Alexis Heredia appears to have been born to be a Matador. And a physical therapist. Her parents met at California State University, Northridge, where her mother was finishing up her training to become a physical therapist.
Running cross country through high school and college, Heredia watched many teammates recover from injuries with the help of physical therapy — and it inspired her to pursue the discipline. This winter, she was one of 20 aspiring physical therapists helped toward their own academic finish line with the help of a special partnership.
The CSUN Department of Physical Therapy has a longstanding partnership with the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation and the Roy and Roxie Campanella Foundation. The foundations have joined together for the past four years to provide Roy and Roxie Campanella Scholarship to CSUN physical therapy students in the renowned doctorate program, which started with five scholarships at its inception before growing to its present number of 20 for the 2016-17 academic year.
On Feb. 3, the current scholarship cohort gathered for a luncheon at CSUN, where they met members of the Dodgers Foundation and Joni Campanella-Roan, who represented her parents’ foundation.
Heredia, like her fellow scholars, expressed their gratitude, as well as shared their personal stories and what led them to pursue careers as physical therapists.
Campanella’s personal journey from Major League All-Star catcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers to life in a wheelchair following a tragic car accident in 1958 was top of mind for the CSUN students.
“Seeing Roy Campanella’s story many years ago, it’s just so inspiring to see how his life was turned upside down because of [the car accident], and the power that physical therapists have to impact somebody’s life,” Heredia said. “Not only through physical rehab, but the emotional aspect and making [clients] want to pursue their passions again. Those are the big reasons why I wanted to pursue this career. Receiving this scholarship is a tremendous honor.”
After Campanella was paralyze he started physical therapy, and his diligent work helped him return to the Dodgers as a spring training instructor, where he tutored catchers such as Steve Yeager, Mike Scioscia and Mike Piazza. He also dove into work with the organization’s community relations department, devoting himself to local causes until his death in 1993.
The strong partnership between the Campanella Foundation and the Dodgers, to benefit future physical therapists, inspires Campanella-Roan every year.
“To see so many outstanding physical therapy [students], right now being a part of this program and all through the help of the Dodgers Foundation, it makes me very proud and makes my whole family proud,” Campanella-Roan said. “I just wish my father and mother were here to see this day, because it’s really grown a lot.”
Campanella’s place in baseball history is indelible. After Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947, Campanella started his remarkable career a year later. Many Civil Rights activists pay homage to those first African-American baseball players for integrating the national pastime and paving the road for people of color. The CSUN scholarship advances the legacy of Campanella and his contemporaries. That this luncheon happened during Black History Month continued to shed a light on Campanella’s honored role in the Civil Rights movement.
“We support so many organizations,” said Dodgers Foundation Executive Director Nichol Whiteman. “But for this one to come together with Roy Campanella, the first black catcher in Major League Baseball history, the invitation to the Dodgers Foundation to be a part of this partnership that falls so far in line with our education focus and our health focus, it really is a home run.”
CSUN faculty members concurred.
“The Roy and Roxie Campanella Scholarship highlights a very important relationship between the CSUN Department of Physical Therapy, the Campanella Foundation and the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation,” said Aimie Kachingwe, a physical therapy faculty member who has seen this association from the outset. “We are grateful that the Dodgers Foundation stepped forward four years ago to help fund and continue the Campanella scholarship. Given the exorbitant expenses associated with being in a doctorate program, the scholarship greatly assists these students to achieve their dreams of being physical therapists so that they can make a difference in the lives of their future patients.”
The Dodgers also have hosted a physical therapy intern during Arizona spring training since 2010. The ball club hired 2016 intern Johnathan Erb DPT ’16 (Physical Therapy), as a physical therapist for the team’s minor league players in its Glendale, Ariz., facility.
The passion for rehabilitation and healing was evident at the Feb. 3 luncheon as the scholars spoke about their lives.
“We’re taught this skill set, and the technical skills [for] the clinic,” Heredia said. “It goes beyond that in how we connect with our patients emotionally and build that trust with them. As physical therapy students and future physical therapists, we have this sense of empathy and compassion. And our patients feel that we truly care for them. It’s a very special career and bond that you share with your patient. They’ll remember us for the rest of their lives.”
Heredia’s class is the 60th to matriculate through CSUN’s physical therapy program. Her mother was in the 25th.
“I get this sense of family with the Dodgers Foundation and the Campanella Foundation that they’ve built with CSUN,” Heredia said. “We’re just truly grateful to have had this. I’m eager to see what’s going to happen in the future and how we can give back to future students as practitioners, give back to the community through volunteer work, philanthropic work, anything we can do to carry on his legacy and impact the lives of others.”