Katie HenleyA fall from a ladder in 2008 left Katie Henley’s father with a high-level, cervical spinal cord injury. Now a first-year student in the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Ph.D. in Rehabilitation Science program, an interdisciplinary program sponsored by the Department of Occupational Therapy and the Department of Physical Therapy, the Hollis, NH native is exploring the possibilities of exercise as a form of medicine.

“Having a father with tetraplegia is a very personal driving force behind my work,” Henley says. “He was a champion of education – always reminding me to do my best and extremely supportive of my endeavors. He taught me that hard work, kindness, and faith go a long way.”

Henley was drawn to UAB by the work of James Rimmer, Ph.D., the Endowed Chair in Health Promotion and Rehabilitation Sciences at the Lakeshore Foundation. “He is a leader in the field of disability and exercise,” she explains. “I was also drawn to the research collaborative he directs between UAB and Lakeshore Foundation.”

Since arriving at UAB last Fall, Henley has assisted with the development of a remote tele-exercise program for individuals with spinal cord injury and has researched the relationship between stress and neuropathic pain in a rodent model of spinal cord injury. She is currently examining the benefits of high-intensity interval training vs moderate-intensity exercise in adolescent males.

“I recently co-authored a paper with Dr. Rimmer,” Henley adds. The article, titled "Building the crossroad between inpatient/outpatient rehabilitation and lifelong community-based fitness for people with neurologic disability," was published in the Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy last June.

For Henley, taking advantage of UAB’s resources means close work with Lakeshore Foundation. “The Collaborative has provided me with an incredible opportunity to be involved in some truly innovative projects in a unique setting,” she says. “The recreation staff at the Lakeshore Foundation provide incredible programs and are gracious enough to let me play!”

As a Lakeshore Foundation volunteer, Henley assists with outdoor recreation outings such as cycling and Adult Adventure Day. She is also an able-bodied participant in the Foundation’s recreation wheelchair softball, basketball, and tennis teams, which are comprised of a mixture of able-bodied people and people with disabilities.

“I love all outdoor sports,” she says. “I could see myself living in the mountains at some point and opening an outdoor sports center for people with disabilities.”

When Henley graduates, she plans to pursue a career in academia. “I have a lot of questions I want to answer through research projects. I also want to mentor students, especially ones like myself who struggle to find a career path.” She therefore advises incoming students to adopt an attitude of life-long learning.

“UAB has so much to offer,” she says. “Take advantage of this time by surrounding yourself with people who know more than you and learn from them. Ask questions. Try new things and meet new people – the reward is worth the risk!”