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Chasing butterflies: Health Science major has a passion for challenging himself

Sept. 1, 2023

Jason Calderon, an MU senior studying Health Science with an emphasis in Rehabilitation Sciences, also works as a strength and conditioning intern with the Mizzou men’s basketball team. Photo courtesy of Connor McLain.

Story by Gracie Hedenberg

Jason Calderon was drawn to physical therapy after living what he calls the “typical athlete story.” 

After sustaining a knee injury in high school, he needed to work through rehab before he could return to playing sports — for his best season of football. His physical therapist became a mentor and inspiration, helping Calderon realize that he could help athletes in the same way. 

Now a senior studying Health Science with an emphasis in Rehabilitation Sciences, Calderon has explored numerous ways to aid athletes, hone his strength-training skills and build relationships. He has interned with the Mizzou men’s basketball director of athletic performance and explored different physical therapy opportunities at Mizzou, including the Pre-PT Scholars program and the Pre-Physical Therapy Organization. 

In addition to working at and observing in PT clinics in Missouri and near his hometown of Dekalb, Illinois, Calderon found himself coaching the javelin throw via a Columbia-based youth track club. 

“I learned throughout the track season how to adapt and how to work with athletes from ages 6 to 18,” he said. “I realized I still love coaching athletes and seeing kids be better than they were yesterday. I love rehab, I love strengthening athletes and I love sports. What could better tie all those things together than strength and conditioning?” 

It is not the knee injury leading to a great season or the respect for the title of coach that keeps Calderon returning to athletics and sampling new strength and rehabilitation roles. It is the energy and drive to be better every day. 

“There is so much love, and there is so much fun going on in athletics,” he said. “It’s just a great atmosphere, and I’m the type of guy that feeds off the energy of others. I love those types of settings.” 

Calderon (far right) spent this past summer interning with strength and conditioning coaches at the University of Arkansas.

Running with Razorbacks 

Calderon spent this past summer interning with strength and conditioning coaches at the University of Arkansas, where he trained and assisted the coaching staff in training athletes from the women’s soccer, swim and dive, softball and gymnastics teams.

This experience provided ample opportunities to spend time with athletes and cultivate positive energy. He was in the gym helping with athletics strength and conditioning from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, with a break for a workout of his own and a built-in curriculum on how to develop as a young strength coach through leadership, networking, and training principles.

Each sport uses different skills and muscles, so each sport needs its own training routine. All three Arkansas strength and conditioning coaches led different workouts and had unique approaches that taught Calderon about the profession.  

“Different sports have different demands,” he said. “What women’s soccer does is not close to what swim and dive does because the natures of the sports are different. There are so many different dynamics that come into play, and those coaches match the energy and workout for that required sport.”  

When he applied for summer internships, he had the choice between a few strength and conditioning programs at universities around the country. Each offered access to new mentors and new teams of athletes. But what made Arkansas the right fit? The promise of new experiences. 

“When I’m trying to narrow down my decisions, I try to chase what gives me the most butterflies in my stomach,” Calderon said. “I seek that discomfort, and I want to feel that pressure; I go with what is going to make me grow the most. I had never worked with women athletes at the college level, and Arkansas has one of the best programs in the nation when it comes to athletics. For me to work with that caliber of athletes at the highest level, I felt like I couldn’t lose.” 

Back to Mizzou 

Calderon will return to Mizzou Men’s Basketball as a strength and conditioning intern for a second season to continue to learn and grow. Since last season, he has taken more Health Science classes, learned through Arkansas’ strength and conditioning curriculum and has found his style as a strength and conditioning coach and future physical therapist. He is ready to jump back in, better than ever before. 

“I take a lot of inspiration from my mentor, Mizzou men’s basketball Director of Athletic Performance Sean Conaty,” he said. “I am coming back to work with him again this season, and I’m excited to show off what I have learned. I brought what I’ve learned from him down to Arkansas and added the knowledge of the coaches there. I’ve seen their perspective and the way they do things, and I’ve taken bits and pieces to develop my own style.” 

After college, Calderon plans to become a certified strength and conditioning specialist before eventually pursuing a doctorate in physical therapy. Along the way, he’ll keep his options open to careers that fit his passions: continuous growth, positive energy and helping others.