Alumni Spotlight: Rebecca Ocel’s Pathway to Becoming a Physical Therapist

Rebecca Ocel is a 2016 alumna of the the B.S in Exercise Science program at the School of Education and is a 2020 graduate of the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at the University of Pittsburgh. In this Q&A, Rebecca talks about being a student in the Exercise Science program, her internship experience with P3R, and how those experiences impacted her decision to attend Physical Therapy School. Her quotes have been edited for length and clarity. 

What was your experience like at Pitt as a student in the Exercise Science program?

Ocel: My opinion may be biased, but Pitt has the most amazing professors in every department! The faculty go out of their way to make sure you have everything you need to succeed, whether it be to continue onto graduate school, become a strength specialist, or even get into research. As a student, I was also able to attend the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) conference and learn from specialists from all over the world.

Tell us about your internship with P3R. 

Ocel: The four months I spent with P3R as an intern with Kids of STEEL was such a great experience! As an intern, my job was to help the team prepare for the 2016 Kids Marathon, which included keeping track of race registrations, answering emails, and collaborating with our site coordinators. One memory that really sticks out for me is my first time seeing “race day” for the Pittsburgh Marathon. Seeing so many people of different ages, races, and backgrounds coming together to finish such a physically demanding task was so motivating! To this day, I continue to work with P3R and even had the incredible opportunity of attending the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta, Georgia to help out with that event.

Part of your time at P3R was spent working with underprivileged students. What did that experience mean to you?

Ocel: Every Wednesday during my internship, I would go with our team to the Bethany House to work with underprivileged kids ages 3-5. We took them through a morning exercise program, provided them a nutritious meal, and educated them on how their parents can help them eat healthy on a budget. Seeing the smiles across those kids’ faces every time we walked through the door was encouraging. My desire to help others continued in physical therapy school, where I became a volunteer coordinator for the Mighty Penguins Strength and Conditioning program for adaptive athletes.

Why did you pursue a career in physical therapy?

Ocel: There were two reasons. Originally, it was because I loved sports and loved helping people. However, I had a knee injury that prevented me from running and not being able to do that was hard. I ended up doing about six months of physical therapy rehab, which included working with a running therapist. The experience showed me how important physical therapists are in helping people.

How did the B.S. in Exercise Science program prepare you for your professional career in physical therapy?

Ocel: My job as a physical therapist is all about movement and exercise. My time in the exercise science program gave me the base knowledge of how to exercise and lift with correct form. When working with people with injuries, you need to be able to adjust those exercises so that the person in front of you can still participate and get stronger. The exercise science program also introduced me to all the types of exercise available to my patients: spinning, swimming, dance, lifting, and even aerobics classes.

Do you have a fun fact about yourself?

Ocel: My favorite place is Charleston, South Carolina. My goal is to one day run the Cooper River Bridge Run in this gorgeous city.

Is there anything else that we should know? 

Ocel: I just finished my certification to become a Running Gait Analyst and my goals are to build up a program at a UPMC clinic treating the amazing runners of Pittsburgh. I am still involved with P3R and work every race in which they have an elite field (Half/Full Marathon, 1 Miler, and 10 miler).

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