Compiled by Corey Riner, Contributing Writer
Assistant Professor of Athletic Training Dr. Meleesa Wohleber recently shared her study on physical characteristics in Special Operations Forces in Melbourne, Australia at the 4th International Congress on Soldiers’ Physical Performance.
Q: What was the inspiration behind such an in-depth and specialized study?
A: The US military has recognized over years of research that musculoskeletal injuries are an issue for health and also readiness of our troops. When I was at the University of Pittsburgh, the Department of Defense awarded grant funding to conduct research on injury prevention and performance optimization on Special Operations Forces, which had largely not been studied.
Q: What prompted you to go into the field of athletic training?
A: When I was in high school, my favorite classes were biology and human anatomy & physiology, not only the content of the science I learned, but also due to the teacher of those classes, and I still keep in touch with that teacher to this day. I was a scholastic-athlete as well, so athletic training appealed to me because I loved science and I wanted to work in a field that tied physical activity and science together.
Q: Was it intimidating, presenting your research to such a large range of international experts?
A: I was nervous before presenting to a much larger crowd than I’m used to. And it being an international audience certainly raised the stakes. But once I got up there (and I had rehearsed many times), I actually felt confident and did the presentation. Afterwards, I had a few people come up to me and say they enjoyed the presentation and thought I did a great job; it’s always nice to get that feedback.
Q: Are there any research projects or specialized activities that you have in mind for the future?
A: As a result of the Australia trip, I made a contact at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Maryland; an injury prevention screening research study is being conducted at the Marine Corp Base in Quantico, Virginia, with the Marine Officer Basic School. They invite athletic training students to come down and participate in the data collection for the study to gain some research experience. We are taking a trip with some of our students towards the end of March. The Athletic Training Program is also working on some case studies on some interesting injuries we’ve seen, as well as teaming up with Exercise Physiology on some performance and injury prevention research with the Men’s Soccer team. We hope to include more athletic teams in the future.
Q: As you met with so many experts, were there any surprises or new information that you hadn’t considered in your line of work?
A: It was great to speak with so many different professions in the health science, performance, and sports medicine areas. A large focus on the conference was on the mental health of the soldier and how to train the mind as well as the body. I think while that information is not necessarily new, I think we are seeing more emphasis on mental health education and strategies in coping with stress and improving performance in many different areas, not just physical activity, but in education, in the workplace, etc.
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