As the assistant strength and conditioning coach for Syracuse University’s men’s lacrosse, women’s ice hockey and women’s tennis teams, Mike Missen knows that the key to success in your profession is the ability to take the subtleties of what you learn and do it for you to translate team of student-athletes who simply want to improve their performance.
“This ability to speak to, teach, and lead a group is often the determining factor in whether or not someone can be successful in this field,” says Missen.
To develop these relationship-building skills in the field, three Falk College health and physical activity students — Julio Fulcar ’22, Caleigh Walklet ’23, and Lucas Brey ’22 — spent this past fall semester working at Missen as interns for to work strength and condition .
The internship was designed to give interns an understanding of how athlete training differs from other forms of training. Fulcar, Walklet, and Brey had to be present at team workouts, clean and maintain the weight room, attend training meetings, and conduct research. Her curriculum included video and article reviews, coaching sessions on lifting techniques, group discussions, and a programming project.
“Internships give these students a chance to learn about life on the job and understand the demands of the job before they decide on a path,” says Missen. “For collegiate strength and conditioning in particular, it is important that these students learn the energy and time demands that are unique to collegiate athletics.”
For Walklet, the internship allowed her to “learn more than I thought possible.”
“This hands-on approach has allowed new information to stick more easily in my memory and even help me in my other related courses,” she says. “Without that experience, I can guarantee I wouldn’t be nearly as prepared for the rest of my college career and the professional career that will follow.”
As the three Falk College students completed their fall internships, they shared their unique perspectives and experiences with us. Here are their stories:
Julio Fulcar: “Keep learning and growing”
For Fulcar, a four-year member of the Syracuse men’s soccer team, the internship gave him the opportunity to see training from the perspective of a strength and conditioning coach.
“The best part for me was that I felt like I was part of something and making a contribution,” says Fulcar. “Mike (Missen) has done a great job of educating us, allowing us to ask questions and empowering us to grow and learn.”
Fulcar’s family is from the Dominican Republic and he was raised in Watertown, Massachusetts playing football, basketball and baseball at school and with his two older brothers. As a midfielder, he was ranked the No. 6 recruit in the Northeast by TopDrawerSoccer.com and chose Syracuse primarily to play football.
Fulcar was drawn to Falk and exercise science because, as an athlete, he “has always been interested in both the human body and human performance.”
“The only thing I’ve learned during my time in the program is that things in the field of movement science are always changing, new ideas are being published, and things are always evolving,” says Fulcar. “That’s a message conveyed by the staff at Falk and they are always aware of the real world when teaching, which is great for the students.”
During his internship, the “real world” for Fulcar consisted of leading drills, explaining drills, and providing strength and conditioning tips to athletes. As an athlete and a member of the university’s Diversity and Inclusion Student Athlete Board, Fulcar had already developed relationships with many of the athletes he coached.
Next, Fulcar says he would love to pursue a career in professional football in some capacity and is also considering further training to become a physiotherapist.
“If I look at it short-term it would be to go to PT (physical therapy) school. Looking down a little further, I’m hoping to be the best PT I can and maybe stay in football through media other than playing,” Fulcar says of his future goals. “The most important thing for me would just be to keep learning and growing inside and outside of the classroom.”
Caleigh Walklet: “Improving the Quality of Life”
As a high school athlete in Fairfield, Connecticut, Walklet’s serious interest in exercise science and physical therapy came the hard way—she tore her ACL, MCL, and lateral meniscus in a lacrosse game, and then, after a year of intense rehab, returned her back on the field, she tore her medial meniscus in the same knee.
“I’ve been spending more time with PT, and while it was very discouraging, I wouldn’t change a thing about the injuries I sustained if I had the chance,” she says. “I had the opportunity to witness firsthand the challenges and beauties of the career that interested me and I learned and retained something new every day.
“I have great sympathy for anyone who has overcome a similar obstacle, but this experience sparked my interest in resistance training and a greater focus on overall health, all of which has been fueled by my education here at SU,” Walklet adds.
Wanting to attend “a great school with an even greater spirit,” Walklet chose Syracuse. She was particularly inspired by a workplace health promotion course led by sociology professor Mary Pagan, who recognizes her students’ struggles during the pandemic and finds ways to connect with and motivate them. Initially “intimidated” by the strength and conditioning internship because she worked with high-level athletes and coaches, Walklet rose to the challenge and found the environment “invigorating.”
“Sure, Manley (Field House) can get intense, but having 20 girls screaming when someone lifts 225 pounds for the first time gives that word a whole different meaning to me,” says Walklet. “It starts with the attitude of the people I’ve had the pleasure of working with and it’s evident that they genuinely care about the success of those they train and work with.
“Plus, each team has such a diverse collection of traits and attitudes that it never gets boring,” she adds. “The men and women I’ve spent time with this fall have roused me from my shell, and I’ve always left Manley in a better mood than I came in.”
For her future, Walklet is planning a Ph.D. in physiotherapy with the aim of opening his own practice attached to a training center for athletes recovering from injuries. She is particularly interested in the field of physical therapy, which focuses on neurological problems caused by conditions such as cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s.
“It’s common for people to be unaware that our society has the information and expertise they need to help them get through whatever adverse circumstances they may be facing and it’s my goal everyone eliminate the resulting feelings of helplessness,” says Walklet. “Whether in a physical therapy practice or not, when I’m able to look back on a situation and feel like I’ve somehow improved their quality of life, I’m happy.”
Lucas Brey: “Learning at the highest level”
Physical fitness has always been a central theme in Brey’s life, starting as a middle school wrestler in New York City and ending with a five-year stint in the US Marine Corps. The wrestling drills were rigorous and pushed Brey to his mental and physical limits for the first time, and during his time in the Marines and his two overseas assignments, being fit was essential to mission success.
“For me, exercise science is the union of people’s endless curiosity and the amazing feats our bodies can do,” says Brey.
When he decided to leave the military to earn a college degree and pursue a career he truly loved, Syracuse was drawn to Falk because of his commitment to veterans, the exercise science program, and the opportunity to work with the top Division to work together, the right choice I sports teams.
“I came to Syracuse University because it stood out as a very veteran-friendly institution that would make my transition from the military to academia as seamless as possible,” says Brey. “Since attending Syracuse as a Health and Exercise Science major, I have learned that there is more to the science of fitness and strength than I could have imagined during my time in the military.”
According to Brey, the strength and conditioning internship was the most important experience he had at Syracuse because it put him in a better position to achieve his career goals. He spent a lot of time asking questions and found a parallel with the military in that every person involved in a sports team must constantly review how they are contributing to the overall mission.
“What’s really special about this internship is when I think about the program and the teams I work with and the sense of pride I have in contributing to the success of these athletes,” says Brey. “I feel honored every day to work with athletes at such a high level and I appreciate the responsibility that comes with it.
“While I have studied many of the concepts of strength and conditioning through my coursework and my own independent research, there is nothing quite like actually being able to learn on the job, let alone at the highest level of collegiate Learning strength and conditioning,” he adds.
Brey continues his internship in the spring semester and looks forward to taking on new tasks. He says that after graduating, his goal is to become a strength and conditioning coach, whether with a college program or in the private sector, and his first choice is to stay in central New York and nearby to stay at Syracuse University.
“Right now, the most important thing for me is to graduate from Syracuse and make my family proud,” says Brey. “I had no idea what to expect when I first applied to Syracuse, but I loved every second that I was a student here and am so happy I decided to apply when I wasn’t sure what my next step in life would be.”