By: Ryan Smith '14
Braydon Lazzara ’24 is always on the move.
The Stow native and exercise science major can be seen on the soccer pitch, leading students as a Preview and Raider Guide, or in the lab — sometimes all on the same day. Though constant movement is both his routine and his research focus, there was a time when lack of mobility had Lazzara and his family concerned about his future. Thanks to his distinctive Mount Union experience, those days are behind him, fueling what he hopes to be a successful kinesthetic career.
Athletics have always played an important part in Lazzara’s life, specifically soccer. However, during his time at Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in both of his knees; one leg during his freshman year and the other during his senior year. The latter put a slight damper on his dreams of playing at the collegiate level. Mount Union was not really on Lazzara’s radar until two of his former high school teammates gave glowing reviews about the University’s soccer program and campus. Soon thereafter, he received an offer to be a Purple Raider.
“I actually remember my mom tearing up because my family and I were not sure if anyone would want to invest in an athlete who was currently rehabbing an injury,” Lazzara said. “When we were invited to campus again after the offer, I was sold.”
Although Mount Union quickly became his first choice, he got healthier and his talent garnered more attention, earning him an NAIA offer that came with an athletic scholarship.
“I was not sure that attending Mount Union could be financially possible, and the other offer I had was helping make my decision for me,” he said. “When I received a call from a financial aid rep letting me know that Mount Union had other aid available to me, I was excited I could not only afford Mount, but that it would end up being less expensive than the other school.”
From his first day on campus, Lazzara has made the most of every minute of his college experience. Reading his list of campus involvements requires a few breaths of pause so to not run out of air. Alongside his participation on the soccer team and Raider Guides, Lazzara also has been named the team’s head sport scientist and holds leadership roles in the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity, Active Minds, American Chemical Society, Exercise Science Club, Honors Council, Data Science Club, Student Senate, Inter-science Research Club, Lifting Club, and the Pre-Physical Therapy Club. As if that was not enough, he has also decided to throw the javelin for the track and field team. When asked if he still has time to relax, Lazzara laughed, saying, “Oh yeah, I have a little here and there.”
While some are for fun and others with friends, many of Lazzara’s extracurricular activities have his future in mind. Initially thinking medical school was the path for him, Lazzara’s experience rehabilitating his knee injuries led him to the field of exercise science with the intention of being a physical therapist. He also hopes to one day teach physical therapy at the collegiate level, which is partially the basis for holding executive positions in numerous organizations.
“As New Member Orientation Officer for Phi Tau, I’m teaching guys about how great our chapter and Mount Union are, just like I do with being the Raider Guide coordinator as they offer leadership to other students,” Lazzara said. “By being the sport scientist for the men’s soccer team, I’m getting to put my research into action with my teammates to help them be their best.”
Though only a junior, he has received impactful research experiences few undergraduates attain. His work on injury prevention and soccer kinematics has led him to be the youngest individual and first Mount Union student present his research at The Ohio State University’s Injury Biomechanics Symposium. He also presented at the Midwest American College of Sports Medicine Conference (ACSM) in both 2021 and 2022, earning the Undergraduate Research Scholar Award in 2022.
Alongside national conferences, Lazzara is also making an impact locally in aiding Dr. Kanika Bansal, assistant professor of physical therapy, in her endeavors. He was able to assist in a nine-week study that continued Bansal’s award-winning research on stroke patients, many of whom reside in the communities near Mount Union. Few undergraduates get the chance to receive hands-on experience with graduate faculty, yet Lazzara has been working with faculty and high-end equipment like Vicon Motion Analysis Software for more than a year.
“Doing all this research genuinely feels like fun and not work because it’s interesting to me, and I hope to make a difference in the field one day,” Lazzara said, who is probably closer to that achievement than he realizes.
Lazzara can fulfill these ambitious research efforts thanks to engaging faculty like Bansal and Dr. Tomás Barrett, assistant professor of exercise science. Lazzara’s gratitude toward Barrett’s involvement as an advisor is evident anytime research is mentioned.
“Dr. Barrett is the reason I’m able to do everything at Mount Union and is one of the reasons I continue to be passionate about the field and my projects,” Lazzara said. “As a professor, he makes the curriculum easy to understand and engaging. As a research advisor, he always makes time to answer my questions and help ease my stress.”
Many athletes struggle to overcome one significant knee injury, let alone two. The number of athletes that take those challenges and turn them into a career is microscopic. Of course, it would be unlike Lazzara to rest on the laurels of his recent success. He has already accepted a summer 2023 internship position at the Wake Forest University Biomedical Engineering and Informatics Summer Research Program, where he will work with peers from across the country on injury prediction model development, osteoporosis prevention, biomechanical injury mechanisms, and several other projects.
Lazzara has found a way to channel his passion with the Mount Union community supporting him every step of the way. His unique blend of athletic ability, leadership experience, and research success has led him to find his purpose and set an example for those following in his footsteps.
“Mount Union has provided me with the opportunity to be more than a student-athlete. I’ve had so many resources available to me that have led to an incredibly valuable college experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.”