Jeremy Stroup jokes that the worst athletic injury is a bruised ego. As the Clinical Director of Physical Therapy for ProCare in Altoona, he has helped many athletes, weekend warriors and workers get back on their feet, including me.
Stroup, along with intern Josh Hazen, has been overseeing the rehab of my broken ankle, suffered in a freak vacuum cleaner accident back in March.
Don't even ask about the details, it's just too embarrassing. Suffice to say, my most serious injury didn't happen on a softball field or a mountain bike. But in a split second, a wrong step instantly altered months of my life.
It's an experience that has given me a new perspective on what athletes go through when they suffer a serious setback. The pain of the broken bone or torn ligament is nothing compared to the disappointment of lost time and lost opportunities.
"Now you have an understanding for what goes on, Stroup said. "Imagine if you were 18 and you blew out your ACL. Suddenly you may have lost your senior year in school, and your scholarships are now up in the air, and what may have been may not be anymore."
That's why physical therapists must do more than rehab broken limbs. They also repair broken spirits.
"It's a lot like sports because you have the physical expectation," Jeremy said, "but you also have the psychological expectation, and they don't always get along. In therapy we try to do the best we can to heal both simultaneously."
The road to healing can be a long and winding one, with good days and bad, ups and downs. Physical therapists have the tough task of keeping their patients inspired and interested.
It's one thing when you're a multi-million dollar athlete with access to around-the-clock therapy and a playoff deadline looming. It's quite a different story when you're trying to juggle real life, work and family, while hobbling along on crutches or rolling through your day in a wheelchair.
"The best advice is to approach it with a positive attitude from the perspective that you're going through this episode in your life," Stroup said, "and try to get something out of it that you can build on and move forward."
Almost any injured athlete has a physical therapist or athletic trainer to thank for getting them back in the game. For the average person, that means the game of life.
Most therapists are not working with patients aspiring to play professional sports, but rather to play with their children or grandchildren.
The improved strength, mobility and confidence their work provides make all the difference in the outlook on every day, along with the appreciation of ability once taken for granted.
Stroup notes: "It's not always bad to have an injury because it teaches you a lot about life. You'll never look at someone on crutches the same. You'll always hold the door for somebody else because you'll remember how it was. It's a good life lesson."
Kellie Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.