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Blue Devil of the Week: Diving Into New Challenges

Former Duke athlete plays central role in getting Occupational Therapy Doctorate program started

As a student, athlete, coach and staff member, Lindy Norman has built a strong connection to Duke. Photo by Stephen Schramm.
As a student, athlete, coach and staff member, Lindy Norman has built a strong connection to Duke. Photo by Stephen Schramm.

Name: Lindy Norman

Position: Administrative Coordinator, Occupational Therapy Doctorate Program

Years at Duke: 3

What she does at Duke: Roughly three years ago, Duke’s Occupational Therapy Doctorate Program was little more than idea. When Lindy Norman joined as the program’s first staff member, her job was to help make the vision real.

Lindy Norman in a classroom. The program, which is now supported by a team of five staff, is designed to create therapists who can help people overcome the barriers that keep them from participating in the activities of daily life by making changes to their health, environment or work or living situation. In two whirlwind years – from its creation in 2019 to its first classes in August 2021 – the program developed a curriculum, gained approval from the university, earned accreditation, built a faculty and staff and found its first cohort of around 40 diverse students.

Norman was at the heart of that effort, often serving as the bridge connecting the aspirations of the program’s organizers with the realities of how things get done at Duke. She helped lay out the program’s structure by talking with colleagues in other programs about what their jobs entail. Among many other duties, she also familiarized herself with how the clerical side of graduate programs work and how the faculty and student recruiting process unfolds.

“We had to start from scratch and I loved it,” Norman said. “At many points, my role was to listen to what people wanted to happen, what a perfect scenario for them would be, and try to figure out how to implement it.”

What she loves about Duke: Before she joined the staff of the Occupational Therapy Doctorate Program, Norman got to experience Duke from the perspective of a student – she graduated with a degree in history in 1995. And as a staff member in Athletics, she worked as head diving coach in the early 2000s. No matter where she was, she said she always appreciated the passion and work ethic of Duke’s students and employees.

“To be somewhere where people are always bringing their ‘A’ game is so invigorating,” Norman said. 

Lindy Norman, left, stands with the first cohort of students in the Occupational Therapy Doctorate Program at orientation. Photo courtesy of Lindy Norman.Most memorable day at work: On August 9, 2021, the first students in Duke’s Occupational Therapy Doctorate Program gathered for orientation. But Norman’s most vivid memory was the night before, when she was a mix of nerves and excitement while setting up decorations, name tags and welcome packets.

“I was so nervous, there were a lot of moving parts to everything and we just wanted it to go perfectly,” Norman said. “It was the culmination of everything we’d worked for.”

The best advice received: Norman’s husband, David, a former Duke baseball player, often says “action conquers fear,” an idea that powered her through challenging moments during the creation of the Occupational Therapy Doctorate Program. 

“There were definitely days when I felt overwhelmed or there was something I needed to figure out and I had no idea where to start,” Norman said. “I’d just keep repeating ‘action conquers fear,’ and that if I could just start doing the thing I was afraid of, I could just push forward.”

Lindy Norman, right, gets help from her daughter, Ellie, in building a playhouse. Photo courtesy of Lindy Norman. When she’s not working, she likes to: Norman can often be found in her garage, using her myriad of tools to create or rehabilitate wooden furniture, or make progress on a building project. Woodworking runs in her genes as her great-grandfather was a barrel maker, her grandfather carved ducks and her father was constantly working on wood projects in the family’s basement. 

“I’m not that good at it, I just enjoy it,” said Norman, who recently redid her bathroom and built a cabinet for the laundry room. “I just like to play with tools and see if I can figure things out.”

After her college diving days were done, Lindy Norman, seen here standing in the foreground, served as Duke's diving coach. Photo courtesy of Lindy Norman. Something most people don’t know about her: Norman first came to Duke in 1991 when she joined the women’s diving team. As a diver, and later a coach, Norman loved the way diving forces competitors to push the limits of their own ability and mettle, and solve the puzzle of how to complete complex dives.

“I’ve always liked a good problem to solve and diving is like that,” Norman said. “The most rewarding part is when a diver and I could solve that puzzle together.

Lesson learned during the pandemic: Norman said the challenge of helping build a new program while working remotely underscored the value of blending flexibility and productivity.

“What impressed me most was how productive our team was as we pulled off the start of a new program,” Norman said. “True professionals will get the job done.”

Is there a colleague at Duke who has an intriguing job or goes above and beyond to make a difference? Nominate that person for Blue Devil of the Week.