother to increase his strength, mobility, and function relatively fast after they were lost from the injury. The injury was impacting him physically and emotionally, but with the compassion, motivation, and support from the physical therapist and our family, he was soon able to go back to doing what he loved most-snowboarding. Watching this improvement, further ignited my desire to learn more about physical therapy and the benefits it provided. I was accepted to the University of Tampa and declared my major Exercise Science and Sports Studies.

I loved learning about the human body, prevention and care of specific injuries, and what muscles work to produce movement in kinesiology. As I began my junior year of college, I began searching for physical therapy offices where I could complete observational hours and expand my knowledge about the profession. I completed 80 observational hours at an outpatient facility called “Select Physical Therapy”. I witnessed firsthand the benefits and challenges of physical therapy. Seeing each patient improve with physical therapy demonstrated how rewarding the profession is regardless of challenges faced throughout.

Following my junior year, I planned to complete more observational hours; however, having no financial support from my family and only a small amount of money from loans I took out, work and school took up the majority of my time. Working up to 30 hours a week as a waitress, I had to manage both school and work. There were times where I felt extremely stressed and overworked, but never discouraged. Being able to successfully manage my time and financially support myself has shaped me into the well rounded person I am today. My priorities were in line and I stayed focused which led to me finishing my last semester with a 4.0 grade point average. In addition, I was nominated for the “Major of the Year” award for the National Association of Sports and Physical Education for Kinesiology. I was chosen by all of my professors and was the only student in the allied health program at UT to receive the award. It was a great honor and a moment I am very proud of.

Following graduation, I relocated to New Jersey, in order to be closer to my family, friends and longtime boyfriend. Knowing that I would have a year off from school I wanted to gain more experience working in the physical therapy field. I began searching for a physical therapy aide position so that I could get the hands on experience I wanted. I was soon employed at Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy as well as Cross Keys Physical therapy. I enjoyed learning new information, medical terminology, and getting to work hands on with patients not only on land, but in aquatic therapy as well. With further education, experiences and drive, I hope to one day excel in helping people improve their overall quality of life. They say that there is no better way to learn than by experiencing things yourself. Well, I was a patient myself, and therefore understand clearly the emotional and physical challenges people experience when faced with pain and inability to perform tasks they are used to performing with ease. When in this field, I strongly believe that it is my responsibility to motivate others and ensure that they have complete trust in me and my guidance.

I was recently accepted in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at the University of St. Augustine in St. Augustine, FL. If awarded this scholarship, it will allow me to continue my education at USA focusing more on my studies and less on the financial struggles that await. I envision a long and rewarding career in this field. I am eager to expand my knowledge in order to meet the daily requirements and challenges that lie ahead.