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By Bill Ibelle, Editorial Director
Brittany Loweree has taken an unusual route to her doctorate in physical therapy—hurtling down alpine slopes while enduring thousands of knee-pounding moguls and backflips.
When Loweree was a sophomore at Northeastern, she took a leave of absence to compete with the U.S. Ski Team. Her specialty—freestyle moguls—is as brutal as any event in international competition. It’s like riding down the mountain on a jackhammer, with two gravity-defying aerial maneuvers mixed in.
Not surprisingly, Loweree has endured her share of injuries along the way.
“In middle school, I was breaking bones left and right,” she said. “I fractured my spine twice when I was 13. It was the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced.”
It was her own experience with major injuries that sparked her interest in physical therapy. Throughout her professional skiing career, Loweree knew she would return to Northeastern to earn her doctorate. She maintained close contact with her advisor during her world tours, taking courses on campus in the summers and online during the year.
“I remember being in Zermatt [Switzerland] and sitting at my computer, working remotely with my group partners back at Northeastern,” she said.
Today, with her athletic exploits behind her, Loweree is back on campus full-time and will receive her doctorate in May.
As with skiing, she has thrown herself body and soul into the DPT program. In addition to her studies and clinical rotations, she serves as the student liaison to the American Physical Therapy Association and volunteers as a ski instructor for people with handicaps through the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.
Northeastern recently awarded her the 2019 Marjorie Coleman-Glaister scholarship, for full-time graduate students who combine top academic performance with extraordinary interpersonal skills.
Loweree was a skiing prodigy by age 12, competing at Lake Placid, where she performed far too many backflips for a kid her age. She had already broken her wrist and thumb, but at age 13, she fractured her back. It’s a common injury among young gymnasts and cheerleaders who push their bodies to the extremes before they are fully grown.
Brittany Loweree competes in Vail, Colorado.
“I went to a spine doctor in New York and he told me that I wouldn’t be able to ski again,” she recalls. “I said, ‘No way, I’m just getting good.’”
Loweree started high school in a back brace, pushed herself hard to recover, and returned to skiing too quickly. She suffered the same injury a second time, and once again she attending high school in a back brace.
But this time, she took a more methodical approach to recovery that centered on extensive physical therapy and conditioning.
“I realized that if I want to do this for real, I had to learn a lot more about my body,” she said. “Physical therapy saved my career, and I knew by the time I was a junior in high school that ultimately, I wanted to be a PT.”
When it came time to apply for college, Northeastern was her first choice for three reasons: co-op, Boston, and flexibility.
“I told them from the beginning that I have goals for PT, but also very serious ambitions in skiing,” she said. “Right from the start, Northeastern was unbelievably accommodating.”
In her first and second years, she took the spring semester off to train in Colorado, then returned in the summer to resume her coursework. She made the U.S. team in 2010, and for the next four years, she competed on five continents—North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.
Her life came full circle when she returned to Northeastern full-time in 2014 and did her clinical rotation at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan—the same facility where she did her own physical therapy as a 13-year-old kid with a broken back.
For her second co-op, Loweree decided to step outside her comfort zone in the sports therapy world by taking a position on the general medicine unit at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“I found that I love the hospital environment and working as part of an interdisciplinary team, seeing all the specialties come together,” she said. “The more high-stress the situation is around me, the better I function.”
She said the co-ops made her academic courses much more meaningful, and the real-world experience prepared her well for doctoral work.
While still an undergraduate, she decided to double major in psychology her co-ops convinced her that there was considerable overlap between the two fields.
“You’re technically working to improve movement, but humans are complex and you have to understand each individual and tailor your approach accordingly,” she said. “I can tell people what I want them to do, but it’s not going to work unless I really learn about them.”
In 2016, she earned her BS in psychology, in 2018 she a second BS in rehabilitation sciences, and in 2019, she is slated to complete her DPT.
“In May, I will be a triple Husky.”