About Nina Cooper

“When I turned 32 I gave myself a goal,” said U.S. Marine Corps veteran and Licensed Massage Therapist Nina Cooper (pictured, left). 

At that time, Nina was working as a Licensed Massage Therapist with the University of North Carolina’s NCAA Division I athletics program and with Olympic athletes — even traveling to the 2016 summer games in Rio as a member of Team USA’s medical staff. 

Then a friend entered physical therapy school and encouraged Nina to consider it, too. 

She began Durham Technical Community College, then completed a bachelor’s degree in Exercise and Sports Science at UNC Chapel Hill before entering Russell Sage College’s Doctor of Physical Therapy Program in 2019. 

“My goal was to have this completed by 40,” she continued, “and I studied hard and worked hard — and here I am.”

“I had been to other interviews and toured other schools,” she continued. “I liked that this was a smaller program.” 

The deciding factor though, was Associate Professor and Program Chair Jim Brennan, Ph.D., PT, who sat down with her and another prospective student at an open house. 

“He cared, you know,” she said. “He cares about the program and what happens to the students.” 

Nina said her professors and fellow students continue to inspire her. She described a recent visit to the PT department’s office and seeing a monitor highlighting her colleagues’ service, research and awards from the past semester. 

“I was like wow, how awesome!” she said. “And this is during COVID!” 

Nina fits right in at this high-achieving department.

Take her contributions during her summer clinical experience at a local hospital for example. The hospital was in the process of establishing a COVID-19 recovery program for people experiencing long COVID.  

Just prior to the clinical, Nina had taken the Cardiovascular & Pulmonary Systems class with Rachel Kimball, DPT, and Dylan MacPhail, DPT,  which covered material that prepared her to help establish the COVID recovery program. 

“I provided the physical therapy rehab department current research as far as breathing techniques and exercises, and I introduced the APTA core outcome measures,” she said. 

She also provided background to the hospital president in advance of a press conference announcing the COVID recovery program. 

“I couldn’t have done that without the setup from the professors, being taught how to find this information, how to use this information and then how to apply it,” she said.

Another highlight from her clinical experience was accompanying a knee-surgery patient  and a hip-surgery patient through the course of their treatment. Nina consulted with them at pre-op visits, was tableside in the operating room, bedside in the recovery room and worked with them when they returned for outpatient physical therapy. 

Over the next year, Nina will complete two more clinicals, one at a private practice and one at a Veterans Affairs hospital. 

With her goal to become a physical therapist by 40 within reach, Nina has sights set on her next goal. 

She plans to return to the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and become certified to work with Team USA as both a massage therapist and physical therapist. 

“The summer 2028 Olympics are in Los Angeles,” she said. “My goal is to go.”