Ryan Cusack’s passion for sports and neurologic physical therapy is at a national high – 19th in the country, you could say.
Cusack, an alumnus of the George Washington University (GW) Doctor of Physical Therapy program (DPT) has coached a Virginia wheelchair rugby team to fifth-place ranking in the Division II Eastern Conference and 19th in the nation this past season. Cusack (’17 DPT) is the head coach of the Northern Virginia Mutiny Wheelchair Rugby Team, a U.S. Quad Rugby Association-Division II team from Fairfax, Va.
“As a physical therapist, I’m able to bring a unique perspective as coach to the team by being able to develop strength and conditioning programs for all players specifically based on their neurologic level of function,” Cusack said.
The rugby team was started by members of a Washington, D.C. team that didn’t have the resources to travel from northern Virginia into the city for practice. Cusack joined the three-year-old team after learning about it from a colleague, who also volunteers. In addition to coaching each game, Cusack runs weekly conditioning and skill development practices with the athletes. He also provides injury prevention advice and exercises, especially as it relates to long-term shoulder health and joint preservation.
The team gives wheelchair users the opportunity to play a full contact sport even after neurologic injury. Cusack says that participating in a sport after such an injury can directly improve a player’s independence and self-efficacy that can carry over into other aspects of life. Cusack, who works full time in an outpatient rehabilitation clinic in Virginia, said coaching has given him a greater understanding of how to help his patients reintegrate into meaningful community activities.
Besides his coaching duties and full-time clinical practice, Cusack also enjoys teaching. He has been a guest lecturer in the GW DPT program, serves as an adjunct faculty member with Shenandoah University’s DPT program, where he teaches the adult neurotherapeutics course. Cusack will also have the opportunity to serve as an adjunct professor at GW for the Neuromotor dysfunction course this upcoming fall.
“Being a neuro PT allows me to build relationships with and learn from so many people that are overcoming incredible life challenges,” Cusack said. “Neuro PT and wheelchair rugby allow me to see the true meaning of resilience every day. There is no better job.”