Muscling Through

MGMC physical therapist overcomes health crisis, goes on to earn ‘Athlete of the Year' titles.

Cindy Hauber's patients can now brag that their physical therapist is a nationally recognized amateur athlete.

What may be more important to them, however, is that this athletic medical professional knows firsthand what it's like to come back from a major health crisis.

In August, Hauber, a physical therapist with Mary Greeley Medical Center's HOMEWARD Home Care Services, was named the Iowa Games 2009 Marty McHone Female Athlete of the Year. (McHone is a former Iowa Games Athlete of the Year who died of cancer in 2002.)

Hauber was nominated for the honor by her husband, Wayne, who works in computer security at Iowa State University. The Iowa Games submitted her name for the National State Games Female Athlete of the Year award. Hauber won it, too, though she humbly thought, "a little old lady from Iowa is never going to win the national award."

A Lot of Medals

Her Iowa Games medals are stored in boxes under the bed at home. She recently dug through them, thinking she might display the first medal she won. But she couldn't immediately remember which medal that was.

Who can blame her? Hauber has competed in all but two Iowa Games since the event began in 1987. She has more than 100 medals in several sports, though her primary one is swimming. Her first medal, as it turns out, was for the 200 freestyle competition. At the 2009 Summer Iowa Games, she earned 10 gold medals in swimming events.

"I like the whole concept of the state games," says Hauber. "It's grown every year and they've incorporated more family events, which is a neat way to get kids involved and promote healthy, active lifestyles."

Hauber has always been athletic but didn't get into organized sports until her junior year in high school. She grew up in Pocahontas and attended a Catholic high school that didn't exactly encourage girls to pursue sports. She indulged her interests on her own and eventually caught the eye of the public high school girls' basketball coach, who suggested she switch schools. She didn't, but when the Catholic school closed, the coach was "right there ready to sign me up for the basketball and track teams."

Hauber is also an avid rollerblader, hiker, biker and runner. She's now doing triathlon training.

A Serious Setback

At the Iowa Games awards banquet in October, Hauber acknowledged the support and encouragement she received from her family. She also made sure to thank two former colleagues, Nancy Shaw and Sharon Lockhart. They were with Hauber at a conference in Chicago in 2000 when she suffered a brain aneurysm.

Shaw found her friend unconscious on the floor of the hotel room they were sharing. She got Hauber awake, but then Hauber began to have slight convulsions when she tried to lift her head.

"My head felt like it was going to explode," she says. "I had the worst headache and I couldn't move my legs."

She was rushed to a Chicago hospital and then into surgery for the aneurysm. Hauber spent a little over two weeks in Chicago before coming home to Ames, where she spent another week in Mary Greeley Medical Center. A few weeks after the surgery, she begged her brother, who was visiting, to take her to the pool, joking she had "chlorine withdrawal."

"I did three laps and I was just exhausted but it felt so good to get back in the water," she says.

Life eventually returned to normal. In mid-summer, she was allowed to go back to work and back to the gym.

"I'd lost 20 pounds, most of it muscle," she says.

Going For It

Hauber has a bachelor's degree in zoology and a master's in exercise science from Iowa State. She worked for the Ames Parks and Recreation Department and the National Animal Disease Center, but she long held a desire to be a physical therapist. She still works part time for Parks and Recreation as a personal trainer. Hauber had been on a waiting list at Des Moines University, but after the aneurysm, she figured her chance at getting into physical therapy school had passed.

"I had given up trying to get in. Then a couple months after getting back to work, Des Moines University called to see if I was still interested," she says. "I wasn't sure but my husband told me, ‘If you don't try you'll always wonder if you could have made it.'"

"The kids and my husband all helped me study and kept telling me how proud they were and that I could do it," she adds. "My youngest daughter even slipped notes of encouragement into my backpack."

She earned her Ph.D. in 2005 and joined HOMEWARD the same year.

Hauber's love of physical activity is a big part of her professional life. She actively promotes wellness, and, because of her own experiences, she can help her patients understand how being active can help them feel better and lift their spirits.

As a physical therapist, she gets immense satisfaction from working with people for whom "being able to climb up their stairs takes a long time to do, and they are so excited when they do it. It's kind of awesome to get an award for doing something I love, and to get that kind of appreciation every day when I go to work."