DPT student and former rodeo champion Tara Terrazas gives back to her community.
BY MICHELLE McCARTHY
TARA TERRAZAS GREW UP ON THE BACK OF A HORSE. In high school, the New Mexico resident competed in the rodeo world, specializing in barrel races, and took home her fair share of prize buckles. It’s a passion she passed on to her two children, Miguel, 15, and Elise, 11. “They’re really good at it and doing far better than I did,” she says.
As a child, Terrazas played basketball and dreamed of becoming a physical therapist. While she was working on her prerequisites, she became pregnant with her son. “I had to be an adult and take care of him,” she says. “I became a teacher and coached basketball. Fourteen years later, when my kids were older, I said, ‘You know what? I can do this. I can go back to school.’ I applied to USC because I found out they had a hybrid pathway, and I didn’t have to uproot my family.”
Figuring out how to juggle family and school responsibilities proved difficult at first. Initially, Terrazas tried to keep her full-time job while attending classes and managing everything that goes into being a parent. Eventually, she made the decision to quit her job. “I had to learn how to prioritize my schedule,” she explains. “From 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., I would do schoolwork. Then I would pick up my kids and focus on them and my husband. Once everyone was asleep, I would get back to studying.”
The hard work and long hours paid off, as Terrazas will be graduating with her doctor of physical therapy degree this month. Her future plans include opening a physical therapy clinic close to home. “I live in a very rural community, and our closest PT is an hour away. Being able to help out my community would be incredibly satisfying.”
Terrazas says her time at USC made her confident in her skills and prepared her to launch a successful physical therapy career. “USC provided us with the top methods and research to utilize in our own practice. The opportunities we get and the connections we make are priceless. I would have never had the opportunity to work with the most elite athletes in the world had I not gone to USC,” she says. “And we can always go back to our mentors who have built their own private practices and pick their brains. Those connections are vital.”
In addition to the connections she formed, Terrazas says she found the hands-on portion of the curriculum extremely useful. “It ties into everything a PT does,” she says. “The minute we see somebody walk in the room, that’s when we start analyzing, ‘OK, what could be contributing to my patient’s pain?’ My kids and my husband became my patients. Every time we had to perform a skill, I would practice on them.”
A large contingent of her family will be traveling to California to join Terrazas at her Commencement ceremony, including her mother, father, brother and kids. “It’s been a long journey and one of the most emotionally and mentally taxing achievements I’ve ever accomplished in my life,” she says. “I couldn’t have done it without my family, my faith and relationship to God.”
As Terrazas is ready to step into the next phase of her life, she offers this advice to her fellow graduates: “We’ve come this far. Be confident in what you know and who you have become. Don’t be fearful of what lies ahead; be comfortable with being uncomfortable and never stop learning — get after it.”