Athletic training major gives performance of a lifetime

"I'm obsessed with theatre," said Christian Junker. "When I came to UNI, that was my official, declared major."

Junker, a junior at the University of Northern Iowa, is now an athletic training major. He made the change from theatre to athletic training because, "I'm fascinated by the human body," he said.

Cirque du Soleil
Due to the unique needs of performers, such as contortionists, Junker had to learn to "pay attention to the patient and what they need." Photo was taken by Camirand, courtesy of Cirque du Soleil.

Lucky for him, he was able to explore both of these interests this past summer when he interned with the famous entertainment company, Cirque du Soleil.

Junker originally contacted Cirque du Soleil about doing an athletic training internship during the summer between his freshman and sophomore years. However, he was told they didn't offer internships in that area.

Needless to say, Junker was disappointed. As luck would have it, Junker would meet someone who could help him through networking with his contacts at UNI.

"One of my advisers told me about a hall of excellence induction ceremony for people who had been in the School of Health, Physical Education and Leisure Services (HPELS)."

It was there that Junker met C. David Burton, a UNI graduate who was being inducted into the Elinor A. Crawford & William R. Thrall Hall of Excellence, who also happened to be supervisor of performance medicine for Cirque du Soleil's show, Alegria.

"I asked him if he had any tips or suggestions for how I could get more experience in the field, because I was interested in performance medicine, and he was like, 'Well, just come with me to Europe this summer.'"

Junker jumped at the opportunity to gain experience in this field, and also to explore France, where Alegria was playing for his two-and-a-half week internship. "I would walk like 90 seconds from my hotel, and then I'd be on the French Riviera at the Mediterranean Sea," he said. "It was great!"

But it wasn't all strolling along the French Riviera. Junker's responsibilities included setting up the athletic training rooms, getting supplies, reviewing schedules and attending meetings everyday. After that, "It would be continuous treatments on performers," said Junker.

The work didn't slow down when the show started, either. "There were three acts that we had to be sure we were out there to cover because they were considered more high-danger level," Junker said. "We would take our emergency med kits out there and we would watch the acts from offstage to make sure everything went ok."

He did get the chance to enjoy the show, though. "I watched one full show where I actually sat out in the audience."

Overall, the experience was a valuable one. "I took all of the skills I had, and applied them in a setting that I was unfamiliar with," said Junker. "It was a lot of experience with patients' values, and seeing how working with patients works. I learned about a more holistic view of medicine, because many of the people who work for Cirque Du Soleil are not from the United States, especially performers, and they have different views on medicine."

But the biggest thing he took away from the experience? "It just reaffirmed that I am in the right field for me."