A senior track athlete has been volunteering her time for the past two years to help an area man with his physical therapy.
Jaclyn Rittgers met Lew Melcher two years ago when she took over his physical therapy. Melcher has been working with Wartburg students for the past ten years to help with is progressive form of MS.
When past Wartburg professor Dr. Henninger sent an email out two years ago looking for a replacement, Rittgers jumped at the chance.
“She asked a couple other students too but I was the first one to email her back,” Rittgers said. “I’m really thankful I was the first one because it’s been an awesome experience.”
Rittgers says she tries to visit two times a week, but admits it’s sometimes hard to find the time to go. As a bio major, she has a heavy workload and also has track practice every day.
She said she’s thankful Melcher and his wife are understanding about her busy schedule. They always remind her school work comes first.
When she visits, she goes through a series of exercises and stretches with Melcher. The goal is to keep him active and strong enough to allow him to continue living at home with his wife.
“He’s just such a hard worker and so determined and so positive. When his wife leaves the room there will be a lot of times he says how he has to get stronger so he can help her and so they continue living on their own,” Rittgers explained.
Melcher says he is thankful for Rittgers’ visits and doesn’t know what he would do without her.
“I’ve got to have somebody to keep me going and she really stretches me,” he said. “You can’t believe how much that helps.”
But the visits aren’t all work for the pair. Both say they enjoy each other’s company and have a great relationship.
For Rittgers, Melcher reminds her a lot of her late grandpa. She said they both had a love for horses and farming, so she has similar conversations with Melcher that she did with her grandpa.
And Melcher simply enjoys Rittgers’ attitude every time she visits.
“She’s just plain upbeat and just a joy to be around,” Melcher said. “We’ve just got a good relationship.”
With graduation approaching, Rittgers knows she’ll have to find someone to replace her. She plans on attending the University of Minnesota next year for their three year physical therapy program.
But she knows she’ll take some of the lessons Melcher has taught her when she leaves.
“The real meaning of life kind of comes to the surface when I go out there,” she said. “He’s just so motivated that it would be hard not to be inspired by him.”