The idea of helping others is something that hits home for California State University, Northridge physical therapy student Ashley Peña.
In her second year in the university’s renowned doctorate in physical therapy program, Peña already has been able to help make a difference in the lives of so many people through the many clinical hours and volunteer work that she and her fellow classmates put in as part of their postgraduate work. Yet for Peña, there is more. Her mother is fighting a battle with multiple sclerosis, and her sister is receiving treatment for cancer.
Her family lives in central California, so Peña keeps up with their respective treatment protocols as best as she can while keeping her pace in such a demanding program. Yet, when joining them for medical appointments, Peña has seen “how people can treat you differently, either pity you or ignore you just because there’s something going on, because it’s easier,” she said. “So I think just going through that with them and helping them along with their rehab process has influenced me.”
Peña is one of 15 physical therapy students who recently were honored at a luncheon to commemorate a partnership between CSUN’s Physical Therapy doctoral program, the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation and the Roy and Roxie Campanella Foundation. The Dodgers and the Campanella Foundations have donated scholarships to CSUN physical therapy students like Peña who are on track to help people rehabilitate their bodies and, in some cases, their lives.
“It’s such a rare association to have with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Campanella family and their foundation, who have been such strong supporters of our program,” said Aimie Kachingwe, a physical therapy faculty member who was at the initial meetings to discuss this partnership more than six years ago. Kachingwe noted that the number of scholarships awarded by this partnership has grown from one to 15, and it will increase to 25 by fall 2017.
Helping these CSUN students is a way of giving back for the Campanella Foundation, as physical therapists played such a major part in the life of Roy Campanella, who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969. From 1948 to 1957, Campanella built one of the most decorated careers of any catcher in baseball history, earning the National League MVP award three times and leading the Brooklyn Dodgers to the World Series five times — winning it all in 1955. He was also one of the first African-American players in baseball history, debuting just a year after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947.
Campanella’s career came to a tragic halt when he was involved in a car accident during the offseason preceding the 1958 season, the Dodgers’ first in Los Angeles. The accident left him a quadriplegic, and his life changed forever at age 36.
His life began to change for the better when he started physical therapy. Though he would be wheelchair bound until his death in 1993, the work he did with physical therapy led him to become an active member of the Dodgers’ community relations department and part-time instructor of young catchers. Two of his prized pupils were Mike Scioscia and Mike Piazza, the latter joining Campanella in Cooperstown this summer.
“It’s wonderful to know that we’ve got great physical therapists who are going to be going out and helping people who have disabilities, who will be working with people like my father, and how they made such a difference in his life in terms of the immediate relationship of helping him find his spirit again and wanting to live,” said Roy’s daughter Joni Campanella-Roan, who attended the luncheon at CSUN’s Orange Grove Bistro and helped present the scholars with gifts. “It’s always inspiring to hear their stories and how much us giving them this wonderful scholarship impacts their lives, so that they can get out there and make a difference within the community, help to bring back people’s independence and make themselves self-sufficient. That was a major part of what made my father reenter society and reenter baseball — the independence he gained from the physical therapists.”
Though she never got the opportunity to see Campanella play, Peña and her classmates want to carry on his legacy in hopes of being able to help other patients who might be facing similar circumstances.
“It’s devastating to somebody — especially if they’re an athlete — to have a major injury like a car accident, like Roy Campanella, and their life is going to change,” Peña said. “But just being able to help them either adapt to those changes and get back to their life or form a new one, I think that’s definitely one of the biggest reasons why I love physical therapy. Just being able to help people on those journeys, help people adapt to a new way of life or get them back to what they were before if that’s possible. [Campanella] is an inspiring person in general.”
With Campanella having been such a prominent part of Dodger history both on and off the field, it seemed natural for the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation to become involved in the partnership to award these scholarships. In addition to the scholarships, the Dodgers have hosted a physical therapy intern during every Spring Training since 2011, with the intern getting real-world experience alongside the athletic trainers for the Major and Minor Leagues.
“We are proud to be supporters of such a special group of individuals,” said Nichol Whiteman, executive director of the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation. “It is our hope that the scholarship recipients will exemplify the proud legacy of Dodger great Roy Campanella.”
During the luncheon on campus, the scholars expressed their thanks for the scholarship, and how the funds will help them realize their dreams. They talked about the scarcity of scholarships that are dedicated to physical therapy students, and how they are able to volunteer as a result of the scholarships. Peña pointed out an event that is for recent amputees to help them adapt to their new lives.
“We were able to help out at that point, and if we had to find part-time jobs, we wouldn’t be able to do a lot of the volunteer things that CSUN brings to our attention,” Peña said.
“The more we have them out there in the community helping others, the prouder we are,” Campanella-Roan said. “My father’s dream was to be able to give opportunities so physical therapists could go out there and help so many people. Through the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation, this has been one of the partnerships that has allowed us as the Campanella Foundation to provide more scholarships, so there are more kids out there helping everybody.”
Through the CSUN physical therapy program, which only in recent years became a doctoral program, these students are thoroughly prepared to impact patients’ lives in the future. Their enthusiasm and passion was very evident, and those who are there to foster that drive look forward to the increase in scholarships — to help others grow their dreams through this unique association between CSUN, the Dodgers and the Campanella Foundation.
“It’s not about the job, it’s not about the money. It’s because they want to help people,” Kachingwe said. “It really becomes evident when you’re at something like this, and you hear them speak those words. They’re great PTs. If you ask anybody who works with CSUN physical therapy students, they will say these are some of the best physical therapists that are out there. Not only are they educationally prepared, but they’re just really good people.”