Hello! I’m glad you’re here. This is the first of what will be many Blaze Physio articles. You can expect a mix of physical therapy-related education, stories from the PCT, pictures of our therapy dog Honey, and inspiring stories of everyday people doing amazing things.
In the first article, I’m starting at the beginning with the story of how Blaze Physio came to be: how I got here and where I hope to go.
After graduating with my doctorate in physical therapy, I worked a few short term jobs just getting my feet wet. Shortly after that I was able to hike the Long Trail in Vermont. This 273 mile trail was full of mud, rain, cold, and wind. Most of the views were socked in, I had to send my dog home early, and I fell at least 800 times in three weeks. Oddly enough, I finished this hike wanting more.
I loved the physical challenge, the mental obstacles, the nature, and the sense of accomplishment after finishing a trail end-to-end. Mostly, though, I loved the people. Thru hikes are not particularly crowded, but the people you do meet are some of the best. Hikers that share your viewpoints and priorities, bonding experiences cultivated by lack of cell service and shared struggles/triumphs, and the help from trail angels who go above and beyond to make your goals a reality. I knew I wanted more of this, and after saving some money while doing travel therapy contracts, I set off on the PCT in the spring of 2019.
On trail, hikers are no longer identified by what they do, and more so who they are. Trail names are given out for silly things, and your “real world” identity is a thing of the past. For much of the trail, it never came up that I am a PT. But I noticed that in the instances it did come up, I would go from one injured hiker having a conversation to a small group. Arch pain, knee pain, shoe issues…you name it. There was clearly a need for guidance when it came to injuries. Soon I was taping, educating, mobilizing, and giving advice to other hikers on a regular basis.
I knew my hiking partner had benefited from my help as I watched her overcome hip and knee injuries along the way. It wasn’t until I ran into a hiker I helped with shin splints 1200 miles later that I learned how big of a difference these services could make. Now 400 miles from the monument, she was sure to finish the whole thing.
I have known immense joy as a PT–from helping people learn to walk again, finally be pain free, or achieve goals they thought were off the table. There are patients and stories that stick with you throughout your career, and this was one of those moments. To think that the help I gave a hiker played a role in her accomplishing a feat of a lifetime is such a privilege.
I finished the PCT inspired, but also with a lot of questions. Where do I go from here? How do I just go back to a society that isn’t based on common goals, giving culture and minimalism? I had been living in a van for about a year prior to the trail. I assumed my post-trail plan would be:
- Get a new dog (my sweet boy Tucker passed just before starting the PCT)
- Start taking travel assignments with my van
- Work on building a telehealth business so I could work remotely.
Then, 2020 hit. I was 2.5 weeks into my travel assignment in Tucson and the world up-ended. I came home thinking I could wait it out. Obviously we all know how that went.
During the first six months of the pandemic I did two things. Watch all 365 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, and look for ways to get back in touch with the trail experience I loved so much. Ideas evolved over time and eventually I landed on the Blaze Physio concept.
The concept: bring valuable PT services TO the hikers, live in your van, never leave your dog behind, and be a part of helping hikers realize big adventures.
The PCT discouraged hikers in 2020, and I had a lot to work on to be ready to hit the trail by 2022. With a bigger plan in place, I found a soft place to land in Tucson, AZ. I had the opportunity to run a clinic within a senior living facility, and take Honey to work as the facility therapy dog. I have always loved working with seniors and empowering them to be strong, able, and independent. COVID disrupted my plans and my timeline, but this 1.5 year detour will always be a favorite part of my story. I could talk for hours about advocating for better PT/healthcare for seniors and the importance of strength training, but I’ll save that for another article. I am lucky to have kicked off this journey with the support of over 200 borrowed grandparents who believe I can do anything I set my mind to.
I’ve been known to cook up crazy ideas, but so far they have all…worked. I kept tweaking the idea, and finding people who believed in it. Finally, I took the leap and went to trail days. I had followed Marek, from Rawlogy for a while. I loved the creativity of his company, and a lightweight cork massage ball is a brilliant idea for hikers to increase their recovery. I reached out to him, and he agreed to have me with his booth so I could get a feel for my business and its place in this community. I consulted with/treated over 50 hikers during the two-day event. I met other business owners and spent three days driving back home to Maryland talking my mom’s ear off with ideas.
My vision for this venture looks like a scene where hikers gather at my van to use various recovery tools, evaluating injuries, and patching people up as best I can so they can continue on their journeys. All while Honey gets to keep doing what she does best: loving on strangers and being my constant support in all the chaos. There are a lot of logistics to consider, and I am sure there will be a learning curve as I navigate previously untraveled waters. If the PCT taught me anything, it is that the trail provides, and the more good you bring to the world the more you receive.