Magellan Scholar Takes a Hike Into Physical Therapy Career

Created: July 26, 2016
Last Updated: August 5, 2020

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WASHINGTON, PA (July 26, 2016) – Ashton Grimm ’18 knew that completing her Magellan Project would be an uphill hike – literally. The neuroscience major from Connellsville, Pa. used her 2016 Magellan award to hike part of the Pacific Crest Trail and study muscle fatigue and soreness.

“I am big into sports and want to do physical therapy when I graduate, so this helped give me an introduction to that field,” Grimm said.

Grimm, a midfielder for W&J’s women’s soccer team, left Pennsylvania on May 24. Accompanied by her former teammate and close friend Alexa Harris ’16, she spent the next seven days hiking 100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, studying the effects of up and down-hill hiking on muscle strain along the way. After each day of hiking, Grimm evaluated her own pain points and muscle soreness compared to the type of hiking she had done that day. She found that muscle soreness was worse after hiking downhill, while muscle fatigue was worse after hiking uphill.

Navigation was difficult at times and the women had to cut the hiking experience short due to cold weather and forest fires in the area, but Grimm said the challenges were valuable.

“I learned that I can make decisions in crunch time,” she said. “I can be independent, and I don’t have to rely on others to make decisions for me.”

An internship with Dr. Julie Guthrie of Synergie Physical Therapy in Westchester, Calif. capped her experience, and she spent June 7-14 shadowing Guthrie and other physical therapists in the practice.

She shadowed physical therapists as they created treatment plans to rehabilitate patients with neck, back and joint pain, post-surgical conditions, and chronic pain. She learned to use a gait analysis system to examine patient’s pain points and determine which muscle was causing the pain. The therapists also begin to teach her about the three planes of motion and various ways to correctly stretch different muscles.

She also learned more about her evaluation of her own muscles while hiking. The physical therapists confirmed that her experience was normal, and explained why. When walking downhill, eccentric muscle contraction occurs, muscles are actively lengthening, and more muscles are used to stabilize your joints. Muscle fatigue, caused in part by lactic acid buildup in muscles during a workout, is worse when hiking uphill because this is a more strenuous activity.

After working with professional athletes, Grimm said she is now considering a career in both concussion treatment and physical therapy.

“I’d rather be at the part of someone’s life where you’re helping them get better rather than having to tell them bad news,” she said.

Grimm said her Magellan expereince influenced her beyond the classroom.

“I never thought that I would get this project and be awarded the money,” Grimm said. “I was so not confident in myself. That has definitely changed after this experience. I learned a lot about the world and about people. Now that I did this Magellan I feel like I can do anything.”

To learn more about Grimm’s Magellan Project, see her blog: Muscle Fatigue in SoCal.

About the Magellan Project

Established in 2008, Washington & Jefferson College’s unique Magellan Project extends liberal arts learning outside the classroom by providing scholarship funding for students to spend the summer pursuing independent projects and internships in the United States and abroad. Learn more about the Magellan Project on the W&J website.

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work.

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