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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee 401-874-2116

Try keeping up with URI physical therapy director

KINGSTON, R.I. -- March 5, 2003 -- Try to keep up with Mark Rowinski and you may find yourself under his care. As director and professor of the Physical Therapy Program at the University of Rhode Island, Rowinski has been working to increase awareness of his department and the growing need for professionals in his field.

Whether providing fitness assessments to the largest youth hockey organization in the state or visiting high schools around the state, the Richmond resident is logging high mileage while serving and informing thousands of Rhode Islanders.

One of the major outreach programs involves the Southern Rhode Island Youth Hockey Association, which only began operations last fall but is already the largest such group with 488 youngsters. The alliance between URI Physical Therapy Program and the hockey association began in the infant days of the group, and is providing physical assessments to players 9 to 16 years old. Such assessments benefit the players and coaches because it enables them to gain knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses, and to tailor off-ice training maximizing performance. It also gives graduate students the chance to conduct research on the effectiveness of such training. Under Rowinski’s guidance, the graduate students tested the players at the beginning of their season and hope to revisit the group further down the road to follow their development.

"What happens to the players? Strength capacities are tested using instruments such as an isokinetic dynamometer, a computerized muscle force measuring device and other functional tests," Rowinski said.

"We also test the players in the areas of agility, and for strength in their backs, abdomens and legs," said Rowinski, who holds his doctorate in physiology and neuroscience from the Medical College of Georgia. "This is the first time that youth hockey players in the state are participating in an off-ice conditioning program, complementing their training," according to Rowinski.

"We believe this is the first partnership of its kind in the country," said Kirsten Maar, secretary of the local youth hockey association. "The purpose is to analyze the kids’ fitness and then see how off-ice training improves that fitness. Here is a great example of a top academic program at URI getting involved with a community athletic program, with each group benefiting from the link," said Maar.

If working with 488 young hockey players sounds like a lot of work, how about overseeing scoliosis screening for 1,000 boys and girls at Chariho Middle School? In April, Rowinski and a team of graduate students examine students for posture problems and scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine. State law requires that middle-school children be screened because of the rapid changes occurring in spinal development during those ages. Chariho’s health care staff requested some advice and help in conducting the screening, and found the URI offer to provide free screenings one it couldn’t refuse. Haleigh Lyons, URI student physical therapist who donated her time, remarked, "This opportunity puts experiential learning in a real perspective, allowing me to grow and develop in my future career through offering a quality service and putting into practice what we learn in theory."

But don&Mac226;t think the program’s and Rowinski’s work with schools ends in the Chariho district. He also offers tours of the URI physical therapy facilities to students from Lincoln, Westerly, Coventry, and Hope High Schools as well as La Salle Academy. The high school students observe and go through therapeutic electrical stimulation, cadaver study, computerized muscle performance assessment, and the aquatic exercise device made in Rhode Island known as the SwimEx. They also receive an introduction to the various professional training programs in medical and therapeutic health care.

Rowinski said it is important to expose young people to the health care professions. "Some of the best graduate students were inspired early in life through practical experience, so we try to provide younger students with an enjoyable learning introduction to the field."

When asked what advice Rowinski would give to those considering such careers, he said, "If a student is interested in physical therapy they must ask themselves whether they want to help a person through hands-on, patient contact. They need to establish if they want one-on-one contact with a patient. Helping people move takes a lot of time."

In addition to the tours, screenings and youth hockey work, Rowinski recently spoke at the Rhode Island Dance Alliance’s "Wellness Approach to Performance Arts Medicine" Seminar. Rowinski also represented the state Chapter of the American Physical Therapy Association Kids First Expo at the Rhode Island Convention Center and will be presenting with some graduate students at an after-school Physical Therapy Science program in North Kingstown’s Forest Park Elementary school. He also serves on the Marist College (NY) Health Professions Advisory Board, where he advises college administrators on pre-professional undergraduate program development preparing students for medical and therapeutic professional schools.

But why all this interest in reaching out to young people and schools? "My own three daughters, now in professional preparation, wanted me to come in and talk to their classes when they were in elementary school. There, in the twinkle of all the youngsters’ eyes, I saw inspiration was a two-way street!"

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