Meet alumna Sarah Grossman

Sarah Grossman (left) with other JUMP! members
Sarah Grossman (left) poses with other JUMP! members.

A woman of many experiences, Sarah Grossman played four sports, including rugby, and studied physical therapy (PT) at UConn. Now, she works with students with special needs in a school and is trying to raise $300,000 for an accessible and inclusive playground. Here is what she said about her time at UConn and beyond.

What was your major in the College? When did you graduate? With what degree? I majored in PT, graduating in 1981 with a BS PT degree.

What class was most useful to you? I remember the people and instructors more than actual classes. For example, Joe Smey taught neuroanatomy with our cardboard constructed brain and spinal cord. Ronnie Leavitt shared her Bangladesh work, and Pamela Roberts taught pediatrics with enthusiasm. I also thought of Mike Zito, with his earnestness and fun, teaching clinical courses, and David Tiberio, one of the newer professors at the time.

Tell us some of your fond memories of UConn. I have lots of great sports-related memories from games and times with my teammates. I played varsity volleyball, rugby and intramural basketball and ran track one season.

One funny recollection is from the old fieldhouse. I was in the women’s locker room after working out alone on a Saturday. I was standing in front of my locker, naked and sans eyeglasses, when the outside door opened up, and I saw blurry figures walking in. It was the entire Yale men’s soccer team, and there was a mutual shouting of “Whoa!” when we both realized the mistake they had made.

I also remember wanting a change from the “jock” scene in McMahon Hall and moving to the Intentional Democratic Community (IDC) where many of the hippies, artists, drug experimenters, socially progressive and gay students landed if they stayed on campus.

Part of IDC life involved signing up for mandatory chores. One of mine was baking cookies for the entire dorm using the industrial dorm-sized kitchen with huge mixers and ovens. One evening when I had that chore, I miscalculated the measurements, baked hundreds of chocolate chip cookies and stayed up most of the night to do it. This mistake was not influenced by drugs or alcohol, just bad math and impulsivity. In addition, I remember great study sessions in the dining room of IDC where I could smell the coffee and fresh baked goods.

The Blizzard of 1978 is a strong memory. Campus was shut down, and exams were delayed. I’m sure it helped my grades. I remember students jumping out of dorm windows into huge snowdrifts. When I was cross-country skiing, I bottomed out my skis on the roofs of cars. That was a memorable storm.

Please describe your current job. I am currently working as a private contractor to two small rural, school districts nearby and providing PT to the special needs students that qualify for my services. I left the local hospital outpatient setting last summer when I wanted to reduce my work hours. I miss the adult care, but I enjoy working with the students and helping them access the school, playgrounds and physical education classes alongside their peers as best they can.

JUMP! graphic
JUMP! graphic is from http://www.jumpplayground.org/ and used by permission.

I am also the Board President for JUMP!, which stands for Jefferson Universal Movement Playground. We are an all-volunteer group of PTs, occupational therapists and parents trying to build the first accessible and inclusive playground for our county. Visit our Facebook page and website to learn more about our project and the funds we need.

I sit on Jefferson County’s Accessible Community Advisory Committee (ACAC). This is a group that seeks, reviews and approves grants to make our community more accessible for all. Funds come from a designated state fund that collects fines from people who have parked illegally in disabled parking spots.

Also, I am a district chair of our Physical Therapy Association of Washington, keeping our group of PTs on the Olympic Peninsula connected to our state organization.

Are you doing what you imagined you would be doing at this point in your life? I’m not sure if I thought that far ahead. I am winding down my PT work as old sports injuries have caught up with me. However, I am continuing to use my skill set to better serve the community through JUMP! and ACAC. If I had known how difficult it is to raise $300,000, I may not have taken on JUMP!. However, we’re about 20% of the way there, writing grants for some big money and appealing to the UConn family for support.

Do you have any advice for current students that will help them in the future? I would tell them to try as many different things as they can, such as varied internships and international opportunities instead of buttonholing themselves into one particular area right away.

One of the wonderful things about our profession is the diversity of jobs. I started out working in the training room as a sports med PT, but ended up in pediatric PT (peds). This choice was influenced by a peds course and working as an Easter Seals camp counselor.

After 15 years of peds, I decided it was time for a change. I took a refresher course and then worked throughout the state where I saw different venues and types of work. I even ventured into geriatrics. After that, I worked in outpatient orthopedics in both private clinics and the hospital setting. My past experiences have served me well in my small town where, if you have skills in a niche area only, you might be limited in caseload.

I realize that I graduated at a time when getting a BS was sufficient, and I had very little student debt.  It’s a different story now with the cost of becoming a PT. Still, varied experiences provide more opportunities.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? I believe the Peace Corps (PC) helped me become the person I am today. A few years out of PT school, I went to Paraguay as a PC special education volunteer. When I arrived, the host country nationals asked me to work as a PT. So, I created my own job, worked with disabled children and their families and coordinated with a speech therapist and other special educators in the area. I learned about resilience and patience and about how lucky we North Americans are. I am fluent in Spanish, which has helped in my work and travels.

I moved to Seattle after PC. I also went to the University of Washington for a master’s in pediatric PT. Because that university also has a husky mascot, I say that I’m a bicoastal husky, favoring my East Coast husky roots.

Now, I live in Port Townsend, Washington with my partner of 27 years. We are on our third dog and enjoy camping, hiking, backpacking and the music and arts festivals around the area. We are also big-time gardeners, with over eight fruit trees, raspberries, blueberries and a big veggie garden with a greenhouse because we don’t get those hot summers like in Connecticut.

By Patsy Evans