True Grit

Taylor Garcia's major, exercise science, has allowed him to gain knowledge in anatomy and physiology while establishing relationships with like-minded people

Taylor Garcia (r) credits his family, professors, teammates, and coaches for his athletic and academic success; Garcia with his family at a Kingsmen Water Polo team event, from left to right, his mother, Martha; sister, Mia; Taylor; father, Steve; brother, Aidan; and girlfriend, Taya. 

Photo: Taylor Garcia

Student researcher. Water polo player. Physical therapy aide.

These are some of the roles Taylor Garcia has held since he arrived at California Lutheran University from his hometown of Fullerton, California, in 2018. 

During his time at California Lutheran, the senior has played on the Kingsmen Water Polo team, participated in campus clubs, earned a research fellowship, presented his research at a symposium and conference, and worked as a physical therapy aide with one of his former professors.

A team player 

Since his first year on campus, Garcia has played with Kingsmen Water Polo and has established close ties with his teammates and coaches. His tenure with the Kingsmen has taught him about perseverance and the benefits of teamwork.

“Personally, I didn't see real success until my junior year,” Garcia said. “You really can’t appreciate the highs until you've seen the lows, and the fact that I didn’t see immediate success made the accomplishments all the more worth it. I’ll always have a love for this program because of the coaching staff.” He adds that his coaches created a culture of serving one another while imparting life lessons about resilience, fortitude, and persistence that can be applied outside of college.

Last semester, the team achieved an amazing feat: They advanced to the finals in the Division III Collegiate Water Polo National Championship for the first time in the program’s history.  Although they ultimately placed second to the University of the Redlands’ Bulldogs, the Kingsmen collectively experienced a remarkable season.  Garcia deems this experience as extraordinary during his time at Cal Lutheran.

“Being one of the three captains during our program's first-ever SCIAC [Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference] championship definitely had the greatest impact on my time here. Dillon [Goldsmith], Ben [Brown], and I came in with such a passion for winning, which transcended all five years,” he said. “Being able to bring a team together from the ground up made each loss we took over the years worth it. To be able to say we pulled it off for all the alumni and the school makes it one of the proudest moments in my life. “

Other extracurricular activities Garcia has participated in include the Beach Clean Up, the Surfing Club, and the Exercise Science Club, and he served as the Water Polo Representative to the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). His involvement with these organizations has expanded his skillset.

“Each of these clubs has brought me many important skills such as time management and organization. In particular, the SAAC committee helped me improve my collaboration skills with fellow student-athletes from different backgrounds.”

Balancing act  

When Garcia graduates this semester, he plans on continuing his education at a university in Southern California. The exercise science major intends to pursue a doctorate in physical therapy and is also considering a career in medical sales “if the opportunity presents itself,” he said.

To date, the University of Southern California, Mount Saint Mary’s University, and Western University have accepted Garcia into their programs. He is still waiting to receive responses from Chapman University and Cal State University Northridge, but he hasn’t made a final decision on the school he would like to attend. 

Garcia initially intended to study biology with the goal of becoming a nurse yet eventually changed his major. “As I began my anatomy courses, I became fascinated with the human body, drawing me into exercise science as a whole.” 

Physical therapy is such a dynamic outlet because it allows me to further my knowledge in anatomy and physiology while also satisfying my desire to create relationships with like-minded people,” Garcia said. 

CLU faculty, including exercise science assistant professor Travis Peterson, PhD, has also fostered Garcia’s interest in his major, and in turn, physical therapy. “His Biomechanics class was one of the most engaging and intriguing courses I have ever taken,” he said. “And he did such an excellent job of creating strong relationships with all of his students.”

In the Summer of 2022, Peterson served as Garcia’s faculty mentor when he and fellow student, exercise science major, and Regals Water Polo player Bethany Metcalfe received a Swenson Science Summer Research Fellowship for their research. The two investigated the possible differences in balance between aquatic and land athletes. 

“Over the summer, I came to appreciate Dr. Peterson’s critical thinking skills and ability to collaborate with Bethany and me,” he said. The pair showcased their work in poster presentations at the Annual Student Research Symposium and at the Southwest American College of Sports Medicine conference in Costa Mesa, and Garcia recognizes the value of collaborating with fellow student researchers, especially when the subject resonates with their peers.

“Working with Bethany last summer was amazing because it allowed us to pursue topics that had a real connection to our respective sports. I gained knowledge in force plate data collection as well as the nuances behind the NCAA baseline concussion testing protocol.”

Garcia is also gathering knowledge about his career as a physical therapy aide at Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks. For the past two years, he has worked under the tutelage of Justin Brouhard, PT, DPT, who has taught classes in anatomy and exercise science at Cal Lutheran. 

“Dr. Brouhard has also had a major role in my commitment to physical therapy,” Garcia said. “After completing his Functional Anatomy class, I've been fortunate enough to work with him. His commitment to pursuing the highest quality of care creates an environment that allows our patients to thrive.”

As a PT aide, Garcia sits in on evaluations, administers rehabilitation exercises, and creates a strong relationship with each patient. This experience helped him to decide he wants to focus on the performance and sports realm of physical therapy.

Regardless of where he lands, Garcia wants to reside close to his family who lives in Orange County. “My family has shown unconditional love and support throughout my journey, and it would be really hard for me to move farther away than I am now.”

He also remains grateful for those who have helped him find his calling and succeed on and off campus – his parents and siblings, friends, and the coaching staff, whom he commends for supporting him and his endeavors. He is sanguine about the challenges he has met and surmounted as a student-athlete. 

“I’ve learned how hard I could push myself, whether it was with my education or my athletic career. College is a time where you'll inevitably go through highs and lows, but with discipline, sacrifice, and a healthy environment, you'll have the ability to apply yourself more than you could have ever imagined.”


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