Dr. Nicole Culos-Reed – an Enduring Wellspring Partner
For years, Dr. Culos-Reed, PhD, has been a trailblazer in research pointing to exercise as a staple in the cancer wellness plan. For as many years, she has aligned herself with Wellspring.
“Since I first began, Wellspring has been my most important and valued community partner. We are united in our focus on those living with cancer. While I focus on exercise, Wellspring does so much more. The commonality we share is that we are here to provide a community experience; to support individuals wherever they are with whatever they need,” said Culos-Reed.
From her current post as Professor and Associate Dean Graduate of U of C’s Faculty of Kinesiology, Dr. Culos-Reed leads a team of students in her Health and Wellness Lab, with a mission to bridge the gap between cancer exercise research and clinical practice. To that end, they develop programs that include exercise assessment, prescription, and education as vital components of cancer care.
Wellspring and other health and community partners are fortunate collaborators; providing the environment to deliver these expertly designed and facilitated programs to cancer survivors and their families.
At Wellspring, the very first class offered in 2007 was Exercise and Educate, taught by Culos-Reed herself. At that time she was working solo to build her vision and recalls bringing her small children to the classes.
“I loved those early teaching days, and I love that the model still stands, which is teaching exercise along with integrated behavior change techniques. During the sessions we talk about goal setting, social support, barrier management, all the things that people worry will keep them from sticking with exercise,” said Culos-Reed.
While Exercise and Educate and HIIT for Young Adults remains a favourite for Wellspring members, over the years the offering from her Wellness Lab team has grown to include ACE (Alberta Cancer Exercise), Yoga Thrive, some outdoor walking programs, and most recently EXCEL, a national initiative with particular emphasis on delivering classes to rural and remote parts of the country.
After nearly 15 years, Culos-Reed leaves facilitating to her expertly chosen and highly trained students.
“I carefully handpick my students who lead programs at Wellspring. I choose exceptional individuals who are lovely at exercise and who understand how to focus on supporting someone going through cancer. It takes a special person to deliver in that setting and I am very thoughtful in choices,” said Culos-Reed.
During the pandemic, with modifications and extra training, Culos-Reed and her team figured out how to safely and effectively offer classes and build community online.
“Online removes a lot of barriers in terms of access and is also more convenient for those who are too unwell to leave home, or too nervous about being out during the pandemic,” she said.
In fact, Culos-Reed indicates that the challenges of the pandemic have accelerated their aim to extend their program reach. She is confident they have now built a safe and sustainable model that will serve them well going forward, as they expand programs across the country,
“We will definitely be able to reach more people than ever before, but while doing so, we will keep our class sizes at a reasonable number so we can constantly monitor people safely. We have to be able to see every participant on our screen. When you are delivering exercise to people who have cancer, safety has to be your number one concern,” she said.
As for Wellspring, members benefit immeasurably from evidence-informed exercise and a community designed to meet their needs.
“Our program is all about wellness, exercise and building community. I tell my team, you can give someone the best exercise program in the world, but it doesn’t matter if they don’t have the right environment, with support, to do it in. Wellspring is that right environment.”