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The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Johnson, Lacey bringing physical therapy school onto the pitch

Photo by Alex DeBuhr
Bonnie Lacey (4) sets up for a kick in Marquette women’s soccer’s 2-1 loss to UConn Oct. 2.

College classes are time consuming. Add on the demand of being a student-athlete and you have a loaded schedule.

But that is the current lifestyle for Rachel Johnson and Bonnie Lacey, two senior defenders on the Marquette women’s soccer team whose time management skills have been tested to the max this year by balancing physical therapy school and soccer at the same time. 

“With the amount of hours of class we have a day and then the studying we need to do on top of that, you really don’t have much more time other than to eat during the day,” Lacey said. “And then going to practice and making sure you’re in the right mindset is a big mental switch because you don’t have any downtime to reset.”

Johnson, who did her undergraduate in exercise physiology, said when she arrived at Marquette in 2017 she had an idea of wanting to go into health care but wasn’t quite sure on PT. 

It wasn’t until Johnson suffered a torn ACL injury during her first year, that she said she knew she wanted to pursue it. 

“It exposed me to PT firsthand for an extended period of time and what it is like in and out. It was a blessing in disguise,”  Johnson said. 

Lacey came into college unsure of what she wanted her future to hold.

“I came into college not really knowing what I wanted to do,” Lacey said. “I was a Biomedical (Science) undergrad so that gave me a lot of different options that I explored.” 

She said it was through a shadow experience at Froedtert Sports Medicine Center during her sophomore year with one of her former teammates’, Kylie Sprecher’s mom, Susie, that made her fall in love with this career. 

“A big thing for me in my job is, I want to be able to have relationships with the people around me and be able to form connections that last and go beyond just a one-time visit,” Lacey said. “(And) with PT, you can do that. You can make a meaningful impact, not only physically on them, but also in a caring aspect too.” 

Balancing two professions at the same time 

Marquette’s Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree Program, which was ranked 13th in the country byUS News and World Report” in 2020, allows students to complete two degrees in a span of six years. 

Both Johnson and Lacey are in their second year, or Year 5 as it is referred to, in the program and are expected to graduate in 2024. 

The program is structured with at least four hours of lectures in the morning and then either a class or lab in the afternoon. Lacey said for Johnson and herself it could be anywhere from four to eight hours of class a day. 

In terms of their labs this semester, Johnson said there are three: exercise physiology, orthopedic and kinesiology. 

Lacey said the biggest transition from undergrad to physical therapy has been taking knowledge learned in the classroom and applying it to real-life situations. 

“Physical therapy classes are very hands-on and that’s completely different from what I was used to in undergrad,” Lacey said. “It was more read the book and here are the lectures. Now we’re getting to the point in the program where we’re having practicals, touching patients and actually making an impact.”

When it comes to balancing both soccer and class, Johnson said it is nice to have someone like Lacey in her support system along with her coaches and professors. 

“We support each other like 24/7,” Johnson said. “It’s been great helping each other and it does get tough, especially when we were traveling and missing a lot of classes. We’re able to run over things and study together and talk things through.” 

Rachel Johnson attempts a pass in Marquette women’s soccer’s 1-0 loss to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Aug. 25. (Photo by Isabel Bonebrake)

For Lacey, she said having Johnson share the same journey as her “makes it so much better.” 

“It’s so awesome,” Lacey said. “I couldn’t imagine going through it alone so having her doing it with me is honestly the best part about it.” 

Assistant coach Erin Scott said she has “a huge level of respect” for what Johnson and Lacey are able to do. 

“Both of them are so detail oriented about making sure they can be at training and when they’re at training they give their 100%,” Scott said. “Then when they are in the classroom they take any time that they have to get things done because soccer demands so much of that.” 

But sometimes, due to classes, neither are able to attend a practice. Johnson said Lacey and her will pick up with the team in lifts in these situations. 

One display of the coaches’ support, Johnson said, has been head coach Frank Pelaez advocating for Lacey and her succeeding in both the classroom and on the pitch. 

“That’s been one of the coolest things,” Johnson said. “It is like a very tough curriculum and it’s very strenuous, but he is really good about checking in and making sure that we’re doing okay and the most that we can.

“Some days we can’t go to practice and it’s not like he’s punishing us. He’s like ‘You have to do things for your life outside of soccer because we’re here for school not solely just soccer.’” 

Impact on the pitch 

Both Johnson and Lacey said the information learned in the classroom has impacted their athletic careers.

“We were talking about a lot of recovery stuff that we had been exposed to through our athletic trainer,” Johnson said about one of her classes this summer. “It was called the Marc Pro, which is about stimulating your muscle without having to work your muscle voluntarily. That was cool to learn the science behind it all.” 

Another example that Johnson mentioned is the treatment plan that team athletic trainer, Kenny Wilka and herself came up with as she is rehabbing from a sprained ACL/MCL injury that she suffered earlier this season. 

“Going through treatment, he goes, ‘I’m going to have you try to make up your own treatment plan and I’ll prove it obviously before anything’ but he was trying to test me and help me out as much as possible education-wise,” Johnson said. 

Johnson said teammates will even come up to both asking questions.

“Some people will kind of make a comment and be like, ‘Rachel or Bonnie you would know this or should I take his medicine.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m not a legit doctor’ but it’s kind of funny,” Johnson said. 

Meanwhile, for Lacey, she said it has made her look differently at the game. 

“Sitting in class all day learning about injuries and impairments and how that affects people and how we want to treat them makes me really put perspective on the game that at any moment this could be the end,” Lacey said. “It really makes me appreciate soccer and it’s such a good place to release my stress and just enjoy it.” 

As of right now, both said they are undecided on which area of physical therapy they would like to get into after Marquette. 

Next up in their physical therapy program will be a four-week fall clinical in November after the conclusion of the season. Johnson will be in a hospital setting with Acute Care. While Lacey will head to Minnesota to do outpatient neurology. 

“It’s a lot of different diagnoses and a lot of different patients,” Lacey said. “So I’m excited to expose myself to a bunch of different things.” 

Once their fall clinicals end, both will return to campus for the spring semester before heading down to Florida together for a 10-week summer outpatient orthopedic clinic. 

This story was written by John Leuzzi. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @JohnLeuzziMU.

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