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Former Cirque du Soleil Acrobat Lands on His Feet, Graduates from Physical Therapist Assistant Program

February 2, 2021
Former Cirque du Soleil Acrobat Lands on His Feet, Graduates from Physical Therapist Assistant Program header

For five years, Sam Aylestock-Leclair pushed his body to the limit, ten shows a week, as an acrobat in two Las Vegas Cirque du Soleil shows—”Viva Elvis” at the Aria Resort and Casino and “The Beatles LOVE” at The Mirage.


In the eight years since his performing career ended, Sam has worked as a trainer at a gym, as a customer service rep for Zappos, and as a Lyft driver. But he’ll soon be putting his knowledge of the human body—and his passion for peak performance—to good use as a Physical Therapist Assistant.


Sam graduated in April from the Physical Therapist Assistant program at Carrington College in Las Vegas, completing his Associate of Science degree and passing the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) in July.


“Helping people recover from injuries, take better care of their bodies, and achieve their own level of peak performance is something I’m really looking forward to doing,” says Sam, 37. “I was drawn to the Physical Therapist Assistant program because I want to support people in being as healthy and as active as they can. I know what it’s like to struggle with a physical injury and to wonder whether you’ll ever return to the life you once had.”


In 2017, Sam was involved a car accident that left him with four ruptured discs. He was at a physical therapy appointment one day when the Physical Therapist Assistant he was working with asked if he had ever considered a career in physical therapy.


“I actually had thought about it as a potential career field, but as a married guy with a then-two-year-old son, I just didn’t feel like I could invest the time and money required to get the education I would need to become a Physical Therapist,” Sam recalls. “He then suggested I consider becoming a Physical Therapist Assistant. As it turns out, he was a graduate of Carrington’s first PTA class in Las Vegas. When he told me I could complete the program and be working in the field within two years, I wanted to know more.”


That conversation proved out to be a pivot point in Sam’s life. He visited Carrington’s Las Vegas campus a few days later to learn more about the PTA program, and enrolled in the program in August, 2018. Sam, who lives in Summerlin. says his experience at Carrington was everything he hoped it would be—and more.


“Going back to school at 35 was a little intimidating at first,” he admits. “There were times, especially in the early months of the program, when it felt like I was trying to sprint in quicksand. But I stuck with it and kept pressing forward. I knew there would eventually be light at the end of the tunnel.”


For Sam, his cohort—the 23 other students with whom he moved through the program—proved to be a lifeline.


“We came into the program as strangers and left as friends,” he says. “We all had a common goal that kept us focused. We each had our own reason for being there and our own motivation for completing the program. There were times when it was fun and times when it was really intense, but overall it was a really rewarding two years on many levels.”


Sam says that throughout the program, his focus on succeeding was laser sharp.


“My wife, Shannon, supported our family by working in the admitting department of a hospital while I went to school,” Sam explains. “She’s my hero, and she’s made it all possible. I made a commitment to her—and to our son, Jackson—that I would succeed in the program. Fear of failure can be a real inspiration, especially after being away from the classroom for 17 years. Even though the program was at times more intense and involved than I expected, I knew what I needed to do. I just kept pushing forward.”


Sam, who was born in Vancouver and raised near Montreal, recently completed a pair of internships—one in outpatient Vestibular and Balance rehabilitation, and one in outpatient Orthopedic rehabilitation. He’s confident his nine-year career as a professional athlete and performer with Cirque du Soleil and Canada’s Les Productions Haut-Vol will provide him with a unique perspective when working with physical therapy patients.


“I’ve experienced the aches and pains of injuries and surgeries, so I know what it’s like to want—and need—to recover as quickly and completely as possible,” Sam says. “I know what that feels like, physically and emotionally. For some people, the goal might be to return to competition as an elite athlete. For others, it’s just being able to reach for a glass or take a walk without pain. Wherever my patients happen to be starting, I’m looking forward to helping them progress and to perform at their personal best.”

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