DPT Student Promotes Well-Being on College Campuses and Beyond
Over the winter break, Ian Shultis '14/'21 completed four marathons in four days to raise awareness about mental health and raise money to prevent suicide.
January 9, 2020—Ian Shultis, a 2014 Marist alumnus, had just finished his first year of rigorous coursework in the College’s Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program and was looking forward to three weeks off before returning to school in January. “If grad school has taught me and the members of my cohort anything,” Shultis says, “It’s that we’re capable of a lot.” So he came up with an ambitious idea for what to do over the holiday break: complete five marathons in five days to raise funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). While a knee injury prevented him from running on the fifth day, he completed four marathons from December 16-19 and raised more than $5,000 for the AFSP.
Suicide prevention is a cause that’s close to Shultis’ heart. After graduating from Marist with a bachelor’s degree in athletic training, he spent four years working in Vassar College’s sports medicine department, where he got to know student-athletes from many different sports teams. Sadly, one of those students took his own life during his senior year, and it really impacted Shultis. He recalls, “I had interacted with this student on a weekly basis, and I wish I had reached out to him. It made me want to engage with the topic of mental health for this age group.” The American Psychological Association has reported a steady increase in mental health disorders on college campuses over the past three decades, and suicide is now the second leading cause of death for 10- to 34-year-olds. Shultis notes, “Having worked on a college campus, I saw how students put a lot performance pressure on themselves. They can be very self-critical. I want them to know that they’re not alone and that it’s OK to not feel OK. As a health care professional, we’re often on the frontlines of mental health. It’s our responsibility to have a conversation with people about how they’re doing and point them toward appropriate resources.”
Shultis during a marathon.
Wanting to get his message out and searching for the right medium to do so, Shultis turned to his lifelong love of running. As he puts it, “The Hudson Valley running community sort of knows each other, so I saw lots of potential to do good and destigmatize the conversation about mental health.” Shultis’ entire project came together in a month: from December 16-20, he would run five marathons from New Paltz to Poughkeepsie and back and raise money online. He created a webpage, and Marist Director of Men’s and Women’s Cross Country and Track Pete Colaizzo wrote about Shultis’ efforts in the Poughkeepsie Journal. Starting as early as 3 a.m., Shultis ran down Route 299, traversed the Walkway Over The Hudson, and connected up with the Dutchess Rail Trail before circling back to Ulster County. In the end, it didn’t matter that he had to cancel his fifth marathon: he succeeded in getting his message out and raised a large amount of money for a great cause.
Shultis’ belief in his ability to positively impact others was cemented during an unfathomable tragedy: the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. As a Marist undergraduate, he was part of a group led by Associate Professor of Athletic Training Michael Powers that traveled to the Boston Marathon to assist runners with sports injuries. He was near the finish line when the bombs went off, killing three and injuring hundreds. Using his training in sports medicine, Shultis joined the other first responders in tending to the wounded. As he recalls, “I wish I could have done more, but this event showed me the power of teamwork. Many of the injured would have been fatalities were it not for the quick response of so many. This experience made me felt like I could handle anything, even something completely unexpected.”
Having completed his first of three years in the DPT program, Shultis is now about to embark on his initial eight-week, full-time clinical education experience. The final two years of the program will involve completion of didactic coursework, a doctoral project, and a cumulative exam. He will also engage in an additional 28 weeks of full-time clinical experiences occurring in a variety of settings before receiving his degree in December 2021. As a physical therapist, he looks forward to working with both athletes and non-athletes in the community. He says, “I want to help people be physically active and have a healthy lifestyle. You don’t have to run marathons to make exercise a part of your daily life. Your goal could be more modest, but it’s important for everyone to be active.” And Shultis will continue to seek out volunteer opportunities. The DPT program is sponsoring medical missions to Ghana and Ecuador in 2021, so he’s considering taking his talents abroad. He sums up his ambitions in this way: “I want to use my career in physical therapy as a vehicle to have a positive impact on others.”