PT Students Slack Off At Lunchtime

Slackers2During the first days of the school year, Michael Sensenbaugh scouted every inch of the Health Sciences Campus to find the perfect pair of trees to hold up his slackline. “This was the last place I looked and it’s perfect,” he said of the spot just behind the building that houses the Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy.

Sensenbaugh, first-year student in the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program, thought spending the break between classes balancing on his slackline would be a great way to clear his mind between the morning and afternoon sessions.

“My plan was to come out here and get a little Zen during my lunch break,” said Sensenbaugh. “Knowing the time in class was going to be intense, I thought I needed to do something to clear my head.”

Slacklining is a sport that, similar to a tightrope, involves balancing on a thin nylon strap stretched between two points and attempting to walk from one end to the other. Balancing on the line is difficult and involves both strength and razor-sharp focus.
The line is a flat strip of nylon that’s just an inch wide and though Sensenbaugh is tall with an athletic build, he agilely makes his way from one end to the next. He is even capable of the occasional flourish, like bouncing on the line and turning himself around without falling to the ground.

The first few days of school, Sensenbaugh spent lunch on his slackline by himself. Little by little, people started to notice him. Second-year DPT student Corbin Skinner, who had slacklined in the past and had even set up a line on campus before, was among the first to ask Sensenbaugh if he could join in.

Before long, more students asked if they might give it a try. Now, just a few weeks into the semester, Sensenbaugh’s slackline has become the social and recreational event for dozens of the Division’s students three days a week. And while some are learning and practicing on the line, others settle into a comfortable spot on the grass to relax with their fellow students and enjoy the show.

Though several faculty members have stopped to watch the students, only one has taken walks on the line. Dr. Jason Kutch, assistant professor in the Division, started slacklining a few years ago on the beach in Santa Monica and is now a regular at the gatherings on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Most of the slackers, as they are called, have never tried the sport before. The newcomers get encouragement and help if they want it. The more practiced slackers offer hands and shoulders to the first-timers who typically need some assistance as they figure out how to balance themselves.

“It is not normal because when you are walking, the ground is not moving,” explained Raquel Lopez, a first year DPT student who started slacklining with Sensenbaugh a few weeks ago. Not only can she walk on the line now, she can already do a few tricks, such as hitting a one-footed yoga pose called tree pose. That move gets her a round of applause.

Other crowd pleasers included, on a recent Thursday, a chicken fight between Sensenbaugh and Dr. Kutch and some races between two slackers, starting on either end, to the center of the line.

“It has been really fun getting to know people this way,” said Sensenbaugh, adding that several students from the schools of occupational therapy and pharmacy have also stopped by to try test their balancing skills.

Sensenbaugh has purchased a second slackline in the hope that even more students and faculty will give it a try. And though Sensenbaugh has given up the idea of having a quiet, Zen-like experience during lunch, he said the camaraderie is very welcome.

“Having fun with everyone here and laughing a lot accomplishes the same thing,” he said. “It still clears my head and gets me ready for the rest of the day.”