MSU Denver professor takes life lessons into classroom

The second thing you notice when you walk into Dr. Joe Quatrochi’s office on the second floor of the Physical Education building on Auraria Campus, is the abundance of plaques covering the walls. The plaques enclose various diplomas and awards that he has earned over the years as well as photographs of former athletic students posing with the Metropolitan State University of Denver Roadrunners basketball team.

Dr. Joe Quatrochi, professor and exercise scientist, shows off one of his exercise bikes and how to use it on Auraria Campus on Dec. 6. Quatrochi has been a professor at MSU Denver for 27 years. Photo by Victoria Toutant |


The first thing you notice is Dr. Quatrochi himself, or Dr. Q as he’s known around campus by colleagues and students alike. Lean and tan, there’s something undeniably youthful about his appearance despite the strong sense of authority embodied in his demeanor. His voice is measured and unhurried, and his mannerisms appear without artifice. There’s an overt equanimity about him, the kind of balance that can only be achieved through time and experience.

A professor of human performance and sport at MSU Denver since 1991, Quatrochi helped coordinate the accreditation of the university’s exercise science program. His website names an extensive list of professional services he offers, ranging from motivational speaking, exercise prescription, risk management and physical wellness consultation for both private and public organizations. He has also provided expert witness testimony for legal cases.

In his sophomore year studying physical education at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, his mother passed away at the age of 52 from heart disease. He attributes his mother’s untimely passing as the primary motivation for wanting to shift the focus of his studies from physical education toward disease prevention and health promotion.

“She had a lot of lifestyle habits that contributed, I think, to her early death and I wanted to see if I could prevent that in other people,” he said. “She was relatively sedentary, a smoker, and overweight. And I knew those were important risk factors for heart disease.”

In grad school, he realized he could generate the most resounding impact on health promotion and disease prevention in his community through teaching. By training future health professionals in the field of exercise science as opposed to only working with individualized clients, his influence could be both concentric and regenerative.

In the spring of 2000, Quatrochi was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He spent that summer undergoing chemotherapy. The diagnosis had a profound impact on him.  He had devoted his entire adult life to studying the correlation between exercise science and disease prevention, but in his case, the disease was completely unpreventable.

“I learned a lot of lessons from that that I thought would have been foolish not to share,” he said. “I was a snob about cancer because there was none in my family. I was really on top of cardiovascular disease because my mom passed so young.”

His struggle with cancer became an integral part of his life’s story, which he eventually began incorporating into keynote and motivational speeches.   

“Look,” he said. “I was the healthiest guy I knew. And here’s what happened.”

Despite the unpredictable and unpreventable nature of the disease, Quatrochi is quick to emphasize the significant role his life’s ethos of self-responsibility still played in his recovery. Through his studies, he was already aware of what the research community had to say about the correlations between positivity and recuperation. So, he made a vow to refuse to contribute to his own demise.

“It was really important to me to feel like I was trying to live my normal life. I didn’t want to give in to feeling like I was so sick that I couldn’t do my work.”

Since he was hired, the number of students applying for internships each semester within the exercise science program has increased from five to 30.  Many of the classes in the HPS department when he first started were taught only once a year. He would teach almost all of them. Now, the department is up to four full-time faculty members and a large quantity of affiliate faculty members.

Summer Sides was hired to join the HPS department as a full-time faculty member in January 2017. As a former practitioner in the field of exercise science, she was adamant about joining a university that was involved in the community and wanted their students to be a part of that community.

“I think that’s what Dr. Q has done such an amazing job at. I mean he knows everyone and anyone in the area,” Sides said.

One of the courses in the department Quatrochi is most proud of is the comparative fitness program. During this course, students visit different agencies around the Denver-metro area where they can see firsthand the various niche fields in which they can do internships and eventually be employed. A lot of the agencies the department works with are hosted by former students of Quatrochi’s.

“I think that’s such a great tell for our program,” said Sides. “That the students stay in touch with him and they stay in touch with us.”

Recently, one of those former students, who works for an educational consulting company based in Berlin, contacted Quatrochi to help develop an international master’s program in exercise science in Malta.

“All of these different things help all of us to stay current in the field and work with people who have boots on the ground right now,” Quatrochi said. “We bring that experience back to the classroom so it’s important to stay engaged.”

Allysa Kelling, a junior at Metro, was introduced to Quatrochi from the former head volleyball coach who recruited her from her hometown in Wisconsin.  She enrolled as an exercise science major and has come to consider him a mentor.

“For graduate school, they ask that I complete a certain number of shadowing hours at various clinics,” she said. “When I talked to Dr. Q about this, he pulled out a huge list of contacts that he had and offered them to me as potential places I could ask to shadow.”

Quatrochi’s commitment to the university extends beyond the reach of the exercise science program. A long-time sports fan, he grew up playing basketball and has acted as a mentor for Roadrunners for the last fifteen years. He considers the athletics department his second home. He performs body fat testing for several athletics teams on campus as well as consulting with coaches on training techniques and fitness assessment results. He was formerly the university’s faculty athletics representative to the NCAA and continues to work closely with many student athlete recruits for the university.

“He never fails to show his dedication to the sports teams at Metro,” Kelling said. “He is free advertising for our games.”

Today, Quatrochi says he’s as healthy as he’s ever been. When he’s not busy teaching or developing international master’s programs, he spends his time outdoors like many Coloradans; cycling, hiking and enjoying the mountains.

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