Michelle Ohlson, 27, found Bastyr by happenstance, but there's nothing accidental about her developing career. A triathlon enthusiast and former competitive swimmer in the U.S. national youth program, Ohlson is both following her passion and applying her degree in pursuing a career as a coach to top endurance athletes. She discusses the University, the exercise science and wellness degree program and her budding profession.
Briefly describe the work you do now.
I am a personal trainer, specializing in triathlon training, at the Columbia Athletic Club in Kirkland, Washington. I also run a triathlon program at Cycle University, a for-profit cycling training academy in Seattle. Additionally, I teach a few classes at the club — including strength training, swim lessons and metabolic testing — and plan to start a marathon training program soon. I'm one of those people who can't do one thing all the time. I need variety, so this type of schedule is perfect for me.
What is your background, and how did you find your way to Bastyr?
Growing up, I was on the U.S. competitive youth swim team and lived and trained year-round in Arizona. But, as I got older, there weren't as many competitive swimming opportunities unless you swam in college. When I moved to Washington, I sort of found triathlons — there are a lot more competitions here than in Arizona — and really enjoyed them. Professionally, I used to be a baker and a cook, and I originally went to culinary school. I soon realized, however, that cooking wasn't the path I wanted to take, so I started looking for a nutrition program. Coincidentally, when I was living in the area, I would always drive by the Bastyr sign (at the entrance to campus and St. Edward State Park) and wonder what it was. When I researched Bastyr, I realized it had a program that had everything I was looking for. So I got my associate's degree at a local community college and then enrolled in Bastyr's exercise science program.
How did you get into this career?
This career fit into my interests and what I wanted to do. It made sense for me because I've been doing triathlons for years — usually three or four a year — and I've reached the point where I usually finished near the top. Through those experiences I realized I wanted to work with professional triathletes as a coach.
What did you appreciate most about your degree program?
I liked that the program included a natural approach and an introduction to understanding the psychology of sports. I also really enjoyed the environment here: the campus, the professors and the students. For me, the small class sizes worked well and gave me the face-to-face time with the professors I needed. The instruction at Bastyr was also quite good — the professors really take the time to make sure you understand the material.
What's next for you? Where would you like to place your energies?
It's important for me to get more experience and get my name out there. You don't build up a client list in this profession unless you have experience and have a successful athlete as a client who people can look to and see you can achieve results. The positive thing for me, now, is that even though the economy has been going the wrong way, my client base is growing. I'm busier now than at any point last year.
How did your Bastyr degree prepare you for your career?
Every day I probably use something I learned from every class I took at Bastyr. I use my knowledge of anatomy to answer questions at the club. I use my understanding of physiology during fitness assessments. Or I can explain to my clients what an "O2 max" means. With the people I'm coaching, I use various tests to assess where they're starting and how they're progressing, so I need to be able to explain the importance of the test and the science behind it.
Interviewed April 2009