Alumni Profile: Luke Koval University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences


Luke Koval (MS '13), Sports Medicine and Nutrition Department

Professional Experience:

Outreach Specialist, Wounded Warrior Project

Q: What made you interested in pursuing a graduate degree from our Department of Sports Medicine and Nutrition?

Luke: The blend of Nutrition and Exercise Science and being able to make the programs what you want, based on your courses. If you wanted a more nutrition heavy, or counseling heavy program, it was very, very easy to make it what you wanted.

Q: Tell us about your work with the Wounded Warrior Project.

Luke: As an outreach specialist I covered New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. I worked on getting wounded warriors from the post-9/11 generation out and engaged in the community. We did a lot of physical activity, a lot of stuff outside, like hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, white water rafting, and other things along those lines. The goal was to teach the warriors that not all fitness is confined within four walls of a gym and it can be fun.

Q: Why were you interested in working with the Wounded Warrior Project?

Luke: When I was finishing my undergrad I saw a cable news show and they were demonstrating adaptive exercises and it was someone from the Wounded Warrior Project -- this was in 2009 -- and, I was like, “Oh, that seems like something really cool to work towards.” At the time, the project was still really small and had just a couple offices, so there wasn't really an opportunity for me to do an internship. The program that I came to work on, the Physical Health and Wellness Program, hadn’t really blossomed yet -- there was just one Physical Health and Wellness person for the country. There was no real opportunity for me there at the time, so I just kept my eye on it, and I decided to start my masters program at Pitt. Then by the time I completed the program, there was an office opening in Pittsburgh and I randomly bumped into the founder at the 4th of July Regatta. We got to talking about my background, what my passions were, what I was currently doing, and how I could work with the organization. Fast forward 6 months, and I was the first Physical Health and Wellness Specialist in the Pittsburgh Region. Then it just kind of took off from there.

Q: What was your role in building this regional program?

Luke: When I first came on board, it was pretty much any type of workout activity was considered physical health and wellness. Then I started working with Spire Institute in Ohio and developed a physical health and wellness expo where we brought a group of about 20 warriors in and taught some really hands-on, in-depth adaptive exercises. Then we worked on the nutrition aspect as well. So, it was really heavy not only on the education but also application. That grew into a nationwide program -- every specialist is doing this. This was also followed up with health coaching. So, they would come to that event, leave there, and then work with one of the specialists for a number of health coach calls. The follow-up actually stemmed from the motivational interviewing we did at SHRS. Utilizing those techniques that we learned in the counseling course was really beneficial for connecting with the population.

Q: What sort of wider impact do you hope your work had?

Luke: I hoped that the warriors could come in and learn skills that they could then apply in their lives and pass on to their families. The nutrition work that we did with cooking courses and meal prep -- when they went home, they knew exactly how to apply what they learned. They knew what they needed, and how to budget for a healthy grocery bill so they weren't breaking the bank trying to buy healthy food.

"Functional Nutrition was another awesome course that played a role in the programs I developed. I was able to host cooking classes and say, “Hey this is why we’re using these ingredients, this is the benefit of it.” So, it wasn't just, we’re cooking this because it’s healthy, but this is why it’s healthy, these are the benefits."

Q: How has SHRS helped your success?

Luke: I have really appreciated the ability to maintain relationships I developed with my professors. This led to collaborations on nutrition programs for the warriors. We had students host cooking classes right in the functional nutrition lab, we had them do health coaching and nutrition and goal setting. Additionally, we did webinars for broader populations, since we covered such a large region and not everybody could come to our events so the warriors could log in online and then one of the students would go over nutrition 101, or how to exercise in the winter, and other kinds of topics. It’s been really great to maintain those relationships and collaborate with SHRS.

Learn more about our Sports Medicine and Nutrition programs:

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Photos provided by Luke Koval

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