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Krystal Walden has always moved fast. From an early age, she established herself as a first-class sprinter, earning an athletic scholarship to UCLA. And though she no longer sprints, Walden carries the mindset of pushing forward with relentless focus.

Not only does she run her own health and fitness business and help manage a large physical therapy practice, she recently completed a Master of Science in Gerontology (MSG). Despite these accomplishments, she says, “I don’t feel like I’ve done enough. I’ve still got more to do.”

Indeed, wherever Walden’s path takes her, she has a strong foundation to build on.

From sprinter to MSG student

Walden graduated from UCLA in 2000 with a BA in sociology. After graduation, a part-time job she had during college as a fashion buyer turned into a full-time position. Walden’s desire to pursue a health and fitness-related career led her to leave her job and open her own business in 2004. Krystal Spa® features a holistic approach to wellness — combining fitness, yoga and massage therapy.

By 2010, Walden became interested in pursuing a degree in physical therapy at USC. While taking some prerequisite science classes, she thought getting a job at USC Physical Therapy would be a good idea.

“I’m old school,” Walden says. “With my resume in hand, I went to the office of the director of USC Physical Therapy and gave him my 30-second elevator pitch. He smiled and took my resume.” Soon, Walden started as a volunteer at one of the outpatient clinics and, eventually, landed a job there.

At the urging of a friend, she explored master’s programs, which turned out to be a better fit than physical therapy. Since Walden was still working at USC Physical Therapy and managing her business, she needed an online program.

Among the online master’s degrees offered at USC, Walden leaned toward gerontology. “I love helping people live their best healthy and fit life,” Walden says. “I really wanted a hands-on degree that would enhance my skills and broaden my knowledge of older adults.”

An engaging, challenging and fun experience

The MSG program was an eye-opener for Walden. “I was shocked by the stories of elder abuse we learned about in GERO 530 — Life Span Development Sociology, taught by Professor George Shannon,” she says. “It’s outrageous the lengths people will go to take advantage of older adults.”

Walden’s favorite class, GERO 593 — Research Methods, taught by Associate Professor Paul Nash — was also the most difficult. “We learned how to read and evaluate published articles to empower us on how to write a research project from start to finish,” she says. “Dr. Nash made us dig deep during our projects. He challenged us, but in a positive way.”

As a business owner, Walden also enjoyed GERO 589 — Case Studies in Leadership and Change Management. Every week, Professor Edward Schneider invited different entrepreneurs in the field of gerontology to speak to the class. “The class was a lot of fun. I loved hearing about other entrepreneurs and how they managed their successes and failures,” Walden says.

Walden also had the opportunity to create a yoga class for older adults who are challenged with Parkinson’s disease for the USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy. Walden says, “I developed and taught the class to the physical therapy students. The class was part of their curriculum to deliver an exercise program to a group of older patients.”

Portrait of Krystal Walden posing with a reformer machine

Lessons that apply to the real world

For Walden, the most rewarding aspect of the MSG program was learning about the physical and emotional aspects of aging. “I have a better understanding now of what it’s like to be older and the limitations of our bodies,” she says. “From an emotional perspective, I’ve learned how important it is to age at home and maintain your independence.”

Walden channels those lessons into her work with clients as part of her business. “About 80% of my clients are older adults,” she says. “I receive a lot of gratification from helping them improve their strength and fitness so they can be active and independent.”

A future of possibilities

People like Krystal Walden don’t slow down. GERO 510 — Physiology of Development and Aging sparked thoughts about possibly pursuing a PhD. “As a former athlete, being strong and healthy is my passion,” she says. “I’d love to explore physiology and aging further and find different ways to help people age well.” She’d also love to become a professor someday.

In the meantime, Walden plans to continue growing her business and climbing the ladder at USC Physical Therapy. “The best thing about a degree in gerontology is that you can tailor it to whatever you’re passionate about,” she says. “For me, that’s the physical and emotional aspects of aging, but others might lean toward advocacy, policy or politics. Either way, you’re changing lives and helping people age more joyfully.”

To learn more about the Master of Science in Gerontology degree program at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, call us at (213) 740-5156.

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