When I decided to go back to college I thought to myself I’m in my mid 40’s, I’m just going to lay low, do my work, earn my diploma, and move on to the next chapter in life. It wasn’t long before different opportunities began to present themselves to me simply by being a member of the Department of Physical Education and Sports Science (PESS); these were opportunities – both fun, professional, and definitely a combination of both!
Following a successful 20 year career in the US military I began studying some of the physical and psychological issues of military members. As I dove headfirst into scientific literature (without really understanding the research process) I was finding the most useful information was coming out of the sports community, and to make a long story a little bit short it’s how I decided to go back to school and study sports science; ultimately the goal of sports and exercise science is studying, understanding, and implementing practices which make the human body perform the best that it can and this could be in sport or in everyday life.
My three years in the PESS have been amazing! I cannot say enough about the instructors I’ve had. From first year to the present the instructors have been fully engaged and responsive in answering my off the wall questions that are sometimes way beyond what we’re talking about in any given class. They have taken the time to answer emails I’ve sent even when we weren’t in session whether winter or summer break, or even if I haven’t had a scheduled class with a particular instructor. Just a few examples: Dr. Brian Carson talking with me about exercise and cancer research, Dr. Robert Davies answering my emails about collagen and connective tissue studies, Dr. Matthew Herring inviting me to his office in the middle of the summer to discuss exercise and mental health, Dr. Laura Furlong setting aside two hours to talk biomechanics with me after our semester had been completed, Dr. Mark Lyons sending me on tons of papers regarding tactical strength conditioning as well as giving me his insight on sled training for NFL athletes, Dr. Ian Sherwin inviting me to be a member of the Healthy UL team, Dr. Philip Kearney giving me the leeway to examine the application of sports science to military training, and there are many others to include the teacher assistants who are always willing to take extra time to work with students well beyond what may be expected. It had been a long time since I took my first shot at college, but the support I, and my fellow students have received from the staff of PESS has far exceeded any expectation I had for a student/teacher relationship.
Being a member of the PESS isn’t limited to just the academic stuff either. As a first year student I had the opportunity to volunteer as a strength and conditioning coach for the school’s GAA football team under the supervision of a fourth year student, through networking I volunteered as an assistant strength coach for the Ireland Triathlete’s training at UL, and in my third year I had an opportunity to volunteer as a strength and conditioning coach implementing IRFU warm up training to the university’s rugby teams. In a country where sport is a key element of the culture, these have been just a few of the professional opportunities I knew I had to take full advantage of. But being in PESS isn’t just about sports, it’s also about promoting health.
In my third year I was part of a team within my class conducting a research project implementing a training program we, the student team, had developed for students. After presenting our findings I had been invited to serve as a student representative to the Healthy UL program which promotes a variety of lifestyle recommendations (stress management, nutrition, mental health, etc.) with the PESS promoting the physical activity piece. Along with Dr. Catherine Woods, Dr. Ian Sherwin, and other members of the program I’ve had the opportunity to provide student input to programs developed for the entire University of Limerick population – students and staff alike.
The link between the student body and the university is the Student Life which consists of department representatives and special interests groups. For three years my classmates have elected me to the position of PESS Department Representative. In this capacity my primary role is to represent the students of physical education and sports sciences, undergrad and postgrad, and also to represent the department and the initiatives and work that goes on in the department.
The men and women in the Department of Physical Education and Sports Science are passionate about health; they’re passionate about performance; they’re passionate about helping others to become the best versions of themselves. When we talk about exercise and sports science, what we learn about is not simply running, jumping, and lifting weights. We learn about food science, we learn about the endocrine system, we learn about disease pathology and prevention, we learn about psychology, and more. When you have the type of instructors mentioned previously, you look forward to the day when you can call them your peers. As a military veteran we often say you never forget your drill instructors – the men and women who trained you and ensured you were set up for success when you completed basic training. One day I am sure I will say the same for the instructors in PESS – these are the men and women who taught me how to set up a lab, how to collect and interpret data, how to present findings to the appropriate audience, and when to take advantage of all those coaching and research opportunities when they come up.
James Conner, 3rd year student Sport and Exercise Sciences, PESS Department Representative, EHS Faculty Representative.