Grit: A Personal Testimony

As an Assistant Professor in a Physical Therapy program, I get the privilege of interviewing candidates applying for physical therapy school. Our questions aim to learn more about our students and who they are as people, not just their grade point average or GRE score. The question I most enjoy listening to the answer is, “Why did you want to become a PT?”. I would say that for every 10 students we interview, at least 6 of them report their trauma, injury or illness, and their own road to recovery as their starting point and inspiration for a career in PT. That says something, right?

Today, with Dr. Pat’s permission, I would like to describe my personal testimony to becoming a Physical Therapist and how this experience has impacted my ability to deliver patient-centered, goal-oriented results for my patients/clients.

Let’s start by saying, I had a very “non-traditional” route. Being a college baseball player, I pursued a degree in Health and Physical Education assuming that it would translate well to a future in baseball, or at least coaching baseball. It was my passion, desire, and goal to lead a major university to a national baseball championship. Obviously you are not watching me in Omaha (although our team at the University of Louisiana-Monroe was close), so what happened? I was sent a gift from God – my wife, Cherish. We married my junior year in college and after talking about our future, we wanted her to have the ability to stay home with our children, if we were blessed to have them. Like most professions where you have to “pay your dues”, coaching is no exception, and the low salary would not support our dreams. So, I pursued another path.

Like so many of my PT students, I experienced physical therapy as a patient several times during my pitching career. I also grew up in a home where I watched my mother suffer from chronic pain, depression, and fibromyalgia that led to alcoholism, drug abuse and her eventual suicide in 2000. I’m what my current university calls a “First-Gen” student -- a person who is the first person in their family to go to college. Our university supports the identification of these students because the odds they complete college is drastically lower than those students that come from families with college degrees. To borrow a baseball analogy, this was my first strike. My second strike was a less than stellar start to college, where I earned a 1.9 GPA and was nearly placed on academic probation. Yep! You guessed it! I partied too hard and had no focus or direction. When I thought about PT as a career, I knew getting into PT school would be the largest hurdle. How could I overcome my past mistakes? Odds were certainly against me. My batting average was a 2.9 GPA with a GRE score of 1050 and little to no formal experience. I would be lucky to make the scorecard, must less the starting line-up.

Wish I could say, “through prayer and counsel I decided to”, but that simply isn’t true. By virtue of pure survival and faith, I decided to join the Army Reserve as a Respiratory Therapist. The plan was to get additional funding for school and pursue a Master’s degree in Exercise Physiology to improve my overall scorecard. Little did I know that the “D” I made in my freshman Chemistry class would come into play and become, at least what I thought, was strike three. You see, in order to attend training, I had to have a grade of a “C” or better in ANY chemistry class within the last five years. Was I out? Was the dream over? Was it time to become an insurance salesman?

My wife and I moved to another location where I was able to gain employment as a Personal Trainer. I didn’t give up hope and with the help of a personal training friend, I was able to talk with a local Congressman, who made a call, and I was on my way to becoming a Physical Therapy technician in the Army Reserve. This was my big break! My chance at redemption, my clean start, and my opportunity to become what I knew I could be. After graduating first in my class, I began to seek out the steps necessary to apply to PT school. I was told by 3 schools that I virtually had no chance to get in with my current academic record. Call it strong will, desire, or even GRIT, but I chose a risky path and enrolled in 19 hours of science prerequisite courses needed to gain acceptance into PT school. After completing 30 hours of prerequisite courses in one year and earning all A’s with one B (in Chemistry!), I applied to PT school. What I didn’t know, was that at the University of South Alabama, they have a policy to accept your last 60 hours of coursework as your overall GPA and highly weight your science GPA towards admissions. In the Spring of 2005, I was accepted to the Class of 2008’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program.

Finally, I reached my goal! Overcoming obstacles, setbacks, and persevering through very low odds of success, I was going to become a Doctor of Physical Therapy. That’s not the end of the story! In May 2005, I received orders that I would be mobilized to Fort Polk, LA to serve as a Physical Therapist Technician for 18 months, essentially keeping me from beginning PT school until 2007. YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME! I just completed two physics with labs, two chemistry classes with labs, microbiology, anatomy and physiology, statistics, two

biology courses, and I have to wait TWO MORE YEARS! What turned out to be a tremendous delay, became a tremendous blessing. The time I spent in those 18 months in an outpatient physical therapy setting and the relationships I developed turned out to be priceless!

What began as a dream and vision for my family took, without doubt, GRIT. Even more valuable were the lessons learned in patience, fortitude, timing, prayer, positive attitude, and willingness to take calculated risks to gain reward. To this day, I’ve experienced great loss and great gain, suffered greatly and watch others do the same, but the lesson I’ve learned is that you have no other option, but to MOVE FORWARD. If you have made it this far (and not fallen asleep), I encourage you to never accept defeat, never quit, and most importantly- NEVER LOSE HOPE.

Given the nature of this blog and Grit PT's motto (Embrace the Journey), I would like to provide you with a few takeaway’s from Angela Lee Duckworth’s research on characteristics of “gritty” people. Perhaps these characteristics will resonate with you, as you move forward along your path.

Interest: Develop an insatiable appetite for your vision, a burning desire that will cause you push through adversity.

Practice: Intentionality is key to goal attainment. Plan your time to hone your skills, abilities, and knowledge needed to excel at your endeavor.

Purpose: Emotions follow thoughts. Envision the success you seek and wake up every morning knowing you will make progress toward that goal. Above our locker room was a sign that read, “You can either get better, or you can get worse; but you can never stay the same”.

Hope: Hope is not a wish filled with a little luck. It’s knowledge grounded in a firm foundation. My hope rests in my Lord, that He will give me what I need to fulfill my purpose to serve others. From where does your hope reside?

- Jeremy

#grit #resilience #mystory

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