Lauren Capozzi began her journey at the U of A Faculty of Science, hoping to turn her interest in the human body into a medical degree. Active and athletic herself, Capozzi realized early on how movement and biomechanics could have a positive effect on quality of life. A research opportunity focusing on exercise science sealed her transfer into the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation. To Capozzi, the connection between medical science, human body movement and functioning, and biomechanics were a link well worth exploring.
“My father was diagnosed with cancer when I was a teenager.” Lauren’s father was a very active man, who loved outdoors and pursuits such as waterskiing. “He went from someone who was incredibly active to not being able to get up the stairs without help.” When Capozzi’s father became bedridden, he knew it was time to end his treatments and passed away when she was 18. “Throughout his cancer treatment there was no support for him to remain active, thereby enhancing his quality of life.” Since then Capozzi’s interest has been to find a way to make a difference in the quality of life for people living with cancer. “It is important to provide rehabilitation programs for people going through cancer treatment, empowering them to remain active and feel strong throughout their recovery.”
After completing her BSc, Capozzi did not make her first bid into medical school, but found meaningful work in Calgary as a research assistant with noted researcher Dr. Nicole Culos-Reed, at the Health and Wellness Lab, which has a focus on the impact of exercise and rehabilitation on cancer populations. Soon Dr. Culos-Reed became Capozzi’s supervisor while she pursued her PhD. Capozzi was then accepted into medical school and transferred into the dual MD/PhD degree via the “Leaders in Medicine” program at the Cumming School of Medicine.
Capozzi has also been a part of establishing The Thrive Centre, an innovative fitness facility aiming to empower and improve the quality of life of people affected by cancer. It is free for use for cancer patients, survivors and their support people. The gym is monitored by exercise specialists and kinesiology student volunteers who have specific cancer and exercise training.
Looking back on a journey that started in her undergraduate degree, Capozzi realizes how important her exposure to research and applied study was in shaping her future—from anatomy class, to early undergraduate research with clinical populations. Capozzi has technically been in post-secondary school for 13 years, but the bulk of her time has been spent in practical, applied work and research outside the classroom.
“The Physical Education Faculty offered some unique opportunities. One that made a distinct impression on me was the opportunity to learn anatomy in a gross anatomy cadaver dissections course,” recalls Capozzi. From the beginning Capozzi was able to bridge her curiosity and desire to learn about human movement as it impacts clinical populations and to work alongside PhDs and clinical researchers. “That made a big difference. For example, FPER also requires a mandatory practicum in your undergraduate studies. I worked in an integrative health clinic, and I was able to apply everything I was learning in the classroom.” From undergraduate through graduate study, Capozzi has been engaged in clinical settings, working alongside researchers and clinicians, building critical relationships, and learning how to manage her studies, work and research. “Looking back it was a perfect setting for what I am doing now. It was a small faculty, and the mentorship was unique. My professors could take that extra bit of time to have a cup of coffee and discuss course material.” Capozzi recalls that after disappointment in not being accepted into Medical school, her FPER supervisor and professors wrote to her to support and encourage her. “They believed in me and that made a difference. “
What is she doing now? Capozzi is completing medical school, and is getting her new business, Thrivehealthservices.com off the ground. Thrive Health Services trains exercise practitioners to provide physical activity prescription for people with cancer. If she had a word of advice for prospective students it would be these: “Choose a path that is meaningful to you, take every opportunity for practical applied study, and surround yourself with people who encourage you to continue to pursue your goals. “
Written by Zanne Cameron