How Physical Therapy Changed my Life Forever

I grew up playing every sport that I could get involved in—dance, track, weightlifting, cheerleading, gymnastics, and other intramural sports. I tried them all. I was always active, sometimes going to multiple practices each night. I just loved being active in all forms, and I hated sitting still for too long.

Starting in 1999, my freshman year of high school, I continued with gymnastics and cheerleading as my primary sports; I dedicated everything to them.

At that time, I had always had a little bit of back pain, but it was never severe enough to slow me down, as it was just a part of everyday life.

Fast forward to 2002. I was closing out my junior year of high school and planning how I could take gymnastics and cheerleading to the college level.

Then, on May 13, 2002, my life changed FOREVER.

At the time my back pain was starting to become annoying, but it still hadn’t slowed me down… until the day I went to the local chiropractor. He took x-rays of my spine and gave me the news that I had a fracture in my L4 vertebra (spondylolysis). He and several doctors ranging from my primary care physician to an orthopedic surgeon all told me, as they read my x-ray and MRI, I was not only done competing, but I should stop physical activity altogether and start living a more conservative lifestyle—that being active just “wasn’t for me.”

Devastation doesn’t even describe the next several years of my life.

My gymnastic and cheerleading practice turned into Physical Therapy visits. My coach and team talks turned into either Lauren, John, Michelle or someone I never met instructing me to warm up on the crusty old stationary bike as they went off to manage other patients. Eventually, they would come around and ask, “How are you feeling today?” You see, it didn’t seem to matter if I said I was in pain or if I felt ok because the routine would be the same either way. The same ten repetitions of the same boring exercise no matter how I felt. So, I started withholding the truth and just pushed through the pain generally, holding back tears. I eventually became emotionally numb. I stopped going and pretended to get on with my life. This became my perception of physical therapy like many of you.

In 2003, I went on to graduate high school. From 2003 to 2009, I earned a degree and established a successful career in Information Technology (IT.).

Several years had passed, but after all that time I found myself lost.

I was in denial. I was angry at the whole world. I constantly bargained with myself and became lost in a maze of “If only…” and “What if…” thoughts. I wanted life to return to what it was. I wanted to go back in time and never have the initial x-rays and stop the incident from ever happening. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted so badly to make a new life for myself, and even with a successful IT career, I just wasn’t happy. I was depressed. I was misguided.

I was prescribed medications as an answer, but the depression only became worse. And then, there was the weight gain, loss of strength, mobility, and stability. The only thing I had left was grief and back pain that is now worse than ever before.

What next—According to another doctor, a prescription for muscle relaxers was the answer.

I found myself far down a dark, twisted road, and l was lost more than I had ever been before. If only I had better guidance from my medical practitioners. If only my physical therapist helped me understand what I was doing. If only. Instead, I became trapped in the whirlwind of life. Wake up, go to work, come home, repeat.

Then on November 2, 2010, something deep down inside of me snapped. I have had enough. I had enough of relying on medication for depression. I had enough allowing medication to numb my pain. I had enough of waking up every morning for a career that never fulfilled me. I had enough of living a lie.

And then… I did what any sane person should NOT do. I walked into work, sat down and wrote a resignation letter, printed it, took it into my supervisor’s office and handed it to him. I explained I wasn’t happy and I was no longer available to continue my duties; effective immediately. I apologized for not giving notice and that I understood the consequences. I turned over all company assets, gathered my belongings and drove home. Then, I called my boyfriend, now husband, and told him the news, which is an entire story in itself.

Gulp… I just did the dumbest and bravest thing in my life. My heart had a plan, but my brain had no idea what that was. I only knew I had to make a change, and leaving an unfulfilling full-time salary was the first step. Within a month, I did some serious soul searching and discovered a driving force within me and came to the realization that my experiences could help improve the lives of others. I wanted to somehow inspire those around me. I found hope.

From 2011 to 2016, I went on to earn a second degree. This time it was a Bachelor of Science from the University of Central Florida’s (UCF) College of Education and Human Performance in Sports and Exercise Science (SPEX)—Human Performance.

While at UCF, I began to rebuild my career as a certified personal trainer by training clients one-on-one and in small group settings. I had established a relationship with a strength and conditioning coach as my mentor. He helped me build on my ability to influence others but also gave me the guidance and courage to improve my overall health too. I started to hear and witness stories of people with similar injuries as mine who were now highly functional athletes. They were doing races, lifting heavy, running, jumping and EVERYTHING I was told NOT to do EVER again. How is this possible? Why didn’t I know this sooner?

Now, as an exercise science major, I knew that gaining strength in the muscles surrounding my spine would help keep it safe and protected. I also knew that I was going to have to go back to the basics. Slow and steady in my recovery, I started to work my way back to being active. Every day was a struggle, both physically and mentally, in overcoming the fear of re-injury, but I kept fighting and never gave up on myself.

The results speak for themselves in the photo below —2012 (left), 2015 (middle) and 2017 (right). I had accomplished things I was told not to do ever again; the pain was now manageable, and the chains of depression were becoming a distant memory.

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Fast forward to 2018, now 16 years later. I have found guidance in mentors, peace in knowing my experiences made me who I am today and purpose in not settling for the expected path, but my path.

I continually grow, and I have committed myself to a purpose of using past experiences as examples of what not to do and not to be. To invoke change by doing the unexpected when someone expects less. To guide the misguided and be the difference that my 17-year-old self desperately needed. To inspire hope and courage in those around me in everything I do!

I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. You see, I believe everything happens for a reason.

A reason that led me to where I am today—working with a group of extraordinary individuals that settle for nothing less than being the best. A group that has the courage not only to be the best but are true role models in a field that left me lost many years ago. A courageous group of individuals that are reinventing physical therapy and performance into something truly exceptional. They believe in exceptional experiences with every client. This team of individuals, who I am now a part of, make up Activcore Physical Therapy and Performance.

I’m blessed to be a part of something so extraordinary.

Activcore’s core values and beliefs are in complete alignment with my core beliefs of what a physical therapy experience should be.

Activcore is my acceptance.

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by: Amy Hoffman, B.S. SPEX – CPT

Client Engagement Leader

Activcore Orlando