Incoming DPT student Sarah Low embarks upon an adventure her parents, Kevin and Grace Low, both DPT ’98s, began themselves nearly 30 years ago.
BY DANIEL P. SMITH
COMBINING A NATURAL DOSE OF TEENAGE REBELLION with a swelling affinity for independence, Sarah Low did not set out to follow her parents’ footsteps into physical therapy.
That was their world. Their work. Their calling. Their passion.
Low recalls dinner table conversations with big words and complex ideas. Though a funny story might trickle in here or there, Low largely considered physical therapy convo-luted, foreign and drab.
“I knew I wanted to do something to help people, but I also knew I wanted to do something different than my parents,” Low says.
This fall, however, Low will do what seemed unfathomable just a few years ago: She will pursue a DPT degree from USC and a physical therapy career just like her parents. Both Kevin and Grace Low are graduates of USC’s inaugural DPT class in 1998 and practicing physical therapists near the family’s home in Salinas, Calif., — Kevin at a pediatric clinic and Grace at an inpatient acute hospital.
As a high school senior, Low joined the Fitness and Sports Training Academy at her school. The program provided the sports-loving Low hands-on experience with athletes and introduced her to different opportunities in the medical field, including athletic training and injury rehabilitation.
“I fell in love with rehab and helping athletes get back to competition,” she says.
The following year, Low volunteered at a local orthopedic physical therapy clinic. Interacting with patients from a completely different generation, she relished the personal connections and significant community impact physical therapy work enabled. Her interest in physical therapy accelerated, and she began seriously considering physical therapy as a career path while studying kinesiology at Biola University.
Suddenly, adolescent apathy ceded to young adult interest. Low found herself picking her parents’ brains at the dinner table. She peppered her parents with questions about injury recovery, biomechanics, various diagnoses and pathophysiology. She wanted to know about their day — the patients they saw, the treatment plans they constructed.
“Those conversations became a lot more fun when I was able to participate and not just listen,” Low says.
When Low spent a summer interning alongside her father at a county-operated pediatric clinic, she better understood the wide-ranging possibilities available in physical therapy. She committed to advanced physical therapy education and applied to USC, aiming to follow in her parents’ footsteps in more ways than one.
As her USC journey approaches, Low stands eager to get onto campus, connect with peers and faculty and discover clinical opportunities.
“I want to learn about the different specialties and patient populations,” Low says. “You never know what you’ll fall in love with, right?”
As Grace and Kevin Low listen to their daughter speak, they smile and nod. A quiet pride emanates from both. More than attending USC, more than their daughter’s commitment to the physical therapy profession, the Lows see a young woman finding her way with a combination of self-awareness and reflection.
Much like Sarah, both Grace and Kevin Low were attracted to physical tehrapy following volunteer opportunities during their teenage years. Both appreciated the face-to-face nature of the work as well as physical therapy’s role in helping people recover, gain strength and resume movement.
At USC, the Lows savored rich clinical experiences providing not only valuable knowledge but delivering confidence as they prepared to enter the professional ranks. They also gained the “tools, resources and ability to know how to learn in the field,” Grace says, well aware that an effective physical therapy career is a lifelong learning process.
The Lows have each enthusiastically practiced physical therapy for the past 25 years. Though they perceived physical therapy to be a good fit for Sarah’s aptitude, diligent work ethic, servant mentality and passion for sports, they never pushed the idea.
“And if we did, she would’ve run the other way,” Grace says.
That Sarah is now pursuing her DPT degree — and at USC, no less — enlivens the Lows, who understand the richness of USC’s DPT program and the profound impact physical therapists can have on patients’ lives. They’ve encouraged their daughter to keep an open heart and mind and to remain humble and teachable throughout her studies.
“We’re excited for Sarah because we know the expertise and energy that exists at USC,” Kevin says. “We’ll be fascinated to see how she matures, grows and learns over these next three years.”
For Sarah, her journey will officially begin on August 17 with the Class of 2026’s White Coat Ceremony. Both Kevin and Grace attended the event, one Grace calls “surreal.”
“I’ll probably be crying,” Grace says, in anticipation of the event.
“And I’ll probably be the one wiping away those tears — and maybe Sarah’s, too,” Kevin adds.
After all, no one saw this moment coming.