KU occupational therapy students practice martial arts to assist adults and children
CHAMPS Achievers allows students in the Department of Occupational Therapy Education at the University of Kansas School of Health Professions to volunteer and practice more than just karate kicks.
Literally, CHAMPS means Challenges Handled and Mastered with Perseverance and Spunk.
But CHAMPS Achievers, a local program that helps students with special needs learn the martial arts, also translates into a great way for occupational therapy students in the University of Kansas School of Health Professions to learn new skills through volunteering.
“Our faculty feel strongly that OT should integrate with a client’s daily activities to address that person’s needs and wants. Our clients don’t live in clinics,” said Jeff Radel, Ph.D., associate dean for academic and student affairs and associate professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy Education.
What is CHAMPS?
CHAMPS is a Kansas City-area program that helps children, teens and adults with special needs learn the martial arts. Currently, CHAMPS has a class on Wednesday evenings in the Kirmayer Fitness Center on the University of Kansas Medical Center’s Kansas City campus.
Radel has been volunteering with CHAMPS for a decade and serves as president of its foundation advisory board.
“Unlike regular schools of martial arts, where each movement and all activities are highly regulated, we offer an adapted environment where the abilities and desires of the special-needs students are encouraged,” Radel said. “This means that they may not do the movement precisely ‘correctly’ but they gain other attributes: physical activity, social outlets, a sense of success, self-awareness and discipline.”
Students from the Department of Occupational Therapy Education help during CHAMPS class, regardless of their level of expertise in the martial arts.
“Since few OT students have a martial arts background, this environment is a physical and social setting quite different from their own daily lives where they often become the beginners who are learning from the more experienced special-needs students,” Radel said.
OT student Katie Lacy knew very little about the stances and kicks that make up the basic moves of karate. That changed when she began volunteering at CHAMPS in September 2022.
“Many times, it’s the student who teaches me new moves, since they’re more experienced than I am,” Lacy said. “It’s amazing to watch each student excel in an activity they love and sometimes take on that teacher role.”
Outreach to practice their profession
CHAMPS also gives the OT students a chance to practice what they’ve been learning in class, Radel said. “By being in the community environment for a few hours each week from September to May, the OT students get to know the special-needs students and their families on a deeper level,” he said. “They have better insights into them as individuals.”
CHAMPS involvement also helps OT students understand the “art of OT practice,” Radel said, “and not just pursuing a checklist.”
Lacy said she sees CHAMPS benefiting her as a future occupational therapist in two ways. “I can be around different populations to build my communication and teaching skills for the best client/patient relationship,” she said. “(But) CHAMPS also has allowed me to step out of my comfort zone — something I’ve never done before that could be a daily occurrence as a new occupational therapist.”
Shalee Mog, also an OT student, said she’s found CHAMPS to be very client-centered. “We meet each student where they’re at and achieve goals on a more individual basis,” she said. “I really enjoy being able to adjust my own knowledge to what works for them, which is something I will need to continue to do in future.”