Norwich University and Boston College Team Up On Wounded Warrior Athlete Initiative

Norwich University and Boston College Team Up On Wounded Warrior Athlete Initiative

By Paulette Thabault, Director, School of Nursing

A new group of athletes was working out at Plumley and around campus this summer, thanks to a partnership between Norwich’s School of Nursing and the Boston College (BC) School of Nursing in a unique project funded by a grant from the Wounded Warrior Project.

The program was brought to Boston College by a retired Army Col. Susan Sheehy, RN, PhD, who served at U.S. military hospitals during the Vietnam War and came to BC from the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Md.  Sheehy, who was the director of the Trauma and Flight Program (DHART) at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center from 1990-1995, has seen first-hand the impact of war on veterans and wanted to address the issue of what happens when wounded warriors go home.

She is working with the study’s principal investigator at BC, Prof. Ann Burgess, D.N.Sc., RNCS to analyze the results,  with the hopes of taking the program to campuses across the country as a service to veterans. Norwich’s participation included a review by Norwich University’s Investigative Review Board (IRB) and confidential data from our participants will be included in the analysis.

The 12-week program at Norwich began at the end of May and partners veterans with student-athletes for twice a week, rigorous 75-minute workout sessions, under the direction of a nationally certified athletic trainer. Each workout session is followed by a light healthy meal and a video conferenced wellness class from the BC campus, that addresses many components of holistic wellness. Classes  included topics in nutrition, sleep, resiliency, mindfulness/meditation, veterans resources, family health, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and service dogs and spirituality, among other topics.

The goal of the program is not only to provide the 12-week workouts and classes, but to support a whole healthy lifestyle that veterans can continue on their own. Participants were provided with Fit Bits, Norwich athletic gear (shirts and water bottles), and a summer pass to the Plumley Fitness Center. The pairing of student athletes with veterans is a natural fit because both groups want to work hard to achieve their goals.

Carrie Beth Pine, certified trainer for the program and herself a student in Exercise Science and Athletic Training at Norwich, remarked that “the athletes are tracking their progress and whether it’s an extra burpee or a quicker run, they are taking on new challenges every week.”

One of the veterans said, “I really enjoy the classes; they are both interesting and intellectually stimulating. The topics are great and it’s nice to be taking a class where we are not graded but can participate.”

Research data collected throughout the sessions includes measuring the effects of the workout and wellness sessions. Physiologic data includes weight, body mass index, percentage of body fat and visceral fat and sleep patterns. Depression levels are measured by the 21 question survey known as Beck’s Depression Inventory.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies obesity as a serious concern that is a leading cause of diabetes, heart disease, strokes and some cancers, as well as associated with poorer mental health outcomes.  According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 80 percent of U.S. veterans are overweight or obese. Evaluating and reporting on benefits of the program will improve opportunities for further grant funding and facilitate opportunities for other schools interested in offering such a program. (The Wounded Warrior Project grant requires protection and the privacy of veteran participants, so no veteran’s names or photographed faces are included in this article.) Student athletes participating in the program are Danielle Franco ’17 (mechanical engineering) and Rhiannon Page ’18 (nursing).

School of Nursing faculty members Llynne Kiernan, MSN, RN-BC and Lorraine Pitcher, MSN, RN, who have taken the lead for implementing this program at Norwich, note “the warriors and the students are a diverse group who are developing a supportive community, it is so great to see – we are all learning from each other.”