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Lexie Tonnemacher

Exercise Science

Exercise science undergrad nets Creighton’s third straight national award

Students of exercise science at Creighton are turning in muscular performances on the national stage.

For the third consecutive year, a Creighton undergraduate won the Outstanding Poster award at the annual meeting of the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Held from July 12-15, 2023, in Las Vegas, the annual conference is considered a rite of passage for strength and conditioning professionals and engages, according to the NSCA itself, “the smartest minds across the industry.”

This year’s winner was Lexie Tonnemacher, a rising senior from Iowa whose poster was titled “Neural Cell Adhesion Molecule (CD56) Expression in Skeletal Muscle in Older Adults with Parkinson's Disease.” She was preceded on the winner’s podium by Elise Choquette in 2022, who began physical therapy school at Creighton this fall, and Mae Grahek in 2021, who began physician assistant studies at Creighton, also this fall.

A record of three consecutive wins has delighted the University’s exercise science faculty.

Kelley Hammond, PhD, CSCS, assistant professor of exercise science and pre-health professions, says she and Mitchel Magrini, PhD, also assistant professor, have invested greatly in involving students in research projects.

“When students get involved in our labs early in their time on campus, they are able to take ownership of significant parts of our ongoing projects,” she says.

“Mae Grahek, Elise Choquette, and Lexie Tonnemacher have been highly invested in our research, become trusted investigators, and prepared well for their presentations. We enjoy building relationships with our students and encouraging them to be professional, confident young researchers.”

I came here as a nursing pre-med major but changed when I realized the passion I have for scientific research.
— Lexie Tonnemacher 

Tonnemacher’s project compared muscles cells from people with and without Parkinson’s disease, using a specific molecule to identify which cells no longer connected to the nervous system. That information permitted a closer look at how muscle “remodeling,” or reorganization, differs between the two groups.

Lexie Tonnemacher in lab

“If we can figure out how the muscle remodels differently in individuals with this debilitating disease, we will be able to develop specialized treatments that can improve their quality of life,” she says.

Tonnemacher’s time as an undergraduate is nearing its end as she will graduate in 2024 with a Bachelor of Science in exercise science and pre-health professions. She describes her time on campus as life changing.

“As a rising senior, I’m sad to think my time here is almost over,” she says. “I came here as a nursing pre-med major but changed when I realized the passion I have for scientific research.

“My mentors here have changed my life, and I will be forever grateful. I am excited to pursue a PhD — something I never saw myself doing until I came to Creighton — and continue doing research as a career. Creighton allowed me to discover what I’m truly passionate about, and I’m excited to see what the future holds.”