Volunteer work with cancer survivors leads Blugold down new career path

By Emily Raasch

With more than 100 types of known cancers, thousands of people worldwide are dealing with cancer-related illnesses and related issues every day. But every patient, their loved ones and others they touch during their journey react differently to the fight against cancer.

That was certainly true for Heidi Kafura, a senior kinesiology major at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Heidi's service work with cancer survivors who live in the Eau Claire community has made such a deep impression on her that she altered her career goals.

Originally planning to pursue a career that would have her working with athletes, Heidi focused on athletic training when she started at UW-Eau Claire. But after enrolling in a class with Dr. Matt Wiggins, a professor of movement studies, Heidi's career path took a new path.  She's now a kinesiology major with an emphasis in movement studies.

Wiggins offers his students the opportunity to volunteer their time and talents to cancer survivors who are working to strengthen their bodies through the university's Cancer Recovery and Fitness program, a program Wiggins created and oversees. Heidi jumped at the chance to be part of the program.

Through her service work with the program, Heidi quickly realized that every survivor's needs are different, with many working on things such as balance and coordination. She enjoyed the challenges as well as the people she's met through the program.

"I love to motivate and connect with them during the workout process," says Heidi. "Each week the room is filled with so much energy and passion for health."

The program supports cancer survivors as they work to rebuild their strength after their treatments, but it also provides a meaningful way for kinesiology students to serve the Eau Claire community.

As they work together, the cancer survivors and the students build connections and bonds, relationships that make the program that much more meaningful to all involved. The participants gain strength and confidence, and the students gain real-world experiences.

"Dr. Wiggins is great with the students because he allows them to try to work on their own with us," says Teddi Martin, a cancer survivor and active participate in the university's program. 

After graduation, Heidi hopes to continue her education in graduate school, focusing on physical therapy. She hopes to one day work with cancer patients or wounded veterans.

Heidi credits her service work through UW-Eau Claire's Cancer Recovery and Fitness program with helping her find her passion, which she hopes will become her career.

Photo cutline: Senior Heidi Kafura leads community member Teddi Martin through exercises during a Cancer Recovery and Fitness program session.

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