Commencement Feature: Student-athlete to health advocate | Keegan Sueltz

Feb 11, 2023; Colorado Springs, CO, USA; The UCCS Mountain Lions hosted the San Francisco State Gators in men’s baseball at Mountain Lion Park. Credit: Isaiah J. Downing

Keegan was a baseball player who had an extra year of eligibility after graduating from Nicholls State University in Louisiana.  

“I was kind of looking for a place that I could play baseball and further my education as well, and I knew I wanted to go to Physical Therapy school eventually, so I wanted to pick something that would be beneficial to my career,” he explained. 

“I was looking at all of the schools in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, because I knew I wanted to be in this region of the country, it’s beautiful,” Keegan said. “So I was researching schools and with UCCS, everything fell into place. It was a good fit baseball-wise, it was a good fit academically, so I was sold.” 

Keegan got recruited by the UCCS baseball team and met Jess Kirby, the Health Promotion Graduate Program Coordinator, who explained to him what the program was and how it could benefit him in the future. 

“I was sold on that, too, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time in the program,” said Keegan. “Health promotion has given me a leg up on other students. I think I have a better idea of what it’s like to work with patients and find that holistic style of care that we talk about so much that other future PTs might not have gotten to experience. The program here at UCCS has really prepared me to be a better practitioner and given me a totally different perspective than a lot of my peers.” 

For Keegan, as a student-athlete, the connections he made during his time at UCCS were twofold.  

“First of all, the relationships I’ve been able to make, especially on the baseball team, have been really great,” he said. “That’s one nice thing about being an athlete is that when you come in to a new place, you have almost a built-in family that you join, a built-in support system. They’re there for you automatically.”  

Keegan also pointed to the relationships he’s made in the health promotion program as a highlight.  

“We have a small cohort in the program, and so we’ve all gotten really close, we help each other out,” he said. “So those relationships have been crucial as well, with the students but also the faculty and staff – they’ve been very supportive, they want the best for you, and they’ve helped me a lot to grow as a person and academically and given me a lot of opportunities to further myself.”  

“I tend to be kind of a shy guy, but I’ve been put in a few different leadership roles here at UCCS, and that’s really helped me to develop as a person, develop my leadership skills,” he continued.  “It’s pulled that side out of me, pulled me out of my shell a little bit, and given me the ability to be a leader.” 

One of those leadership positions was a role in Mountain Lion Strong, a program that helps student-athletes with identity development, healthy relationships, goal setting and holistic wellness. 

“That’s been awesome, being able to be a part of that program,” he said. “I think we’re making a huge difference in the lives of the athletes here at UCCS.” 

Keegan is the lead graduate assistant for the injury support group, helping with research and curriculum development and working with athletes who have been injured in their sport.  

“We talk about their mental health, the struggles they might be having, not just physically but emotionally throughout their recovery,” he explained. “We try and help them navigate those things and get through it so they can return to their sport better, both physically and mentally.” 

“It has been a joy to mentor Keegan and watch him grow into a confident and impactful leader over the past two years, and I couldn’t be prouder of him!” said Kirby. “He quickly emerged as a leader with initiative and commitment to excellence as a peer leader for Mountain Lion Strong. Through his dedication in leading the first-ever athlete injury support groups for UCCS athletes and as my lead research graduate assistant, he contributed to our team’s mission of innovating student-athlete mental health and wellness support and education. He has truly impressed me at every turn.”

Keegan’s greatest challenge at UCCS? 
“The weather,” he laughed. “I’m from Texas, so being in the cold winters with all the snow was definitely different and a little bit of a shock to the system. But it’s those new experiences that I’ve loved so much.” 

Keegan will soon return to the weather he’s used to. He has been accepted into the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at University of North Texas and is excited to be starting in July. 

“I’ve always been interested in physical therapy,” he said. “As an athlete, I always wanted to do something that kept me around sports, that’s what I love. So I always want to be around those athletes, engaging with them. And I enjoy helping people, so that kind of just led me to the field of physical therapy. It allows me to do what I love, to engage with the people that I love, and then to make a difference in their lives and hopefully help improve them.”  

“Keegan leaves behind a powerful legacy at UCCS that will continue to benefit our athletes for years to come,” said Kirby. “Our campus won’t be the same without him, but I have no doubt he will be an impactful leader in sports medicine as he pursues his DPT degree and will be someone that holistically cares for and advocates for athlete well-being for decades to come.”

Keegan encourages his fellow students to get involved, maybe contributing to their own legacy, no matter how busy they might be with school or sports.  

“I never really got involved outside of sports during my undergrad, but when I got to UCCS I got involved with other programs, and that’s been one of best things I’ve ever done. Get involved with different things on campus – clubs, organizations – it’s a great way to meet new people, make new friends, and get yourself outside of your bubble and make a difference. And that’s the most important thing.”