On getting lucky — reflecting on my life recently.

Jen Xu
7 min readMay 4, 2023


I know it’s not anywhere near St. Patrick’s Day, but I’m feeling incredibly lucky right now. With PhD school, most of my personal relationships, my dog, my health (all things considered, being in this walking boot has actually been perfect because it limits the things I can do in the gym so I don’t overtrain, which I’m prone to do). Though, I would say that I’m feeling lucky that my hard work has gotten me to where I am. It would be wrong to say that I haven’t worked hard, but it would also be wrong not to acknowledge that I found a lot of the right opportunities and the right people, albeit in really weird ways.

So here’s a story of how a girl with lots of dreams went on a journey to chase them.

I moved to Atlanta after getting my Master’s — by myself, and I was consequently ending a relationship because of the move. It was really tough. It was a few months after COVID broke out, so I drove myself to Atlanta from Utah, and promptly ran over 15 nails in a tire the night before I actually got to Atlanta (see below). So I spent approximately 8 hours in a Firestone in Nashville and got to my apartment at 7pm. I then moved stuff into my apartment in the August heat in Atlanta, by myself, after all of that. I wanted to cry, though I did think, it can’t get worse.

This has haunted my nightmares.

But it did. 3 days later, I went to the Chipotle up the street because it’s my comfort food. Then my car battery died — they couldn’t get it started, so I had to leave my car there overnight, my new coworker I had met 3 days prior had to drive me back to my apartment. The next day, I went back & asked State Farm to send me a tow — and the guy managed to start my car, which I promptly drove to another Firestone up the street. About 2 months later, my car’s back window wouldn’t go back up, and I had to fix that. Needless to say, any car trouble these days really freaks me out. Which is naturally why I want a Jeep, right? I’m clearly incredibly masochistic, which is evidenced by my decision to get a PhD.

Before I get to that, though, that experience in Atlanta gave me a lot because anytime I get upset about something happening, I just think about my first few weeks in Atlanta, & it’s all better. But I made some amazing friends there, and I looove the weather & the proximity to nicer beaches. It was there that I learned about my penchant for dating bald men, discovered that a lot of my friends have more Asian friends than I do, and it led me to my love of baseball, which is weird in itself given how fast-paced my brain is.

It was there that I decided to apply to 2 PhD programs & just see what happened. Truthfully, my GRE scores were about to expire and I did NOT want to take them again, because I got pretty good scores the first time around. Realistically, though, that just moved the needle slightly. Two main things happened — a few days after I moved to Atlanta for a job that I hoped would keep me busy so I could take my mind off leaving Utah (I would love nothing more than to go back), fall sports got cancelled. So I was left just trying to help with COVID screening & going to work a few days a week, & I was going insane. I knew something had to change. Second, an athletic trainer friend at the time told me about a cool professor at the University of Georgia that she spoke with, as they bonded over their military service. I started to think…could it be time to get a PhD?

See, 20 days after I moved to Atlanta I made a post about how life was going. It was surprisingly positive given everything that had happened, but, as you can see below, it was part of my 5–10 year plan to get my PhD. I thought I’d spend some more time working.

After I started my PhD, I started to realize that the clinical setting was just not necessarily right for me. I really struggled with decision-making because all my brain does is ruminate — it circles & wonders & jumps around from thought to thought, and it was agonizing to make clinical decisions. Realizing that you have ADHD as an adult is really helpful, but it’s definitely frustrating because you realize that you spent years just kicking yourself for being different or weird — when you are different and weird, but it’s okay. I want to make people feel better & help them enjoy life, but there are other ways to do it, which is where research comes in.

So I applied to 2 schools, took a chance, and really was surprised when I ended up at THE University of Virginia — an absolute powerhouse in sports medicine research. Truly, I thought this was a long shot, but it really confirmed for me that I made the right choice in pursuing research. See, the first person who really saw my strengths (as a researcher) & told me about them was my advisor at Utah State — we basically decided on a project in mid-September in our first meeting, & I just rolled with it from there. I was advised not to do an intervention project by some of the other ATs, but I did (again, see my comment about masochism), and it involved a lot of pilot testing, figuring out a protocol for a new underwater treadmill because even the professors hadn’t used it to record videos, a lot of equipment breaking, and a lot of tears. But I did it. And I learned that I really, really need to breathe more because research is not perfect or smooth.

After I defended my thesis, in the Zoom meeting, he told me — this is what you need to be doing, you’re a great writer. I think that was the first time a professor had told me that about a job. I struggled heavily in undergrad because I was very, very lost. I had a few people who helped me with my personal growth, but I never was sure if I was in the exact right profession or setting. Some settings are more controlled relative to others (clinic vs. college athletics), and I’ve realized I thrive in controlled chaos, not pure chaos. Sports medicine/human research is absolutely controlled chaos, so it’s perfect for me.

So here I am, doing exactly the type of research I’ve always wanted to be doing. Since I tried minimalist shoes in 2018, I have always known that I wanted to study the foot and minimalist shoes. I used minimalist shoes to cure my plantar fasciopathy at that time, along with toe exercises to strengthen my feet. I am overjoyed at how everything has come full circle and I am embarking on a research project about this exact topic to help others. I can’t even describe the level of…joy. Which I guess is the definition of overjoyed. Hmm. I’m just lucky I found an advisor whose brain seems to work similiarly to mine — it’s eager to problem-solve & intervene & just make people feel better.

The other thing that is really cool to me is the fact that I’m doing a military research project. I got an abstract accepted to an international military conference in the UK — how frickin’ cool is that! When I was at Pitt, we toured their neuromuscular research lab — and they showed us all this equipment that they were using to do military research. Which I thought was so cool. And when I missed out on grad school immediately after undergrad, I realized that I wanted to do research, and I had an inkling about military research. That desire has slowly grown over the years & I’ve finally realized that this is where I want to be. It’s always been important for me to help people enjoy their lives, but I also want to help them do their jobs. And sports medicine research in the military is basically doing both of those things, because we’re concerned about military readiness as well as chronic conditions & veteran health.

The fact that all of these things I even dared to think about years ago are happening is mind-boggling. It doesn’t even feel real. And this includes stand-up comedy, which, if you think I’m gushing now, just wait! It’s changed my life & I do think that it’s a huge reason that I’m much more confident and bold and courageous now, in all facets of my life, especially research. I guess I kinda feel like I can do anything, if I can get up on stage & tell jokes that may or may not be funny at all.

I could go on & on, but I should get back to work. I think I just needed a moment where I could be really happy & really still (in a way…writing leads to a one-track mind for me, which is what I need more often than not). So, I’m feeling lucky, I’m really grateful, & I’m going to keep working hard because I have so much more to do.



Jen Xu

Athletic trainer, PhD student, coffee lover. I write about fitness, mental health, being Asian-American, and personal growth.