Q&A with health and exercise science student Sarah Ash

Sarah Ash in Ireland at Guinness Lake.

Sarah Ash, a junior studying health and exercise science, is a Colorado native who was able to travel to Dublin, Ireland, for an internship this summer. She’s passionate about physical wellness and hopes to continue in an occupational therapy master’s program after graduation. Learn more about Ash and her internship.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I love anything outdoors and some of my hobbies include hiking, biking, running, and swimming. I also did Irish dancing competitively for 8 years. I have lived in Colorado since I was 4 years old, so every time after I travel, whenever I see the mountains, I feel like I’m home.

I have always been interested in a profession where I would be helping others, and to have a job that I would find rewarding. I was able to find my calling through the field of occupational therapy, which is what my summer internship was geared towards. I have volunteered and worked in a variety of OT settings, including pediatrics, geriatrics, brain injuries, and even hippo-therapy. My favorite experiences were working with the hippo-therapy program in Fort Collins and Acquired Brain Injury Ireland.


Why did you choose Colorado State University and HES?

I chose CSU because it was in state, but also because I was interested in the veterinary program. I worked in a vet clinic my senior year of high school, and that’s when I realized that wasn’t the job for me. So coming to CSU, I joined a variety of clubs and took an immediate liking to occupational therapy. I chose HES as my major because I’ve always been interested in being active and maintaining physical health, and also because a lot of the classes work well with grad school requirements.  My overall goal is to eventually become an occupational therapist and live in a small mountain town somewhere in Colorado.


What did you do at your internship?

This summer I received one of the most amazing opportunities of my college career thus far. I was accepted to an internship program in Dublin, Ireland, for two months working with Acquired Brain Injury Ireland or ABI. The overall goal of ABI is to help their clients regain basic functions they have lost or that have deteriorated over time due to brain injury. ABI helps the clients lead a functional life and perform daily tasks and errands so that they can function somewhat independently. For those with less severe injuries, the goal is to teach them how to function in society and eventually live independently.

The specific house I interned for had five clients who permanently lived there. Two were on the recovery path to functioning independently and living alone. For them, ABI served as a way to organize their everyday tasks and help them plan healthy meals, exercise regularly, and become more involved with the local community. The other three clients required much more care and attention due to the severity of their injuries. Along with their physical therapy, they also required speech and language therapy and required supervision when running their daily errands.

My favorite task was performing physio exercises with one of my clients where we played the game Connect Four. Despite his brain injury, my client was so skilled in the game he was near impossible to beat. Another one of my clients suffered from aphasia, and we often went on long walks around the neighborhood as part of his daily therapy. He was a great conversationalist, yet his memory was so impaired from his stroke that we would have the same conversation every 10-15 minutes.


What did you learn from your internship?

Over the two months I spent with ABI, I was witness to great progress in a few of the clients, who are now able to hold jobs and have joined groups within the community. This allowed them to take charge of more aspects of their personal lives and not rely so heavily on others for everyday tasks.  Despite all this progress, I also bore witness to the deterioration of another client due to the severity of his injury. Even with constant care and companionship, not every client can be rehabilitated.

This internship afforded me with the opportunity to experience a greater depth in regards to the field of health care. In all my other volunteering and shadowing experiences, I’ve interacted with the clients and helped with the tasks of daily living, but I have never personally faced the more negative aspects such as seizures, a client’s permanent deterioration, or issues with incontinence.  My other experiences were sheltered, and I did not get to know the clients as well, or interact with them on a daily basis, as I was able to do this summer through my internship. Although I experienced some of the more unpleasant aspects that are an inevitable part of my job, it helped me realize that this is my true calling.


What was surprising to you?

I greatly enjoyed interacting with the patients or “the lads” as my coworkers called them, but the working dynamic between my coworkers was the most enjoyable aspect of my internship. All of my coworkers performed overnight shifts, from 11 p.m. one day until 11 a.m. the next, and in doing so they all became a close, tightknit community.

Everyone took turns preparing tea for each other, and even my boss would make food runs and preform the grunt work that is never truly desired in any job. They all worked together and would continuously “slag” each other, which is Irish slang meaning to tease. They were always jovial and extremely welcoming of me, and from day one they gave me plenty of responsibilities. My coworkers welcomed me wholeheartedly, and I felt like one of the team within a matter of minutes. In my entire working career, I have never come across individuals who could work so well together for extended durations of time and maintain such cheerful demeanors.

Irish culture is also different compared to American culture in what would be deemed appropriate in the workplace. I was taken aback on the day of my job interview when, after they asked me a little about the company and what I expected to get out of my experience, they directly asked me about my religious affiliation and political orientation. They are very forward in many aspects and confront their problems head on.

The Department of Health and Exercise Science is in CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.