Hardships and the Extraordinary – The Making of a Physical Therapist

I had no idea where my life was headed in high school.

Josh enjoyed football starting in elementary school.

Josh enjoyed football starting in elementary school.

I loved football and I was a good student. But beyond that, I had no idea what I should do after graduation. My focus was on making good grades and finishing my senior year of varsity football well. That is, until tragedy struck during my third game of the season.

I played defensive end and offensive guard despite being a slight 183 pounds. My coach had inspired me by telling me that I could make up for my size with brains. I had worked hard to train to achieve a starting position my senior year. However, my 183 pounds was no match against a pile of teenage boys that suddenly shifted while I remained standing in the middle. My leg gave way.

I remember hearing the unmistakable sound of my tibia shattering and I rightly thought, “I’m done playing football.” There was no ambulance on site that night. The door of my parents’ tiny Ford would barely close with my legs stretched across the back. My leg was held straight with what turned out to be a leaky air cast. After a very painful trip to the hospital, I received the information that I had shattered my tibia in eight places and surgery was scheduled for the next morning.

Because of the way the bone had been shattered, there was no way to use hardware to correct the break.

My only option was to straighten the leg out as best as possible, put it in a full leg cast and hope for the best. I was taught how to safely navigate stairs and manage other daily situations before I was allowed to go home from the hospital. That was my first experience with physical therapy though I didn’t know it at the time.

It seemed like my dreams were ending.

I would be on the bench for the rest of the season and it felt like the rest of my life. My dad approached me with a career idea: Physical Therapy. “What’s that? I’ve never heard of it before,” I answered. I don’t recall much of what he said in reply, but it was enough to interest me. Physical Therapy appeared to be a career that would match my desires for a career that didn’t involve just sitting at a desk. It was something that involved engaging other people in meaningful interactions. It seemed to fit my personality well.

I began to investigate schools with Pre-Physical Therapy programs.

I found a Pre-Physical Therapy program at Fresno Pacific University that interested me. It tied in beautifully to the Physical Therapy program at Fresno State University where I did my post graduate work. I was amazed at the scope of what PT’s can help with. I learned that I would not just be qualified to work with athletes but also people with severe burns, neck fractures, amputations and brain injuries. It was also exciting to learn that I would be able to reduce pain in individuals who didn’t have severe impairments but had enough pain to prevent them from living an ordinary life. There was so much I was going to be able to do for people in this field of study. I knew I had found the right career.

CS Lewis once wrote, “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”

The experience of breaking my leg and missing out on the rest of my senior year of varsity football certainly qualified as a hardship to me as a young man. But as I look back, I am grateful for the hardship because it did indeed lead me into a very extraordinary destiny: a career of relieving pain and improving function so that people can fully enjoy the life they have been given. I hope your hardships, no matter how great or small, will lead you into an extraordinary destiny as well!