The gripping tale of a U.S. airman who was nearly killed in a missile attack during deployment to Iraq in 2004 only to survive and become a motivational speaker sent Chandee Pressnall ’18, ’20 down a path she hopes one day will allow her to help amputees and burn victims.

Pressnall, herself a 10-year Air Force veteran, was inspired to pursue a career in physical therapy after reading about fellow Airman Brian Kolfage. Kolfage, a security forces member on his second deployment, sustained life-threatening injuries after a rocket exploded near him, causing him to lose both legs and an arm. He is considered the most severely injured U.S. airman to survive wounds suffered in war. Despite his injuries and being told that he would never walk again, Kolfage found the drive to help himself regain mobility and even play sports.

“It could have been me while I was doing security operations,” Pressnall said. “His determination and grit are what make me want to work with veteran amputees.”

Pressnall isn’t the typical doctor of physical therapy (DPT) student. Besides having spent more than 10 years in the U.S. Air Force, she is Pacific’s Department of Exercise Science Student of the Year for 2018.

For Pressnall, Pacific is her dream school.

“Pacific’s small class sizes appealed to me, because I wanted to be more than just a number,” said Pressnall, who was raised in Stockton. “I wanted to get to know all my faculty and peers and to be involved in the program.”

Her daughter Hailey, now 10, started kindergarten when Pressnall enrolled as an undergraduate student at Pacific. Pressnall has fond memories of the two of them doing homework together and helping each other study, whether it was for a spelling test or kinesiology exam. For Pressnall, the positive outcomes outweighed the challenging moments.


“Working together isn’t always possible, but over the years I have learned to manage my time well enough to get a term paper done and be able to go play at the park with my daughter,” Pressnall said.

Pressnall keeps her daughter involved with Pacific’s campus by attending family events such as the annual Safe Trick-or-Treat and athletic events. She hopes that Pacific’s environment will instill confidence in her daughter and prepare her for a smooth transition to college.

“I want to be the best possible role model for her,” Pressnall said.

Pressnall is motived by her peers in the DPT program and is excited about becoming a physical therapist.

“It was obvious that the upperclassmen have developed a strong bond with each other and they were excited to welcome in a new class and take us under their wing,” Pressnall said. “Since being accepted, the current members of the program have gone above and beyond to ensure that the new students feel welcomed and prepared for the new journey.”

Pressnall believes that her purpose is “to serve those who have served.” Her goal is to work at the Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio, Texas, a rehabilitation facility to treat amputees and burn victims.

By Dua Her '09
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