The path to physical therapy was a long one but I could not be more thankful for the journey. As I developed, I felt grateful for the mobility I had. Everyone was always surprised when I could do something like play a sport, run a mile, or climb a mountain. I knew that some of the things I did were even difficult for people without any impairments. This appreciation of my mobility lead me to my current career as a physical therapist.
After completing my treatment at Shriners Children’s hospital, I continued to participate in all the sports that my peers did. I played basketball, baseball, and soccer fully participating just like any other child on the team. When I went in for my yearly checkups the physicians would always ask what sports I was playing and what activities I was participating in. They expressed excitement to hear about how active I was and encouraged me to continue. In high school I decided to run cross-country and later track, because why not focus on the part of the sport that is most challenging for me, running. I made the team and was even competitive. I was not scoring any major points for my team, but I could keep up. When the physicians found out I was competing in long distance running they wanted to discover what contributing factors lead to my high activity levels. They invited me back to be a participant in their ongoing research.
During this time in high school I was trying on different careers to see what would fit me best. My love for science and animals drove me to dream of a career as a veterinarian. Later my need to be creative and interest in design lead me to dive into architecture and civil engineering. Each of these pursuits I was happy in however, felt that something was missing. I could see myself being successful in them but, I felt like there needed to be more.
The summer before my senior year in high school I spent a week at a summer camp and one the themes was living for something greater than yourself. I had no idea what that meant and to be honest I still do not know what it means. However, it did get me to think about my future in a different way. On one of the last nights there I realized what I needed to pursue, what I needed to dedicate my time to. It was like everything finally clicked, a moment of realization, it felt like new information came to me from outside of myself. To this day I still do not know what to call it, inspiration, the Universe, or God. Even as I write about it now, trying to put words to this experience, it is not enough. It is something I still do not understand but it is an experience I am grateful for. Because, in that moment I knew I had to help people like me. I did not know what that meant or what that looked like. All I knew is that I had to do it. There was nothing else. That night a fire started in me that has been consuming me ever since. The relentless pursuit of helping others through sharing my story and giving them something practical to move forward with. My passion became to learn something significant so that I could give it away.
As soon as I got back from Summer camp, I set up meetings with physicians at Shriners Children’s hospital to ask them questions about what they did and shadow them. While there they suggested I look into physical therapy. They said that career would give me much more time with each patient and still allow me to educate others along the way. At the time I did not remember what a physically therapist did, so I was excited to discover this new field. I met with a pediatric physical therapist who worked with children with CP. I shared with her part of my story and what I hoped to do, and she told me about what she did on a day to day basis. I was able to observe in their therapy gym and in that moment, I knew that this was for me. It was a way to combine my love for science, people, and a way to share my story while helping others in a practical way.
Reflecting on that moment what clicked for me was the realization that I could take something I have struggled with, and will continue struggle with, and combine that with the things I am naturally drawn to. It was a way to turn this struggle into something that serves others. It was a way to bring meaning to the suffering in my life. In that moment I was able to change my perspective from why I had CP to what I am going to do with CP. It was the first time I was able to see something that has been a part of me since birth as anything but negative, as anything but something to hide, as anything other than something to get over. This was the first moment I was okay with having CP. It was the first step on a journey to accepting myself and the first step to the greatest adventure of my life so far.