“Come with me.”
I thought I ended up where I am today, as a result of that phrase. An innocent invitation that sparked something in me that I never could have expected. I had bigger things planned, important things, things that I thought were more worthwhile, more regarded, I was going to change lives. Important stuff.
During the summer before I started college, a friend got me a job as a camp counselor. One of those day camps, parents drop the kids off on their way to work and pick them on the way home. Nothing glamorous. I was a substitute my first year, meaning that if a counselor was sick or out of town, I would fill in. Kids were separated by age group, and ranged from 10-15 in each group. On days with full attendance, with all counselors on hand, I would get placed with either the largest or rowdiest groups. The group that always caught my attention was the special needs group, they were always the loudest, rowdy, a really diverse group, extra counselors around serving as aids, but that’s not what drew me in.
There was one boy that always caught my eye, Charlie. He had been born with cerebral palsy, and as a result, was in a wheelchair. His voice carried above the others, and though he had some difficulty speaking, he had opinions and ideas and this amazing joy for life that I’ll never forget. You couldn’t quiet him once he got going. Just embrace it and let it happen. His body was tight as can be, especially the legs, spastic as a result of the CP.
This was 16 years ago, and I remember it so clearly. I would see all the kids running around the playground at lunch time, and Charlie was always in his chair off to the side. I don’t think it bothered him much. But it bothered me. One day I asked his aid if he was allowed out of the chair, she said he was, but he was difficult to handle. He was around 9, I believe, and didn’t have much muscular control. It was a lot for one person to manage. But two people, that seemed reasonable. He was lanky, kind of tall for his age. But it was more than doable. So we started taking him on walks. First on pavement, then grass, sometimes sand, because he liked how soft it was. He would lay in the grass and we would move his arms and legs around, as his foster mom told us we could. And it became this little project of ours. I decided in that first moment that his feet touched the ground, that I wanted to be a physical therapist. I wanted to help kids like Charlie, walk.
Maybe it was too grandiose at the time, or maybe I just didn’t have it in me to follow through on that. But in the course of my college career, I lost my ambition. I lost that fire. I let fear take over.
I ended up on a different career path, because of failure. Literal failure. I failed Calculus. Twice. Seems relatively unimportant, but when your dreams are to become a physical therapist, it’s a pretty defining thing. Graduate schools have these requirements in place, kind of antiquated in my opinion, but that doesn’t change the fact that I failed to meet them. My gpa dropped and I lost that spark. What was the point, this thing that I had been working towards. That I wanted so badly, would never happen because my brain couldn’t figure out calculus. It was numbers on a page, it might as well have been Japanese. Or hieroglyphics. The numbers made no sense, the first or the second time around. Honestly, probably my first defining failure in life. Like actual, honest to goodness, no talking your way out of it, no negotiating, you failed, failure.
My last semester of courses at school is a blur. I wasn’t present. I still maintained all the requirements for my major, but didn’t have the gpa or the prerequisites for physical therapy school. One advisor, who seemed a little harsh, told me in some iteration “you’re never going to be a physical therapist, you don’t have the grades or the prereqs, you need to move on to something else”. She was right. Maybe not about the never part, but at least not right now.
So I changed focus, but I wasn’t that excited about it. I pursued fitness, personal training specifically. I obtained an internship at a hospital based health club, doing the tasks that interns do. And when my time was up, they offered me a job as a personal trainer. It wasn’t that exciting at first, but it paid decent and had great benefits. I still had plans to get back to school, just needed to work for a bit, save some money and finish my prerequisite courses.
About 4 months into my new position, living on my own for the first time, and struggling to make ends meet. A co-worker presented an idea. She was developing a Pilates program at the health club, and thought that I might be “good at it”.
“Come with me, you’ll like it”. And at the very least, the club was paying for it, so basically no risk on my part. I was a new trainer, and a specialized program that only two of the staff members were trained in, seemed like a good bet. The instructor who taught that first Reformer course I attended, she was old school, she probably would have been horrified to know that I had never stepped foot into a Pilates Studio prior to that day. My experience level began and ended with the set of three Winsor Pilates dvd I’d had for years, but realistically only used a few times each. I remember googling “pilates reformer” and had no idea what I was even looking at. I was intrigued.
The course took three days, and at the end I wanted more. In the last 11 years I’ve never stopped. I became obsessed. I didn’t know where to begin. But I dove in with every client I had. I didn’t fully know how to use the tools I had in my possession, but I knew they were powerful.
Today. With not even the slightest desire to go to graduate school, I am very thankful that I didn’t keep beating my head against a wall with another attempt at Calculus. Would I have been a good physical therapist, I think so. But who knows? All I know is that I do change lives, every single day. I work with broken bodies, scoliosis, post rehab, athletes, kids, moms, non believers of the work, the hopeless ones that haven’t exercised because they don’t think they can, people who don’t really “get” what I do, until they try it. And I’m good at it. Like kick ass. I’m so present. Thats what keeps me coming back, day after day. I look back at this weird, unconventional journey, that all started because I failed.