- Hands-on experience through the Rocky Mountain Cancer Rehabilitation Institute inspired Justin to shape his career path to focus on cancer rehab.
- A first-generation student, Justin enrolled in UNC’s highly regarded Sport and Exercise Science program because of his passion for exercise and desire to help others through fitness.
- Justin earned his bachelor’s degree in 2012, and has started working on his Master’s in Exercise physiology.
A Perfect Fit
At UNC, a student finds a perfect fit between his love for exercise and his goals for helping others.
Justin Layden was starting his senior year at the University of Northern Colorado as a Sport and Exercise Science major when he took an elective class—Exercise Programming for Cancer Patients. His professor, Dr. Robert Brustad, knew that Justin liked helping people with exercise, and told Justin it was a class he might enjoy.
It was a side trip that ended giving Justin a whole new path to explore, and affirmed a decision that Justin had made to come to UNC.
“Originally I went to a small school in Nebraska on an athletic scholarship, but it just didn’t work out for me. I didn’t like being away from Colorado, so I came back and started looking at different colleges,” Justin recalls.
He’d been to UNC for athletic camps, and he said the university appealed to him. “I liked how it was between a small school and a huge one.” And it seemed to fit with advice his high school football coach had offered him.
“He told me, ‘You’ve got to go to a place where you can feel like you can succeed. Where you can live and be happy.’ I thought UNC was a place where I could really thrive.”
His coursework for his major had meshed with his interest in exercise, and then had come Dr. Brustad’s suggestion for the cancer rehab class.
“I took the class with Dr. Carole Schneider, and was able to shadow trainers at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Rehabilitation Institute (RMCRI). I quickly realized, after about a month of shadowing, that this was something I really wanted to do,” Justin says.
RMCRI works with cancer patients and survivors, developing personalized exercise and nutrition plans to improve quality of life, relieve suffering, and promote self-sufficiency. Established in 1996 by Schneider after she finished cancer treatment herself, the program is nationally recognized as a frontrunner in cancer rehabilitation.
“Once I saw what was happening at RMCRI, I thought, ‘This is something really important here.’ It showed me how much more I could learn, and how much more I could help people.”
Justin finished the class, then returned the following semester to work as an intern at RMCRI. He found himself inspired by not only the culture of caring there, but also by the impact he was able to have on the lives of others through his love for exercise.
“One of the clients came up to me and told me they’d been able to move better and their quality of life was much greater. Just to see how happy they were about feeling that much better made me feel this was something I could see myself doing for the rest of my life.”
He also gained valuable hands-on experience through RMCRI.
“RMCRI is teaching me how to interact with clients. You see what happens with clients who’ve gone through so much, and you learn how to deal with it, how to not just be a trainer but to be a friend—to be someone who is there for them,” Justin says.
After graduating with his bachelor’s degree, Justin returned to UNC to continue his studies as a graduate student, and is pursuing a master’s in exercise physiology. He has an enthusiasm for his work that is sparked by a strong work ethic and desire to help others—something he says he owes to his mom. “The biggest thing I’ve taken from my mom is her hard work ethic.”
A single mom, she worked three jobs to support both of her sons as they grew and went on to college.
“My mom is definitely my hero,” he says. “I hope to make her proud.”
No doubt, he already has.
Dr. Carole Schneider passed away on July 30, 2013 after a long battle with cancer. Through her legacy at the RMCRI, her work continues to touch the community and future professionals with her vision of teaching and healing.