Podcast: Listen to 'This Is Why'
I enjoy working with people. It's really that simple. Having grown up as a sports nut, it seems to me now that physical therapy and I were destined to meet. I knew early on that I wanted to help people overcome injuries and lead active lives, but physical therapy's combination of direct, hands-on care and the opportunity to achieve tangible results sealed the deal for me.
I've always loved what I do, but every so often a situation pops up that truly is special. The one I'm thinking of right now happened last year. Bill Shannon is a retired local businessman and former patient of mine who's in his 70s. He's just about the biggest fan of the Chicago Cubs you'll ever meet—he's been attending home games at Wrigley Field for nearly 60 years, and he still makes it to about 40 games a season. Bill and I are friends, and I've attended some ballgames with him. That's quite an experience. It seems as if everyone at Wrigley knows and loves Bill.
Early last September some of his friends arranged for him to throw out the first pitch at a game later that month, and they surprised him with the news. "Surprised" is an understatement. As a stunned Bill told a local television station, "It was unbelievable!"
And unbelievably nerve-wracking for Bill, who immediately called me up and said, "I haven't thrown a ball in 40 years, but I need to throw out the first pitch at Wrigley Field in 11 days!" He added, "I certainly don't want to dribble one across the plate. I have great friends, but they'd never let me live that down!"
I told him to come by the clinic right away, so we could see where we were and what we needed to do. His biggest issues were range of motion, mechanics, leg strength, and overall strength. At first he couldn't throw anywhere near the required distance of 60 feet, 6 inches—and under no circumstances was he going to make his pitch from anywhere other than the pitcher's mound. He wasn't about to stand on the grass, closer to home plate, like some little kid or old geezer!
Bill and I got together each day before his "major league debut" and worked through every issue. We'd go outside and pace off the distance. He'd practice his throwing and we'd measure his progress daily. I'll admit now that when we started, I wasn't sure he'd be able to do it. With a couple of days to spare, though, Bill was pitching the ball over the plate.
Unfortunately, a prior commitment kept me from being part of the Sunday-afternoon crowd there to witness Bill's big moment. But he called me from the ballpark immediately afterward to excitedly report that Cubs pitcher Randy Wells, who'd served as Bill's catcher, told him he'd thrown a strike!
It was a lifelong dream come true for Bill, and I was honored to have been part of it. One of the many things I love about being a physical therapist (PT) is having the knowledge and experience to help people with all sorts of physical needs. Cases like Bill's reinforce why I became a PT the in first place.
Not every story is as colorful, but every time I see a patient improve and regain lost pieces of his or her life—or just flash a smile that hadn't spread that wide in a long time—I know I'm in the right place.
David Black, PT, MS, OCS, is cofounder and coowner of Orthopedic Rehab Specialists, which is headquartered in Rockford and has a total of 5 locations in Northern Illinois.
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