Helping athletes perform better through biomechanics

Dr Danielle Trowell’s successful biomechanics career is proof that it pays to take chances and keep an open mind when it comes to specialisations.

For Danielle, a practitioner and educator in biomechanics, sport’s always been a big part of life. In fact, one of her earliest memories is of being in creche at a netball centre while her mum played. ‘I grew up around sport. I did little athletics and Netta from when I was about six, then track and field and netball until I was 18 years old. After that I continued with track, as a middle-distance runner,’ she says. ‘I always wanted to work in sport, and I knew I wasn't going to be an athlete. So, I think [my career] is a really great way for me to continue to be involved.’

She’s certainly managed to stay involved in sport. These days, she’s a biomechanist at the Victorian Institute of Sport and an associate lecturer in biomechanics at Deakin University.

Helping both athletes and students achieve their best

After finishing high school, Danielle completed a Bachelor of Exercise and Sport Science/Bachelor of Business (Sport Management) at Deakin University. She went on to complete her Honours at Deakin, followed by an industry-based PhD through a partnership between Deakin and the Australian Institute of Sport. She now holds a unique role encompassing teaching, clinical practice and research.

As a biomechanics professional, Danielle’s work involves analysing a sportsperson’s movements to maximise performance while minimising injury. A typical week for her now includes teaching at Deakin, providing online support for students, attending athlete training sessions and competitions and analysing the output, and working on research projects in her spare time.

‘For the first four months of the year, the track and field competitions alternate between different states. So, for the first four months of the year, I pretty much travel most weekends. I'll go interstate to attend a track and field competition where I'll film the athletes. And then when I come home from that competition I’ll do the reports, process the video and do data analysis for them – looking at technique and how they can improve.’

I’m in a partnership role between Deakin University and the Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS). So, I teach within the undergraduate biomechanics units at Deakin, then at the VIS, I work with Athletics Australia track and field athletes.

How Danielle benefited from practical learning

Danielle’s double degree included practicum components. These practical placements allow students to get hands-on experience working in an exercise or sporting organisation. The practicum Danielle completed had a huge impact on her eventual career direction. It even led to an unexpected change in her study and career focus – from dietetics to biomechanics. ‘When I was going through my undergraduate degree, I wanted to be a sports dietician. And then I did my practicum experience and got exposure to biomechanics.’

Danielle never would have discovered her interest in biomechanics without taking a chance. As she was pondering where she’d complete her practicum, Danielle reached out to the Australian Institute of Sport. ‘I sent an email to the general enquiries part of the AIS website. I never thought I'd hear back, but I did. They offered me a month placement in Canberra, so I went up there and I did my work experience and fell in love with biomechanics.’ Having found a discipline she was passionate about, Danielle was able to change her electives to fit more closely with a future career in biomechanics.

‘The practicum came at the perfect time. I was getting into my final year, which meant a bit more flexibility around the electives that I could choose. That work experience completely changed the electives that I ended up opting for and it was fantastic that it was such an easy change for me to do.’

A path to excellence at Deakin

A path to excellence at Deakin

Danielle says the wide range of specialties available in Deakin’s sport degrees sets it apart from other universities, and helped secure the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences#1 world ranking for the third year running. ‘Deakin has a really extensive sports science degree. We offer so many different major sequences to the students. You can specialise in exercise physiology, you can specialise in psychology, sports nutrition and so on.’

‘The other thing that was the standout for me was just simply the lecturers that were in the role and the people that were available to support and supervise postgraduate studies. The people who work at Deakin are incredibly passionate, they're incredibly hardworking and they're there to support the students. And I think that's what's helped set us apart.’

Follow your passion

Turning a passion into a career can come with its own challenges, and Danielle herself struggled to choose between pursuing sport and sticking with a perceived ‘safer’ option. ‘In the end, I decided I'd rather do something I love and possibly work a slightly larger and more intense work week, than ever be stuck in a nine to five that I wasn't completely passionate about.’

‘My advice to anyone would be to follow your passion. I think following my passion is what got me into my current role. I'm a firm believer that if you’re working in a field you’re passionate about, you’ll work hard and be rewarded for that hard work.' ‘Opportunity comes to those who have a strong work ethic and can help produce those results.’

Interested in learning more? Find out more about Danielle’s research.

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