Former BGSU athlete draws parallels between training for 2024 U.S. Olympic trials and pursuing an accelerated physical therapy degree

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio — A two-time Bowling Green State University alumna and U.S. Olympic hopeful likens her marathon training to her efforts pursuing an accelerated physical therapy degree.

Rachel Walny '17, '21 said the training and preparation required to qualify for the 2024 U.S. Olympic trials is similar to how she's approaching the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at BGSU.

“As a runner, you have to be a self-starter and extremely disciplined,” she said. “There's a lot of work behind the scenes, and you really have to enjoy putting your head down and doing the work. It’s the same with this program. You have to have the self-discipline and focus to do what you need and get it done in the limited amount of time we have.”

The University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program is Ohio’s first and only public, accelerated, hybrid DPT program, and Walny is among 96 students in the first cohort – the largest in the state – that began last fall. This will be Walny's fourth degree from BGSU, where she was also a standout in track and cross-country.

Dr. Cheryl Obregon, assistant clinical professor in the School of Physical Therapy at BGSU, said Walny's drive to succeed has been evident from the start, both in class and in her role as a team leader. Students were grouped into teams of 10 at the beginning of the semester to provide each other support throughout the program.

“She’s already demonstrating skills of being the kind of leader who pushes people to be the best versions of themselves," Obregon said. "She leads by example and creates a path of trust with her colleagues in the cohort. I expect she’ll carry that into the future when interacting with her patients.

“She’s a hard worker, diligent, purposeful and gets the job done no matter what obstacle is in front of her.” 

Walny has a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and a dual master’s degree in kinesiology and food and nutrition from BGSU. As an undergraduate, she set numerous records in track and cross-country, including school-record times in the 5K, 6K, 5,000-meter indoors and 10,000-meter outdoors.

Walny also is the only BGSU athlete selected to the NCAA Division I All-Region Cross Country team during all four years of her eligibility. 

After graduating from BGSU in 2021 with her master’s degrees, Walny said she wasn’t sure of her path forward. Pursuing a doctorate in physical therapy had always been a thought, but she also considered a career in dietetics.

Then, the University announced its new hybrid DPT program, and Walny said she took it as a sign.

“When they announced the program, I thought it sounded perfect,” she said. “I had such a good academic experience at BGSU that I felt this program would be a natural fit.”

Walny, like most of her cohort, lives out of state and travels to BGSU twice a semester for hands-on clinical practice. Along with the demands of the program, she works part-time at a local running store in Clinton Township, Michigan, near her home.

She said the flexibility of the hybrid model has been crucial to managing it all.

“It’s definitely a lot of work with it being an accelerated program, but the hybrid aspect really provides us with such an advantage because we can complete our classes from anywhere,” Walny said as she sat in the Clinton-Macomb Public Library between classes. “I’m able to schedule my week around my classes and study time.”

Because of her involvement in collegiate athletics, Walny said she’s interested in a career in sports physical therapy.

She said she’d like to combine her knowledge of physical therapy with her background in nutrition to provide athletes with a holistic approach to their performance.

“A lot of times, nutrition is not something that’s considered in the world of physical therapy,” Walny said. “But combining nutrition with physical therapy, especially with athletes, is necessary for their all-around health.”

Walny is training to qualify for the U.S. Olympic marathon trials — a race that she hasn't run even as a seasoned runner. When it gets difficult, she said she focuses on her goals.

“Some runs are definitely harder than others,” Walny said. “When I need to push through, I think about the goals I’m training for and how grateful I am for the opportunity. I approach the DPT program with the same mindset. I stay focused on my goals and push forward even when it’s difficult.”

Updated: 12/11/2023 12:09PM