The 49-year-old graduate hopes to use her degree to provide physical therapy to children.
BY JAMIE WETHERBE MA ’04
LUCIA MADERO DPT ’22 DIDN’T HAVE A DIRECT PATH to becoming a physical therapist — her journey wound through several careers, three children and two countries.
“I’m different from the other students in my program,” says Madero, who graduates in May. “They wanted to stay at school and hold study groups, while I was always rushing back home.”
Madero, 48, and her husband have three children; their youngest is now 19. While attending school, Madero has juggled clinical rotations, family obligations and at the start of her schooling, something tragic.
In 2019, just as Madero was admitted to USC, her family was a victim of a crime, although she prefers not to give more details. “The first two semesters were really tough,” she says. “I was learning the language, particularly medical terms that were new to me, and the culture here [at USC].”
Madero and her husband are from Mexico; they moved to the United States more than a decade ago.
“I was about to ask for a leave of absence during my second semester, but my family begged me not to,” she adds. “We have a statement as a family: We are a team, especially because we don’t have extended family here. They’re my stone, my main support.”
Fortunately, family life has improved — in part, because COVID allowed the Maderos to come together under one roof. “We were able to all be at home again,” she says. “It ended up being a healing time for us.”
Still, the time at home wasn’t without challenges, including managing a rigorous program remotely.
“PT involves so much practice,” Madero says. “I would practice all the time with my daughter; she was my patient.”
After graduating high school, Madero studied different disciplines, including international business and psychology, but her dedication to her family came first. “I had my first child when I was very young, so it was very difficult,” she mentions as the reason she had to drop her studies at the time.
After that, Madero, who’s long been a devotee of meditation and exercise, found her niche as a yoga and Pilates instructor in Mexico, particularly working with clients who had physical concerns. “When I was teaching, no one wanted the older students with issues like back pain, and I wanted to work with all of them,” Madero says. “I saw them improving; it was so awesome. I knew I wanted to work in rehabilitation.”
In 2012, after her move to the United States, Madero started her 10-year journey toward a degree in physical therapy — first, with English as a Second Language classes to learn English. Madero then studied at a community college before transferring to California State University – Long Beach, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science.
“This career path is far from traditional; it’s been hard, but I’m doing it,” she says. “I’m almost done.”
For Madero, the experience has been a lesson in resilience and self-esteem. “Where I grew up, women, were never encouraged to seek education, so I was always trying to go beyond those perceptions — that was my mentality,” she says. “Getting through this program and doing it well has helped me realize my value. It’s a hard thing to explain, in any language.”
As for what’s next, Madero says, “Oh, my gosh, I have so many plans!”
Madero is drawn to working with children. “I had a rotation in pediatrics last semester, and I loved it,” she says. “With kids, you can have fun and do silly things — you can really be creative.”