Women In Health: Alicia O’Connor, M.S., ACSM

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How would you describe your journey to becoming the health leader you are today?

My parents always encouraged me to participate in sporting activities, which led me to choose an undergraduate degree in physical education and a master’s degree in exercise science. I then became an exercise specialist for Georgia Pacific, which gave me great experience working in corporate wellness before I started at MUSC.

Describe the moment or time of life you decided to have a career in health.

Working at Georgia Pacific was a great introduction to the importance of well-being as a workplace priority and caring about the whole employee. After, I was a professional ski instructor in Colorado for several years, allowing me to draw on my passion for fitness and exercise. After sustaining multiple injuries and seeing the importance of physical therapy, I draw on those experiences to focus heavily on post-rehab training for clients at MUSC.

What routines and habits help you prepare for, or recover from, a day’s challenges?

I try to surf every morning; like skiing, it’s one of my passions. Another big factor in my own recovery every day is a healthy eating plan. I believe exercise and healthy foods are the best forms of medicine. And by healthy foods I mean essentially a Mediterranean-style diet, including fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains and plenty of olive oil.

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Describe a moment you felt like giving up. Why didn’t you?

It was difficult when I tore my ACL in a ski accident. I’ve always been an optimistic person, but this injury is tough because it’s an eight-month rehab. In hindsight, I think I let myself feel discouraged because of my injury and the limitations it brought, so now I make it a point to work around my injuries.

What or who inspires you?

My father – Zoltan Agardy – was an immigrant from Hungary. He was a physician who devoted his life to medicine. He was an avid skier and tennis player and just enjoyed life; he wanted us to enjoy life, too. He exposed my family to swimming, skiing and tennis. Going from being a surgeon in the Hungarian army to the United States and having to start over isn’t easy, so I really admire my father for his perseverance and zest for life.

What great mentorship have you received? What made it great?

My mentors have been my physical therapists who have helped me overcome my own injuries. I was fortunate to have more than one, and they provided guidance for my injuries, but that guidance also contributed to my career choices. I feel like I’ve been able to help others because of what they taught me.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Live your life with gratitude and enjoy the journey. I didn’t always have as much appreciation for the things I had or the opportunities that came my way. Once you focus your attitude on gratitude, everything gets easier. I’d also tell a younger version of myself to stop worrying about small things.


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