Master of Biological Sciences (MBS) student Miguel Anselmo played football for over 10 years as a kid. His parents ran marathons and competed in IRONMAN events: a lengthy race consisting of a swim, bicycle ride, and a marathon. He knows about how the body works, how to take care of it, and how to train responsibly.
But during the summer before his first year of college, Miguel’s father, an experienced endurance athlete, died unexpectedly.
“I remember being really confused,” Miguel says. “Because if you just saw him on the street, you would think this guy's very healthy, very active. But somehow he still passed away from a stroke.”
Getting His Footing
Miguel’s time as an undergraduate was marked by both growth and grief. While he enjoyed doing research and digging into the scientific process, he wasn’t sure where his education would take him.
He decided to apply for a master’s degree. He chose the Master of Biological Sciences because it was more customizable than many other science master’s programs. It would allow him to build a degree plan using courses from different University departments and colleges.
“I really wanted to study the connection between endurance performance and cardiovascular health, because that would allow me to understand what happened to my dad,” Miguel says. “I wouldn't even call it an interest, that's too tame of a word, but it was something I had to do.”
Miguel applied to work with Dr. Manda Keller-Ross in the Cardiovascular Research and Rehabilitation Laboratory (CRRL) in the Medical School. This was during the peak of COVID and although she wanted to take him on, they didn’t have the space.
He went back a month later. “I was like, can I just do something? Can I just sit in on meetings or do something? And then she said, okay, let's have you join our journal clubs, and so I just kept being persistent. Eventually she said, ‘Okay, let's bring you into the lab’.”
Finding a Rhythm
The CRRL investigates 1) autonomic and cardiovascular responses to exercise and 2) how these responses change in cardiovascular and neurological diseases with the goal of developing novel rehabilitation strategies to improve the health and lifespan of those afflicted. Currently, the lab has a focus on the influence of menopause on these responses.
“I found my passion, and I found the person who can help mentor me, to take that next step to carving out a niche for myself.”
For Miguel, working in the CRRL was like finding a missing puzzle piece. “Understanding the basic science behind how the body regulates itself during exercise was kind of, I don't want to say relief, but it was more of, I found my thing. I found my passion, and I found the person who can help mentor me, to take that next step to carving out a niche for myself.”
As he dove deeper into the endurance athletics space he began to realize how underrepresented women and people from diverse backgrounds were in the research. He and his colleagues are not just focused on athletes: they are using some of the same scientific concepts to help everyone else.
Miguel’s thesis project is focused on the influence of early menopause on blood pressure regulation during exercise. “I'm applying it to people who really need the help,” he says. “I'm not saying that athletes don't need help, but the research can be more impactful when you're studying it from a clinical perspective rather than solely a performance perspective.”
Staying on Track
After his dad died, Miguel’s training regimen came to a bit of a standstill. He had competed in a few IRONMAN events in high school, but he wasn’t really taking care of himself, physically or mentally, in college.
He needed something to focus on, a goal to work towards. “It had to be something that scared me,” he says, “so my mom and I decided to sign up for the IRONMAN that she and my dad were planning on doing before he passed away, the IRONMAN Mont-Tremblant.”
They finished, not exactly together, but they did it. “I can't even find the word for it, but it was special.”
He is now an ultramarathon runner who also trains other endurance athletes. He says he finds a lot of parallels between endurance sports and academics. “You don't necessarily want to spend two hours on a Saturday studying, but it's something that you need to do to accomplish the larger goal.”
Miguel is already moving toward his next larger goal: he will continue his work with Dr. Keller-Ross in the Rehabilitation Science PhD program this fall. He was awarded the Dean’s Distinguished Graduate Fellowship from the Medical School, given to the top applicant of the six Medical School graduate programs.
KIN 5122 Applied Exercise Physiology with Dr. Sarah Greising
“Her whole goal was not for you to memorize information and then spit it out on a piece of paper. It was to learn the information on your own, come to class, and discuss it. She understood that science is not black and white, so a lot of the exams were more geared towards you being able to explain your thought process. I really recommend it for anyone in the program who's interested in human performance or exercise physiology.”
“It's okay to fail. You need to just try something and if you fail, that's how you learn how to do it right the next time. I tell (that) to the undergrad students that I mentor, as well. And learning how to be graceful with the way that you fail is also really important.”
Pro Tips for Students
- If something interests you, then try it. Don't overthink it. I think the term is “paralysis by analysis.” Don't be afraid to try new things, even if they're scary.
- Live a balanced life. Find a schedule that works for you and don't be intimidated by the workloads of your peers. Just because they're working more hours doesn't mean they're getting more done.
- The most important thing in school is who your mentor is and if they are going to support your career development and mental well-being. Even if the science isn't necessarily your peak interest, a passionate and supporting mentor can 100% change that.
Miguel is a recipient of the following scholarships: Nolte-Miller, Office for Business & Community Economic Development Supplier Diversity, and Larson Legacy.