Where I am now isn’t exactly how I envisioned it, even though it’s amazing and it’s my dream."
“Where I am now isn’t exactly how I envisioned it, even though it’s amazing and it’s my dream”, Kate tells us over Skype. Kate is one of Megan’s best friends from growing up and the two figure-skated together for years. Currently, she is a physical therapist at Neuroworx, a physical therapy clinic in Utah that specializes in spinal cord injury rehabilitation. She’s worked there a little over a year and spends her days helping patients with neurological deficits such as paraplegia to regain mobility and maybe even learn to walk again. Because Neuroworx is a non-profit, they are able to treat patients even after their insurance expires. “For the most part, patients get cut off by insurance and that’s when their progress gets cut off too. What we do with the nonprofit is we are able to treat patients for longer to give them a chance to recover to their potential.”
When Kate was growing up, she always thought she would be a professional figure skater. She dedicated all of her childhood and teenage years to figure skating. She and her partner were nationally ranked ice-dancers and competed internationally. At the peak of her career, she would
I ask her what lessons figure skating taught her, and she replies: “It taught me that if I really wanted something, I had to give my all to it. I’ve found that skill to be helpful with my career as well. One night, I sat down and wrote in my journal ‘if I were to train as a physical therapist the same way I did as a figure skater, what would that mean?’ I made a long list for myself, things like: I would go home and think about it, I would dream about it, I would read everything I could…” Megan asks her about how she made the transition from figure skating to doing something else; Megan knows that time was difficult for her. “When I realized my figure skating career was over, I didn’t know who I was. [Before the end of my career]
When I realized my figure skating career was over, I didn't know who I was. It took me some time to go inside and realize what I like to do and to be able to say, 'okay, that was part of me but it's not all of me.'"
“As a kid, I really wasn’t into school or academics. I didn’t believe that I was smart enough to do anything medically. Being a doctor wasn't ever on my radar. In my senior year of high school, my parents said "Ok, you can’t figure skate forever, so what do you want to do with your life?" I knew I would be miserable being at a desk all day long. My mom helped me brainstorm. She asked me questions like "What seems fun to you? Who in the community do you see and think, ‘I could do that with my life?’" I always thought it would be fun to be an athletic trainer because I’ve had some great athletic trainers. I also liked the idea of being able to be at a gym feeling like I'm working out all day. And my mom suggested, ‘Well, what about a physical therapist?’ And I thought, ‘Yeah, I have always been interested in injuries and the body, so that might be fun.’ That’s pretty much how it started, and I grew to like it more and more as time went on. My freshman year of undergraduate, I competed in skating as well as being a full time student. My partner and I broke up at the end of that season and I continued coaching and looking for a partner for a couple years after that.”
During Kate’s years training in Boston, she worked with a physical therapist, Peter, who is also a figure skater and dancer. “I went to work for [Peter] at the front desk of his small PT clinic, Backstage PT, when I was 18. Throughout PT school I worked there as an aide and as an office manager. I learned a lot from him and his wife. He became my skating coach and was really a good mentor for me. I remember calling him once while taking gross anatomy in a complete breakdown, worried that I wouldn't pass. He told me his own stories of struggling through PT school and encouraged me to keep going. He has been a really great support to me. Even though I didn’t go back there to work for him, I still give him credit for me becoming who I am.”
“I remember I wasn’t interested [at first] in working with neurological patients, because I hadn't had much experience in that area and didn't feel like I was good at it yet. On my first day, my CI asked me, ‘what made you want to come to Neuroworx? Are you interested in neuro?’ I'm pretty sure I told her I wasn't interested in neuro. And now I’m working there.” She laughs. She tells us a bit more about how she decided that Neuroworx was the place for her. “During my clinicals, I kind of made a list of things I wanted and what I didn’t want in my first job. It was important that I enjoyed the patient population, but also the atmosphere, the mentors, the community. If there was something that I found I didn’t like, I would take note of it. Watching the PT's at Neuroworx, I found very little that I was able to criticize. I quickly realized that that I had stumbled upon something incredibly special. I think who you surround yourself with is extremely important for who you become. My boss has been working with neuro patients as long as I’ve been alive, so
We ask her a bit more about Neuroworx and what her days are like there. She tells us, “I’m a physical therapist, but you could talk to ten different physical therapists and they would all do something completely different. Even neurological physical therapists can be really different. Our patient population is about 70% spinal cord injury, and then we have patients who’ve had stroke, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy… any kind of neurological condition. It’s a really unique setting because it’s outpatient. When people are first affected by paralysis, they have a lot of rehab needs. For example, transferring to/from a wheelchair, learning how to get dressed, how to turn over in bed. There are so many things. We sometimes see people when they first get out of the hospital, 2 months after their injury and we also see people who are 10 years out of the hospital and have never had physical therapy. It completely ranges. Often, people will come in 5 days a week and spend 2-5 hours per day working out. We have people who come in once a week, twice per week, people that come from different countries and different states. I can’t say I spend the majority of my day doing one thing because every patient is different.” She tells us a bit more about the awesome technologies Neuroworx uses. They have pools with underwater treadmills, jets and cameras so the patients can see their feet move. They also have robotic treadmills that move the
Megan asks how Neuroworx decides what equipment they should purchase or new technologies they should take advantage of. “The cool thing about Neuroworx being such a small organization is that we [the physical therapists] really give input too, and it’s what the patients most need. Being a nonprofit, we get donations from different foundations. So when there’s money available to buy something, we’ll sit down and say what do we need? What do the patients need the most? What will benefit us most? It’s really cool feeling like you have a say in that process.”
Outside of the incredible work that Neuroworx is doing, Kate says that her coworkers have become a great support system for her. “Work is my life, but I don’t feel like that’s a bad thing. My boss and I just trained together and ran a marathon this past June. My coworkers and I go hiking, running, on boating trips. They’re really my friends as well. It’s great not having a strong boundary between ‘these are my work people, these are my friends.’ They’ve become my family. I don’t know what I’d do without them. After my mom passed away [this past year], I came back to Utah and they were such a good support through that hard time. I don’t know how I got so lucky.”
“I’ve always been a person who has had really strict rules for myself. I always knew where I wanted to be in five years. I’ve been anal about it. Since I got hired and feel like I am living my dream, I’ve thought, ‘Uh oh … what do I do know? What are my goals? How do I get better?’ I have so many mentors around me who I trust. I am very pleased with where I am even though it isn’t exactly how I could have envisioned it. So, I realize that I need to be flexible with my goals and vision for myself so that I don't close myself off to unexpected opportunities. So, every day my goals are my patients’ goals. I’m part of a team, but I’m also the youngest member of the team. In the future, I’m excited about taking this amazing thing and being able to carry it forward, be able to share it with students to make them better PTs and continue to progress patient care. To be able to help keep Neuroworx alive and growing into the future is my goal.... And I want a family for sure.”
She says she definitely sees herself staying at Neuroworx. “It’s funny because my life has always involved so much moving around. Now, I can say that as long as I’m still growing, and contributing, if I spend my whole career at Neuroworx, I’ll be happy.”
“I always need to have a challenge that I am working towards, something that excites me. I need growth and to feel like I’m doing something different and productive. I like adventure. I like to be helping people and making things better. That’s important to me. Something I’ve really learned this past year is how it is nice to be productive and feel accomplished. But, that if I don’t have people around me to share it with it's not nearly as fulfilling. Life is about people and relationships. "
It’s pretty incredible to see that Kate has found all of those things after only one year in her new career in Utah. Following your gut really can pay off.