A moving impact on lives

With each New Year, gyms fill with people working out to fulfill resolutions. Meanwhile, at Cal State L.A., kinesiology programs are stretching the abilities of exercise and training to help the human body achieve more than ever.

In two unique, University-run programs, students work hands-on with community members to develop mobility and physical strength—and are even changing lives—through modified, therapeutic exercise and training.

Each week, about a dozen clients visit the University’s Mobility Center and Locomotor Training Laboratory, where budding trainers work one-on-one or in groups to reload muscles and movement. The facilities serve an array of clients: from those with physical disabilities, to persons working to recover from a stroke or to regain the ability to walk after spinal cord injuries.

 “I am so happy it’s here,” said Andrea Jennings, a client of the Locomotor Training Laboratory. Jennings has been working off and on through the lab to learn how to walk unassisted since she suffered spinal cord and brain injuries in a car accident in October 2000. “Being up on that machine, walking—the feeling is amazing. It gives you hope.”

Jennings, originally told by doctors that she would never walk again without assistance, has begun to do so. Exercise, research shows, is an important part of recovery and can be instrumental in teaching the body and spinal cord to work without the brain.

“What we have found is it’s more of a ‘use it or lose it’ phenomenon,” said Kinesiology Professor Ray de Leon. “If you are injured, and you just sit at home, you get worse.”

de Leon oversees both the Mobility Center and the Locomotor Training Laboratory, assisted by colleagues, physical therapist Connie Wong and Assistant Professor Christine Dy.

Both facilities have been on campus for years, de Leon notes. But Wong and Dy, he said, have enhanced professionalism, and added to students’ learning opportunities with their skills, new courses and research, while also extending the reach of the centers into the community. The result of which has been the growth of an affordable, comprehensive exercise training and rehabilitation program that not only serves the community, but prepares students for advanced studies in physical and occupational therapies, medicine, research and other fields.

“I really like all the hands-on opportunities I have had here,” said kinesiology student Eunice Wong, who volunteers her time in both the Mobility Center and the Locomotor Training Laboratory as a way of acquiring experience and credit for graduate school. ”I’ve learned about body mechanics, and how to be creative in planning exercise.”

Fellow senior Natalie Sotelo agreed, pointing to her increased confidence and ease with working with clients after just 10 weeks in the Mobility Center.

“One of the more creative activities that I designed to keep a client entertained while working on skills was an obstacle course. I had her do a push up, then a bear crawl on the floor, and then she had to stand up on one leg. She loved it,” Sotelo said.

Both centers’ successes, Wong and Dy said, are due in large part to one-on-one student/client interactions.

The students benefit from the opportunity to learn from each other and clients, and the clients profit from access to affordable, cutting-edge treatment, Wong and Dy said. Many clients also enjoy the fact that they are helping students prepare for their future careers by utilizing the University’s facilities, Wong said.

“Coming here has just been wonderful,” said Rosie Najera, a client who was working out with Sotelo on a recent afternoon. Najera visits the center twice a week to stretch and improve movement on the left side of her body.

“Just intermingling with the young people gives you a lot of encouragement,” she said. “They help in every way that they can—and it’s not just physical. If you are having an emotionally difficult time, they give you a hug.”

Wong and Dy hope to continue to expand on services and research. Grant funding that de Leon secured through the Recovery Act, and Dy was awarded for pilot work on plasticity are big steps forward toward those goals.