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Saddle injury leads student to pursue career in physical therapy

By: GINA EHRHARD

Leslie Perry never dreamed her passion for horses would one day determine her career path. 

Perry, a native of Salt Lick, Ky., is a World Equestrian Champion and graduate student in the College of Health Sciences. In 2002, she suffered a bizarre saddle injury and became interested in physical therapy (PT).  Her interest blossomed after going to her rehabilitation appointments and chatting with the physical therapists and physical therapy assistants about their profession. 

Soon thereafter, Perry was so inspired she decided to change her career path from an academic and career counselor for grant programs at Morehead State University to become a physical therapist. 

“I chose to switch to a physical therapy career because I knew I would enjoy it. Physical therapy is challenging, rewarding and the opportunities are unlimited,” she said.

Despite Perry’s strong desire to switch career paths, it was not easy for her to do so.  She needed several prerequisite classes in order to apply for the program. Perry decided to take a few classes every semester while working full-time in order to gain the knowledge she needed. 

“Some of those classes were at night, and for others I used my lunch hour time to leave the office for class,” Perry said.  “My vacation and holiday time were used to get in the required shadowing hours.”

After 3 years of hard work and determination, Perry was able to complete all of the prerequisites necessary to apply and be accepted into the Physical Therapy program at the UK College of Health Sciences.

Perry’s drive for success has always been part of her personality. As a little girl, she fantasized about owning a horse. She used the same determination that made her succeed in the physical therapy program to go about getting her first horse.

“When I was 10 years old, I literally woke up one day and decided I had to have a horse,” said Perry.  To reach this goal, Perry saved her $1 per week allowance until she was able to make a purchase. Once she saved $125, she could afford the stallion pony listed in the classified ads.

Nevertheless, her parents had a different plan. They intervened and found a registered Tennessee Walking Horse mare for $850.  Perry’s parents decided to purchase the 2 year old horse named “Holiday’s Question” because Perry’s mom thought the horse was “pretty.”

Holiday was a wild horse at first, but once Perry started taking lessons from Nicole Carswell, a young student at Morehead State University aspiring to become a professional instructor, Holiday started to calm down and show promise. 

“No one in my family had owned or ridden horses before – they had no idea two year olds were not safe choices for children,” said Perry. 

Carswell urged Perry to join a 4-H horse club and then convinced Perry to show Holiday at local shows. 

Soon thereafter, Holiday and Perry slowly started moving up in the show ranks. Perry won her first World Championship at the age of 14 and currently holds 11 other national titles.

In August, Perry will gain another title as she completes her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree and begins sharing her rehabilitation expertise with the patients she treats.  

To find out more about the physical therapy program in the UK College of Health Sciences, visit www.mc.uky.edu/PT

Image: Leslie Perry

Leslie Perry is a World Equestrian Champion and Doctor of Physical Therapy student in the College of Health Sciences. Her passion for physical therapy developed after a saddle accident.

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