Novita exercise physiologist Karlee is a national dance champion, and is focussed on translating her skills into positive programs for kids, young people and adults living with disability.
Karlee arrived at Novita around a year ago, and has already initiated a successful pilot dance therapy program, with more than 20 Novita clients living with intellectual and physical disabilities taking advantage of the innovative program.
“We had a mix of participants who live with intellectual disability but were physically able, as well as participants with in some cases complex physical disabilities but were cognitively able – and everyone had a ball,” says Karlee.
“Different participants took different things out of the pilot program – fitness and health, increased mobility, and the feeling of being in a more inclusive environment. There was also a mental health aspect with our participants feeling happy, especially when they had the opportunity to select their own favourite music.
“I’m proud of getting the pilot off the ground in a year so heavily impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, and I’m hopeful that we can make progress on establishing something more permanent during the next 12 months.”
Karlee says exercise physiology is an allied health discipline, and uses exercise to support people with chronic diseases and living with disability.
“Whether it’s people living with a physical or intellectual disability, we look at a person’s lifestyle and see if we can make changes and adjustments to modify their exercise and behaviour, and support them to be healthier,” she says.
“There are a number of ways we can support someone living with disability. I work with a wide variety of clients, and many of them need general health and physical activity support – maybe it’s a child who struggles to participate in PE classes at school, or maybe it’s someone who is older and needs more physical activity in their life to help with weight management or keep them moving.
“Through my role at Novita I also have the opportunity to work with some elite Paralympic athletes who are looking for strength and conditioning support, and that’s exciting with a Paralympic Games hopefully just a few months away.”
And the difference between exercise physiology and physiotherapy?
“There’s definitely a lot of cross-over between physios and EPs, and we regularly work together under Novita’s multi-disciplinary approach to support our clients.
“Generally exercise physiologists work around an individual’s health and activity, looking at strength and cardiovascular fitness or even to support a weight loss goal, while physiotherapists target more specific areas of functional strength, skill development, mobility and assistive aids”
Karlee started dancing when she was around 13 or 14 years of age, and fell in love with it.
“After high school I studied dance full time for a year, and was going to be a professional dancer – which was my dream – but after the first year I had some injuries and I didn’t like the idea of the high pressure environment I was in, so I took up my studies in exercise physiology.”
“My EP studies actually helped me to become stronger and better suited to dancing, so I got really involved with it again, and began competitions just last year. I put everything into it, and treated myself like an elite athlete with a structured week, strength and conditioning programs and proper recovery – and I won the national title!”
While Karlee must return her national dancing crown after a year, she can compete again at the national championships in her specialty area of contemporary dance, and hopefully come away with some wins.
“One of the hardest aspects of COVID-19 has been not being able to go out dancing. It’s so much fun. And contemporary dance teaches you a lot about improvisation, so I really enjoy free movement.”
It turns out that Karlee is also an accomplished scuba diver – her first dive in 2017 was among bull sharks in Fiji – and it’s another passion that she would love to translate into her work as an exercise physiologist at Novita.
“Much of my last two years has been spent researching the benefits of immersion therapy, which is basically scuba diving in a pool environment, and trying to figure out what physical and psycho-social affects this type of therapy might have for people living with disability.”
“I’m looking into some different avenues for water-based therapy at the moment, and it would be great to build up Novita’s aquatic therapy programs, especially for adults. Some snorkel skills training could also help people get out into the ocean to experience the marine environment.”
Karlee scooped the pool at the ‘Follow Your Dreams’ national dance championships held in Adelaide in January 2021, which capped off the 2020 season.
She collected the award for the highest point scorer in her age category (adult), as well as achieving first place in five solo dances, and first place in six duo and trio dances.
She’s now looking forward to the 2021 season with confidence. “I achieved everything I set out to achieve at the national championships, so I’m delighted,” says Karlee.