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School of Physical Therapy Celebrates 15 Years of ‘Family’

Garrett's Hero Run

More than 100 alumni return for reunion

Belmont’s School of Physical Therapy celebrated its 15-year anniversary of DPT graduates this month with a first-ever reunion for the three-year doctoral program. In addition to networking with one another and PT faculty and staff, the event allowed alumni to earn Continuing Education course credit and to provide support for a few special members.

Physical Therapy Reunion 2015Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy Dr. Christi Williams is a 2005 alum of the program and co-chaired organizing the reunion with fellow 2005 alumna Dr. Kristi Roland, a physical therapist with U.S. HealthWorks in Madison, Tennessee. “The Belmont PT program is special,” Williams said. “We turn out highly educated students… It’s a demanding program but no one who goes through it feels like they have to do it on their own. There’s very much a family feel among the students and faculty, and we’re all in it for a bigger reason.”

That sentiment was driven home with Saturday morning’s event, a one-mile walk held in honor of Garrett Sapp, son of 2005 PT graduate Amber Sapp. Garrett was diagnosed five years ago with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a rare and fatal neuromuscular disorder. Garrett’s Hero Run was designed as a way to raise awareness and funds for Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (PPMD), and with participants wearing costumes of their favorite superheroes, Garrett is given a sense of normalcy and fun. The hero run at the reunion brought in approximately $15,000.

“These are the people who went through the fire with you and held your hand the whole way. These are the people I still want by my side.”

Amber Sapp said, “When I was in Physical Therapy school at Belmont, my classmates became my family. We were challenged to our breaking point and yet overcame so much together during our time there. When my son, Garrett, was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy five years ago, one of the first calls I made was to a fellow alumni who I had done a clinical rotation with in pediatrics in the past. I knew her Belmont credentials alone were enough, but I also remember her friendship and kindness when I was a student. These are the types relationships that are built at Belmont.   The reunion was such a special time to be able to reconnect with many of the people who had an impact on my life in some way or other. To remember the fun times and the tough times, to learn of the paths life has taken them all on–these relationships are what gets you through the stuff of life. These are the people who went through the fire with you and held your hand the whole way. These are the people I still want by my side.”

Following Garrett’s Hero Run, alumni enjoyed tours of McWhorter Hall, a charity fair and networking groups, including a time to discuss the advanced certifications individuals had received after graduating from Belmont. While specializations in orthopedics were clearly popular among the Belmont grads, others received advanced training in dry needling, myofascial trigger points, aquatics, cardiac life support, kinesio taping, athletic training and infant massage, among countless other specialties. Moreover, alumni came from all over the U.S., representing practices from Florida to Alaska. The physical therapy grads are employed in a variety of settings from hospitals, home health organizations and rehabilitation centers to  universities and professional sports teams.

Sara Walker FamilyDr. David Greathouse, who founded Belmont’s program, returned to campus for the reunion and co-taught a continuing education anatomy course with Professor of Physical Therapy Dr. John Halle. Greathouse and Halle also spoke at the reunion’s dinner reception Saturday night, which was led by current program chair Dr. Renee Brown. A highlight of the evening came from a talk given by Jody Pigg, the father of 2003 alumna Sara Walker, who died in 2012 from colon cancer. After sharing a bit of Sara’s story and her fight “to find the extraordinary in an ordinary life,” Pigg and the rest of Sara’s family, including her sister Dinah Hall who is a 2006 Belmont PT alum, were presented with the establishment of a new scholarship named in honor of the Sara Walker Foundation.

Lexi Headen, a current third-year year student in Belmont’s PT program who volunteered for the reunion, noted that a resounding theme of the day was the idea of a”Belmont Family.” “There is something different about Belmont PTs,” she said, “and while it may be a combination of things like intelligence, drive and innovation, it is our heart that ultimately separates us. It started with the teachers who put their students first, who take pride in training us as colleagues, not simply students. It is in the alumni and students who pull together to raise thousands of dollars for a classmate’s child, who continue the tradition of service to those far less fortunate than ourselves. It is heart that keeps this ‘family’ close and gives Belmont PT the unique and wonderful experience that we all can share.”

Halle added, “It is gratifying to see so many of our graduates take the time to come back, reconnect and share the ways in which they are positively impacting their families and the communities that they live in. This group of graduates–with their professional expertise and service to the community through entities like the Sarah Pigg Walker Foundation, PPMD, Canine Friends and many others–allow us to proudly say that ‘our graduates are our credentials.'”

Roland concluded, “This program is more than just graduating the next wave of physical therapists. Students entering this program are there to receive a top notch education so they can heal the masses… they leave with so much more.  To be a Belmont School of Physical Therapy Graduate means you are a part of a family that supports you when you’re down, connects you when you’re lost, celebrates you when you succeed and honors you when you’re gone. It was amazing to see both alumni and current students come together to create an event where the sum was so much greater than all its parts.”