HOMEBioFilm rights, Screenplays, Representation2021 Commentaries2020 CommentariesOLYMPIC AFFAIR: HITLER'S SIREN AND AMERICA'S HEROTHE WITCH'S SEASONThird Down and a War to GoHORNS, HOGS, AND NIXON COMING'77: DENVER, THE BRONCOS, AND A COMING OF AGEMarch 1939: Before the MadnessPLAYING PIANO IN A BROTHELSave By RoyThey Call Me "Mr. De": The Story of Columbine's Heart, Resilience and RecoveryA Selection of Terry Frei's writing about World War II heroesOlympic Affair Excerpt: Chapter 1, Leni's VisitOlympic Affair Excerpt: Chapter 15, Aren't You Thomas Wolfe?The Witch's Season: Screenplay opening pagesThe Witch's Season Excerpt:Air Force Game, Bitter Protest, a Single ShotThird Down and a War to Go: Screenplay opening pagesThird Down and a War to Go Excerpt: Ohio State vs. WisconsinThird Down and a War to Go genesis: Grateful for the Guard, Jerry FreiThird Down and a War to Go: A Marines' game on GuadalcanalDave Schreiner, Badger and MarineBob Baumann, Badger and MarineLt. Col. John Mosley, Aggie and Tuskegee AirmanHorns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming: Prologue and screenplay opening pagesHorns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming Excerpt: James Street: Wishbone WizardHorns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming Subplot: The day they stopped playing Dixie'77 Excerpt: AFC Title GameMarch 1939 Excerpt: First NCAA Title GameMarch 1939, Excerpt: The StartersPlaying Piano Excerpt: S.F. EarthquakeA Year with Nick Saban before he was Nick SabanTommy Lasorda and the Summer of '70Press CredentialsThe Sporting NewsDenver PostESPN.comThe OregonianGreeley TribuneKids' sports books: The ClassicsJon Hassler, Terry Kay and other favorite novelistsBig Bill Ficke's Big HeartBob Bell's Food For Thought


Northridge High School graduate blazing impressive post-doctorate trail

October 10, 2018


Terry Frei 

Brecca Gaffney (L’Oreal photos)

When Greeley native Brecca Gaffney graduated from Northridge High School in 2006, she headed off to Colorado School of Mines in Golden.

“I went there to play basketball, not to be an engineer,” Gaffney, now 30, said from St. Louis with a laugh Tuesday. “I was better, or at least I thought I was better, at basketball.

“It was probably the most influential point in my life. From the sports standpoint, I would say it was moderately successful. We were pretty good. We made it to the (NCAA Division II) tournament a few years. Unfortunately, I was very good at getting hurt. That affects some of my research today. Growing up playing sports, I was always inherently interested in how we moved.”

She couldn’t have known that 12 years after arriving on the Golden campus, and several years after fighting through ankle and shoulder surgeries and a concussion, she still would be immersed in academic research. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Mines in 2011, then master’s (2013) and doctorate (2017) degrees from the University of Denver, all in mechanical engineering.

She didn’t stop there.

 Other recipients


In addition to former Northridge High School student Brecca Gaffney, the recipients of L’Oreal’s $60,000 Women in Science grants are:

  • Amber Alhadeff, University of Pennsylvania
  • Stacy Copp, Los Alamos National Laboratory
  • Fan Liu, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Elizabeth Trembath-Reichert, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute


As Gaffney conducts post-doctoral research in biomechanics at Washington University’s School of Medicine in St. Louis, she is about to officially receive a $60,000 grant from cosmetics and personal care giant L’Oreal to continue her work for at least another year.

The grant comes through the company’s 2018 Women in Science fellowship, which each year awards five of the grants to women engaged in post-doctoral work. The awards ceremony will be at the French Embassy in Washington D.C. on October 25.

Gaffney started on this track when she took a biomechanics class in her junior year at Mines.

“That’s essentially the study of human movement, and that was the first time I really saw my passion for something outside the classroom — sports and movement — meet what I was passionate for inside the classroom,” she said.

Her father, Kevin, who died in 1998, was a clinical psychologist, and her mother, Shaunda, was a long-time special education teacher in the Greeley area.

“The importance of helping people was imbedded in me,” she said.


Brecca Gaffney, right, conducting post-doctoral research at Washington University in St. Louis.

There were some rough spots, but not many.

“In the field of science, it’s very easy to feel like you’re not good enough for whatever reason,” she said. “I think it’s more rampant in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, and I’m not immune to that. Being a graduate student when your peers are making very successful careers certainly was a challenge, but it was never a derailing factor.”

In pursuing her doctorate, much of her research involved amputees, honoring a transfemoral amputee family friend.

“My research was focused in identifying how patients with amputations moved their lower backs and upper bodies differently in a compensation way that predisposes them to low back pain,” she said. “It’s incredibly debilitating. It’s a huge health care problem. It’s a huge quality of life problem.”

Brecca Gaffney with her dog, Gryff.

Moving on to St. Louis for post-doctoral research, she switched her focus a bit.

“My current research is looking at how younger people with chronic hip pain and how their joints are shaped differently and how the muscle is functioning differently,” she said. “Osteoarthritis is a big long-term concern of these folks.”

She said her current timetable is to do post-doctoral research for two and a half to three years.

“This L’Oreal fellowship has extended my timeline, which I feel very fortunate about,” she said. “Then I’d transition into a faculty role where I’d perform my own research with more teaching responsibilities.”

The Women in Science grants caught her attention — and not only because of the money.

“I think it’s very easy to have a conversation about something that’s wrong,” Gaffney said. “What is less common is having an actual mechanism and pathway to do something about that. The Women in Science Fellowship inherently in its title is addressing the under-representation of women. So we can talk about that and talk about that and talk about that, but for this grant, one of the main points is ‘OK, how are you going to mentor young scientists? How are you going to reach out and address that?’ It was a welcome component of something I was excited to be a part of.”