Shayna Sawyer ‘24AUD admits she’s never been one for working out, or even for doing anything physical along those lines.

But when Martin Pienkowski, PhD, an associate professor in the University’s Osborne College of Audiology (OCA) invited a group of his students to go rock climbing with him, Sawyer was hooked.

Shayna Sawyer“It’s not only a physical workout but also a mental workout,” said Sawyer. “When you’re on the wall, you’re deciding and creating a path for yourself, figuring out the best way to technically get up the wall.”

Sawyer said it’s more than proving to yourself “I’m strong and I can pull myself up this wall.” It’s about using gravity and one’s center of mass to move one’s body in a way that is physically the most efficient.

“It was kind of like a lightbulb going on. My family and I have done trips to rock gyms sometimes just for fun. But I had never thought about doing it seriously,” she said.

Sawyer emphasized the mental aspect of rock climbing is just as critical for her as the physical aspect.

“It helps me focus on something other than school. It gives me a mental break, lets me think about something else, and I actually get physically stronger during the process,” she said.

Originally from Monterey, Massachusetts, Sawyer earned her undergraduate degree in Communicative Disorders from The University of Rhode Island. She had initially intended to go into speech therapy, but during her junior year of undergrad, Sawyer took an audiology course.

“I just thought it (audiology) was a lot cooler. It’s a lot more technology-based, which I enjoy,” she said.

Shayna Sawyer rock climbingOne of her professors at The University of Rhode Island suggested she check out COA, but it was during the pandemic so her interviews were conducted online and her campus “visit” was virtual. Still, that didn’t deter her from choosing Salus to continue her education.

Sawyer tries to go rock climbing every other day during the week and once on the weekends. She also takes a climbing technique class during the week.

“I am still surprised with myself and the joy I’m getting out of the physical fitness aspect. I’m very pleased with the results,” said Sawyer, who is also considering adding a weightlifting aspect to her physical fitness routine.

It’s actually the degree of difficulty of the climb that helps Sawyer determine how the mental aspect of the workout will go.

“It really depends on the difficulty of the route that you’re doing,” she said. “If you’re doing something that’s higher up in your difficulty range, my mind is completely on the wall and putting mental energy into my feet and legs and hands. But if I’m doing an easier route, I’ll just climb up the wall maybe thinking about other stuff.”

Shayna Sawyer rock climbingSawyer has been outside to climb only once so far and would like to do it more often, but said it’s a completely different experience that requires some different equipment and surrounding oneself with more experienced climbers.

She is now looking into a fourth-year externship with the United States Army at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and then continuing with the Army after graduation.

Until then, Sawyer will continue to work hard getting her graduate degree and hone her rock-climbing skills whenever her schedule allows.

“I really enjoy our clinical labs and our clinical exposure. I am a work study student at the front desk at the Pennsylvania Ear Institute (PEI), so I spend a lot of time there,” she said. “I really like our preceptors and I like getting in there from the beginning and seeing patients. Having access to those labs just makes me feel so much more confident in my clinical skills.”