Graduate student helps dancers put their best foot forward

January 28, 2022

Ambition Unleashed: Nicole Mawhiter wears a white coat outside at the North Haven Campus

Nicole Mawhirter '19, DPT ’22, knows the value of having a strong, healthy body when attempting the rigors of professional theater and dance.

Mawhirter, who initially got into dance at just 3 years old, has been on the stage for virtually as long as she could walk. In that time, she came to a deep appreciation of the individuals who helped her keep her body operating at full strength.

For that reason she knew she wanted to be a physical therapist who could help the next generation of performing artists stay healthy and strong.

“I was in and out of physical therapy for dance-related injuries my whole life,” she said. “Being more mindful of my body after those injuries really inspired me and instilled in me the importance of taking care of my body, conditioning it and better understanding how it works.”

Throughout the past 21 years, she stood at the pinnacle of dance, even attending the acclaimed Joffrey Ballet School in New York City.

“It has always been my creative outlet,” Mawhirter said. “I have always reveled at the team aspect and self-discipline of dance — as well as the drive to always self-improve and do better.”

But two moments in particular stand out in her journey to professional success that she credits Quinnipiac to helping her achieve:

  • When she was a high school sophomore, she was treated at the internationally acclaimed Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at New York University Langone Health and learned how she could increase her body’s performance through care and various exercises and techniques.

“I realized in that moment how important it was to have a physical therapist who spoke the language of dancers,” she said. “They were able to really understand which movements really helped me and which ones really hurt me.”

It was also the first time she was ever exposed to a physical therapist with specific training in dancers.

  • When she was a high school senior, just a month before “The Nutcracker” opened, she experienced hip pain during rehearsal and experienced firsthand just how effective physical therapy could be.

When looking at colleges, she knew she wanted one that could nurture her passion for dance and performing arts. Six years ago, at Admitted Students Day, she realized Quinnipiac was the best place for her to realize her dream.

“I knew I would be able to best pursue my passions and shape my years at Quinnipiac,” Mawhirter said.

And shape them she did.

“Everyone in the physical therapy and theater departments helped me to achieve those goals,” she said. “As an undergraduate, I was able to create a fine arts concentration. I was able to, with the help of my adviser and Professor Kevin Daly, take theater, arts and music classes — and get involved in the theater program.”

She credits Quinnipiac’s support system as one of the most valuable elements of her successful journey.

“The support system at Quinnipiac — throughout the entire physical therapy department — was so incredible. Every professor, every staff member, they all supported all of my dreams and helped me to achieve them. They are always cheering me on every step I take.”

She said they helped her to become comfortable being uncomfortable, finding her balance and excelling in various leadership opportunities.

She said being so involved in theater at Quinnipiac — since her first days as a first-year student was very important to her and gave her another creative outlet.

“Kevin was so interested and supportive of my specific goals as a physical therapist,” she said. “I was able to get very involved in theater and that was really amazing for me to continue my theater work while building my physical therapy education.”

During her time at the university, she performed in two musicals, a Shakespeare production and various plays.

In December, she earned her white coat and will focus on clinical rotations until graduation — including an eight-week rotation where it all began — at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at New York University Langone Health.

“I will be a student intern, under the direction of a physical therapist, seeing patients and being as hands-on as I can be as a student,” Mawhirter said, noticeably excited. “The interesting thing about Harkness is that I will learn to treat the dancer, the performing artist and teach them how to prevent injuries rather than just treating injuries.”

She said she feels very ready to begin her professional career as a physical therapist when she graduates with her doctorate in May.

“I want to give back as a physical therapist as much as I can,” she said. “Now that Broadway and theater are back, there is a need and I am eager to help fill it.”

Video: Nicole's story

Nicole Unleashed

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