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Physical Therapy Ph.D. Student Sheri Walters journeys to Rio to train Paralympic athletes

Photo of Sheri Walters smiling

Talk about an impressive resume — Sheri Walters has trained elite athletes, traveled the world and currently is working with Team USA’s Paralympic track and field team in Rio, all while pursuing her Ph.D. in physical therapy at Texas Woman’s University. At the age of 37, Walters impressive career and experience demonstrates a deep understanding of the importance of relationships and the power of taking bold initiatives to achieve one’s dreams.

Currently, Walters puts in 18-hour days, supporting the track and field Paralympic team.  Leading up to her journey to Rio, Walters traveled with these athletes to camps in Qatar, China and Guadalajara. She’s developed close, personal relationships with the athletes, as her dissertation is focused on understanding the culture surrounding the Paralympics — elucidating the mental, physical and emotional realities of Paralympic competition.

“Paralympians are elite athletes with the added layer of medical diagnoses, yet they figure out a way to perform. Their stories are incredible, a true testament to the strength of the human spirit, and they deserve to be shared” she said.

“[As a physical therapist,] I get to know my patients/athletes stories. I know who they are as people, because I get an hour with them every time I see them — something most M.D.s can only dream about,” Walters added.

Walters grew up in Wapanucka, Oklahoma — a small town of about 400 people. She attended East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma where she played basketball and earned her bachelor’s degree in athletic training. She knew the opportunities in her town were limited, so she forged ahead with a big plan in mind.

“I Googled the WNBA, found the addresses for each team, and sent a personal letter to the athletic trainer on each team,” she said.

Her perseverance worked. Walters heard back from four of the WNBA teams, one of which she interned with for several months. While interning with the trainers for the Detroit Shock as well as the Detroit Pistons, Walters began to see the power of networking in motion; she went on to work with the USA Taekwondo team following her internship.

Athletic trainers with the USA Taekwondo team encouraged Walters to apply for the athletic training program at the University of Florida, where she earned her master’s of science in athletic training as well as her master’s in physical therapy. Not long after, she decided to pursue her clinical doctor of physical therapy degree, also known as a DPT, at St. Augustine University, all while continuing to work with elite athletes.

Walters track record demonstrates her ability to work with athletes at the peak of their performance level, including The University of Florida Gators football team, major league baseball pitchers, including the Texas Rangers, executives at IBM, Google, Intel and Olympic athletes in Taekwondo, softball, kayaking and now the Paralympic track and field athletes.

After completing her clinical doctorate in physical therapy, Walters chose to attend Texas Woman’s to complete her Ph.D., due to TWU’s reputation and history of producing superior educators and clinical researchers.

“[The faculty] at TWU conduct clinical research, including both qualitative and quantitative methods — which made it the best fit for me, especially knowing I could complete my Ph.D. online while I maintained my clinical practice and clients.”

Amidst her list of impressive trainees and clients, Walters remains down to earth and recognizes that skills and training may open the door, but it takes more to have a successful career.

“So many people think they can ‘get their degree’ and find a job, but sports medicine and physical therapy are heavily based on your track record, sometimes working for the experience instead of a paycheck and building solid relationships,” she said.

Walters anticipates graduating in December of 2017, and hopes to one day teach at Texas Woman’s, where she can guide the next generation of driven, well- connected and service oriented physical therapists.


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Page last updated 3:24 PM, April 30, 2020