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Why I Chose Physical Therapy

02/08/2015, 4:15pm EST
By Jonathan

"As a listener, a team player, and an aspiring physical therapist, I want to help others regain their momentum and make tangible differences on the community. "

A shock of excruciating pain radiated from my knee to my upper thigh. My basketball teammates called for help, but when the school nurse arrived, she confirmed my fears.

“You tore your ACL.”

Chinese characters translate to "success"

I remember crying harder than I had ever cried before. As my high school’s basketball team captain, my coach and I had led my team to two regional championships and expected to compete in a third one. For months I had challenged myself and my teammates to run faster, lift heavier, and shoot more accurately, but after my injury, my coach placed me on the sidelines and revoked my position as team captain.

Blaming fate for prematurely ending my basketball career, I became blinded by my own suffering. Absorbed by self-pity, I struggled with adapting to this new lifestyle; however, after beginning my physical therapy, I noticed that people at the clinic shared both my physical and emotional pain. From amputees to stroke victims, the patients suffered from disabilities that also prevented them from enjoying tasks they loved; for me, my passion was basketball, but to others it was singing or swimming. Feeling a sense of empathy and camaraderie, we cheered each other on with encouragement and optimism. As we each reached our incremental goals and conquered our pain through a team effort, I recognized the shallowness of my self-centered worries and discovered the gratification in helping others surpass life’s obstacles. Motivated with a newfound interest in service, I decided to apply the values I acquired on the basketball court to a clinical and non-profit setting.

         After regaining my ability to walk, I coordinated a service trip to Gawad Kalinga, an organization in the Philippines that builds houses for the poor. During my stay in the Philippines, I met Nina, the 11-year-old daughter of my host family. One night, Nina and I left the house for a stroll, but our light-hearted exchanges turned into a serious conversation about the hardships her family had endured. She told me about her alcoholic father and sickly mother, but not once did she resent her situation or curse her unwelcomed fate. Instead, Nina’s conviction to end domestic violence and restore her broken family fortified my desire to support the underserved community. Seeing that her strength and courage conquered even the most trying obstacles, I recognized Nina’s pain as a universal condition and wanted to equip others with a strong will to overcome their predicaments. I realized that inspiring stories are ubiquitous around me. No matter how different, how educated or uneducated, how poor or how rich others are, they have something valuable to teach me, just as I have something to share with them. It is only a matter of if I look and through what mindset I perceive.

After returning to Taiwan, I continued to explore my curiosity for service by applying my rehab experience to the basketball team setting. Recognizing the need for a therapist on the team, I helped my teammates tape limbs and retrieve ice packs while demonstrating a warm-up routine to prevent possible injuries. As my teammates came to rely on my assistance, I realized how important knowledge of physical therapy benefitted my friends and my team. While my basketball career ended abruptly, my passion for physical therapy was just beginning.

After entering Northwestern University, I expanded my physical therapy skill sets by interning at an outpatient clinic in Evanston. From operating biomedical equipment to leading recovery workouts, I developed technical and analytical skills that improved my abilities to be detail oriented and resourceful. Recalling my experiences as an ACL patient and as a volunteer at Gawad Kalinga, I understood that patients often found therapy unanticipated and emotionally tolling. By empathizing with the patients’ frustration and encouraging them through genuine conversations, I addressed the clients’ emotional state as well as their physical needs. After volunteering in the clinic, I realized that a career in physical therapy would not only embrace my love for athletics, but also serve as a channel to empower others with motivation and encouragement. 

As a listener, a team player, and an aspiring physical therapist, I want to help others regain their momentum and make tangible differences on the community. Even as I write this essay, I sense in myself profound excitement as I begin my career in physical therapy this September. 

Jonathan Tsay

Jonathan is a senior at Northwestern University studying Mathematics and Physical Therapy. He aims to create a global platform that dispatches passionate physical therapists to areas of high need. Jonathan is interested in manual therapy to one day inspire others with hands and words.

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