Physical therapy experience inspires student to pursue sports medicineMay 27, 2015
When Christian Leandro found his passion for sports medicine, it occurred on the opposite side of the tape. During his second year, Leandro was playing soccer on the Intramural Field when he tore his left ACL for the second time. For Leandro, who was newly accepted into the UCLA Undergraduate Sports Medicine Internship Program, it was a moment of pain, but also of realization.
The fourth-year physiological science student was no stranger to injuries. He broke his arm playing basketball in middle school and later tore his ACL playing high school soccer. It was during those stretches of rehabilitation and working with athletic trainers that he said he knew he wanted to work in the health care field.
First, his plan was to become an orthopedist, then it was to go pre-med, but finally he settled on the internship program at the Acosta Athletic Training Complex.
Leandro entered the program in his second year, starting his in-service duties, which included learning skills and then being tested on them. As Leandro learned more skills using the modality equipment and gained more knowledge about injuries and treatment, he came to appreciate the process of digesting information and applying it to hands-on activities.
“I still think my favorite thing about it is the hands-on component of it,” Leandro said. “You’re taking information that is taught to you – hands-on, practical information – and you get to take that and apply it.”
However, the first quarter did not come without second guesses. Leandro said there were days he wished he didn’t have the homework or didn’t have to do some of the more menial tasks. He added that the long days also wore on him.
That all changed after the third round of cuts. Leandro found out on the Friday of eighth week during winter quarter that he had been accepted into the program. The following Sunday night was when Leandro tore his ACL for the second time.
After learning so much during the quarter, Leandro said he gained a whole new perspective after the second tear and could really see himself doing physical therapy and sports medicine.
“I was neither here nor there at some points during the first couple of quarters,” Leandro said. “But after that point, I was like, ‘I’m down, this is fun and I like it,’ and I haven’t looked back since. I’ve enjoyed a lot of it.”
During his second time going through physical therapy, Leandro realized that was the field he wanted to get into in graduate school and beyond. He is currently a physical therapist assistant at the Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center.
Once Leandro started as a rookie in the program in spring 2013, the basic tasks that may have bothered him at first gave way to more hands-on opportunities that Leandro said he couldn’t find elsewhere. He said his favorite experience was during his second year, when he took an evaluative skills class on how to recognize different injuries, create treatment and rehabilitation plans for an athlete and put them into action.
As he learned more about the application, the athletic trainer he worked with during spring quarter asked him more frequently to take care of athletes’ complaints and injuries.
“It was like, ‘Really? You want to hear what I have to think?’ That was really cool, and it just builds from there,” Leandro said.
Soft-spoken, Leandro said that he barely talked during his first quarter in the program, but as he got to know the trainers better and was asked to take on more and more responsibilities, he said his confidence rose and interacting with trainers and athletes became more natural.
“(It was) a confidence boost, being able to interact with people I don’t know – especially in this context, whether it’s new athletic trainers or coaches or new players that come in,” Leandro said. “I feel more comfortable walking up to them and talking to them.”
Leandro’s student medicine partner on men’s soccer, third-year psychobiology student Laura Steindorf, said she has seen Leandro become more vocal.
“He’s definitely come out of his shell a lot more,” Steindorf said. “He used to be a lot quieter too, when I was working with him.”
Leandro, an avid soccer player, said one of his most memorable experiences was traveling with the soccer team to North Carolina for the final two games of the season. Not only did Leandro get to work on the sport he loves, but he also got to work with a team that Steindorf said is sociable and easy to work with.
Part of that ability to communicate easily with athletes comes from Leandro’s experience from sustaining injuries and going through the rehabilitation process. He said sometimes when he tells athletes about his injuries, they are surprised, but it ultimately helps him understand what the athlete is going through while reassuring the athlete that the trainer has been there before too.
“(Knowing that process) helps me empathize with them a little better, at least sympathize with them a little better, and be able to connect with them that maybe in ways I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, because I know it’s like to sit there and not be able to do anything,” Leandro said.
Tandi Hawkey, Leandro’s supervisor during his rookie year and the senior athletic trainer for men’s soccer, said that experience allows Leandro to better describe to an injured athlete what to expect, taking away their fear of the unknown.
“Being able to say, ‘When I went through that, this is kind of how the outcome was, this is what to expect the first couple of days, the first couple of weeks or so’ – to have that own personal experience and to share that with them – I think is really helpful,” Hawkey said.
As Leandro gained confidence, he shifted into a leadership position as the senior intern on the teams he works with, which are men’s soccer and track and field. Steindorf said he’s been a mentor for her, going out of his way to teach her skills that weren’t taught by the athletic trainers or helping her with a taping technique she struggled with.
“Christian’s the man. He’s a mentor in every sense of the word,” Steindorf said. “He really goes above and beyond what is expected of him in this program in terms of passing down the skills that are necessary to be a top-level athletic trainer.”
Likewise, Hawkey said she has seen that change in leadership and that Leandro’s proactive approach and ability to see the big picture make him a great trainer and a great coworker. She said he’ll anticipate an issue and fix it without waiting to be given direct instruction.
Leandro said when he saw his first-year mentor for the first time after being accepted, she gave him a disclaimer.
“She was like, ‘Congrats! Your life at UCLA will never be the same,’ and it really wasn’t,” Leandro said. “A lot of time went into it (and) a lot of effort, but its been so worth it.”
Now on the other side of the tape, Leandro has found his passion and is carving his path for the future.