Opinion: One step at a time: PT

Kathy Lewis and I walking up the stairs during my last therapy visit.

Michael Reiner

It is always important that we look back and remember the people that gave us a helping hand. 

I used to really struggle with getting my shoes on. It would take an extra 15 minutes for my mom to stretch my hamstrings and help me put my socks, braces and shoes on. This was a part of my routine before school every morning. 

One other part of my routine was physical therapy. My mom and I would leave for therapy after school, three days a week. When I was really young I wanted to skip therapy to go home and play just like the other kids. I never missed a day because my mom was very disciplined. I was very young, so I did not understand that my therapists were the people that helped me get on my feet (literally). 

I was very lucky because I had the opportunity to form personal relationships with my therapists. PT was a time for physical focus, but I was also able to bond with my therapists at a deeper level. All of my therapists were unique people with unique stories. Their selflessness was remarkable and they all helped me develop into the man that I am today. This is a personal thank you to them, but I can never repay them for their impact on me. 

Kathy Lewis– Kathy was the earliest therapist that I can remember having. My mom and I used to spend many hours driving to Youngstown’s Northside Hospital to work with her. I was not pleased about the long drive so my mom would bribe me with dinner. 

When I walked through the door, my attitude would change. Kathy is a very kind person. She was concerned with how school was going, but she also kept me focused because our sessions were at the end of long school days. She taught my mom the fundamentals that I needed so that I could do my exercises from home on my off days. We used to have steps that I would walk up and down to build quad strength. Even though Kathy was a New England Patriots fan, I still liked her.

I had Kathy as a therapist year-round for 8 years. She was very knowledgeable and I was lucky to work with her. When I was in high school Kathy was able to attend one of my track meets and she often mailed me newspaper clippings of my track and field events. 

It was the beginning of a new era and my mom decided to move me from Youngstown to Calcutta for physical therapy, a short 15-minute drive from my house. 

Bub Galbreath– Bub came into my life at a time when I really needed him. My mom and I did not know what the future at therapy would hold. Bub was the first male therapist that I had. He was a former U.S. Marine and his tough guy mindset made me interested in working out. He nicknamed me “Iron Mike” and he proclaimed that there was nothing wrong about “grunting in the gym.”

Then, one day he told me that he was moving to a different location. I was very upset because it was unexpected. I didn’t see him until we crossed paths at one of my high school choir concerts a few years back. I’m in much better shape now than I was back then, so he was moved to tears. 

Bub is a very passionate guy. I hope that all is well with him. I hope that he is continuing to help young people through physical activity just like he helped me. After he left the therapy center, my mom made a scrapbook to celebrate our friendship. 

Luke Heusel– Luke was a wonderful therapist, but oddly enough most of our fun memories had nothing to do with therapy. 

That’s because Luke wanted to merge therapy with my interests. Shortly after he became my therapist, Luke was appointed as the Franciscan University Women’s Basketball Coach. He would set up a small basketball hoop against the wall and I would shoot baskets while he talked about his team and I gave him the news on LeBron and the Heat. 

I would also get to talk to him about my favorite pastime, watching wrestling. Luke used to be an avid watcher of the NWA and Magnum T.A. Another therapist, Jerry Barnett, would chime in as well to tell me all about WWF in the 1980s. Both of them would be proud to know that I watch old shows on the WWE Network app from that era. 

We used to come up with our own wrestler names. My name, of course, was Iron Mike. Luke is a very funny guy and he views himself as “a lover, not a fighter.” He decided that his name would be “Cream Puff.” My brother Mitchell was even given the name “Mitchinator” after the popular Wendy’s Baconator sandwich. We would have many matches after our sessions, but I always walked away with the victory. 

Luke and his family have since moved to Augusta, GA so he could be a physical trainer at a complex that helps injured athletes and veterans. Luke has five children (and counting) so my family often wonders how he keeps his energy going. 

The last time I saw Luke, I completed a 5K walk with him before I started high school. I haven’t spoke to him in years, but I will call him this summer so we can catch up and I can see how he, his wife Anne and his family are doing. I will always remember the fun and goofy times that we had together and I can’t wait to talk with him soon. 

Justin Boyd– Justin “The Jackhammer” came to the East Liverpool Therapy Center right after I had all of my surgeries. Our dads used to be golf buddies, so I knew we would hit it off. 

What I didn’t know was Justin ended up being like a big brother to me. When I figured out that he liked to play video games, I was really surprised because I didn’t know there was an adult that could be that passionate about gaming. 

Justin and I had many great talks about food, sports and life. Justin and Luke made a great team. Luke, Justin, and their families came over to our house for a pool party during one summer day. Justin and his son, Jhett, made it to my high school graduation party and I chatted with them for over an hour. I hope to reconnect with him sometime soon at his favorite restaurant, El Paso Mexican Grill! Lunch is on me buddy!