In January of 2020, Travis Dodds, physiotherapist and owner of Lift Performance and Rehabilitation Clinic, was seeing clients 5 days a week and preparing for his first ‘busy’ year in the clinic after two challenging years balancing start-up and his young family.
Travis started Lift Clinic in fall of 2017, along with massage therapist Michael Fung and Chiropractor Daniel Sisson, as a partnership with Enhanced Performance, a small local strength and movement training facility in East Vancouver.
Lift Clinic and Enhanced Performance had worked hard and begun to feel like their feet were under them, positioned to grow the business. They had just set in motion a plan to expand, with Lift Clinic set to move off to its own nearby location a block away, later in 2020.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.
“We were closed to in-person appointments from March 16 to May 29” says Travis. “During this time, I questioned everything. Can we still go out on our own? Am I better off just getting a job somewhere else? How will our staff respond and will everyone want to continue on this journey?”
“If you had asked me a few weeks earlier – what’s your opinion of online physiotherapy services, I would have probably said, ‘there is so much you can do clinically, its not your best option.’”
But suddenly, online treatment became the best available option, by default!
In response, Travis and his team strove to make a positive difference for their clients and community.
“When we moved to launch virtual physiotherapy, we were transparent with people that this would be a learning curve for all of us! In lieu of operating pro-bono during our first few weeks, we launched the services with a $1000 Vancouver Food Bank Fundraiser, charging $20 per visit we conducted 50 virtual visits and donated 100% of the revenues to the Vancouver Food Bank. It amounted to 3 weeks of work that we literally did for free.”
“I never envisioned my life this way.”
The closures presented many more challenges, but the business survived. Bringing clients in the door can be a challenge for many small businesses during this uncertain time – but as Travis describes, it’s more complicated than that.
“For myself and another clinician, we both have kids who were 3-5 years old. The uncertainty about returning to school in a pandemic, and the need to be versatile around this weighed heavily on me” says Travis. Like many parents, his family relied on grandparents for childcare – dropping off the kids to school so that both parents could go to work in the morning, and looking after the younger one until his afternoon preschool starts up. “We knew we didn’t want to expose them to any additional risk of covid, due to their age and medical risk factors.”
With Travis’ wife being a high-school teacher, there wasn’t much opportunity for flexibility in scheduling on her end. “I never imagined myself in this situation. I never envisioned my life this way. It’s been stressful. Having to constantly change my routine since having kids has been a big challenge and I was finally feeling like I had a plan to settle into, but COVID took that away from me.” Travis says it was important to him to support his wife in her career, and he’s proud that he was able to do that at a time when many other mothers have had to step back from their careers in what some people describe as a huge setback to the feminist movement.
“I didn’t want to pivot”
“During the pandemic I kept hearing business consultants and news media talking about how business-people would “pivot” during the pandemic. I hated the word. I didn’t want to pivot. But in the end, I felt my family situation gave me no choice. I’m grateful that I was able to find a way forward.”
Travis says one of the most difficult things for him as a physiotherapist was to step back, reducing his clinical hours and limiting his ability to see his clients. “These are people who have placed their trust in me – I don’t take that lightly. Having to tell someone that you can’t be there for them, after all you’ve been through together is not easy.”
Enter Henry Young, Physiotherapist. Henry was a personal trainer for nearly a decade in Vancouver, before moving to Sidney, Australia to complete a Masters of Physiotherapy. He stayed down under to work for a couple years, including experiences with their professional basketball and Aussie Rules Football clubs.
“I had just moved back to Vancouver in February with my wife,” says Henry. “My son was born just as the pandemic hit here in Vancouver, and I was starting to look for jobs during an industry-wide closure.”
It was perfect timing as the clinic reopened, Henry was able to join the team and take on some of Travis’ availability. Meanwhile, Travis was able to increase his work with management, mentorship and guiding the business through this challenging time.
“During a time of considerable uncertainty, Henry has made a huge commitment to our team. He’s had a positive impact on our staff and really done a great job with our clients. We’re so lucky to have him. Our other physiotherapist, Sam Nguyen has also done a remarkable job, and I am so proud of him. Sam was able to take on a few of my clients, and to have clients coming back to me literally thanking me for the referral to Sam – says a lot.”
On the subject of pivots, the facility partner Enhanced Performance went from operating busy strength training classes to limiting participants to 5 in their 1500 square feet of gym space, and offering consistent online training options to their clients. “We’ve felt very safe operating with Enhanced Performance and feel proud of them for going above and beyond regulations for gym spaces. They’ve made safety a priority for their clients and staff as well as ours.”
But there have been challenges, too. Lift Clinic works a lot with strength coaches, athletes, teams and gym-goers. These are some of the groups that have been hardest-hit by pandemic closures. Participation in these activities has decreased, and the response of Lift Clinic clientele has been varied.
“Some people have taken it as an opportunity to to work on their body and optimize their movement in preparation for upcoming seasons. We love this, because we have trained to be able to assess the underlying causes of pain and movement limitations, so this extended “off-season” is an ideal time to get that work done. Many young athletes never seem to get enough time off to work on their bodies” Travis explains.
But that’s not everyone. Let’s be honest here, there are a lot of people out there who put up with pain and don’t take such a proactive approach.
“Most clients see overuse injuries as something caused by the activity. As a result, when they stop doing the activity the pain goes away and they assume they’re fixed! So we’ve seen fewer athletes overall, but we’ve done some really amazing work with some of our most proactive athletes, who are looking forward to coming back with an edge on the competition.”
Meanwhile, there has been an apparent increase in people coming with chronic pains due to posture and stress. Others have been coming to work on their body so they can get healthier – some even seeing the pandemic as a wake-up call telling them, it’s time to take your health more seriously.
“What if you can’t walk due to pain?”
“As clinicians, I think the pandemic has reinforced the importance of our work. We know that sedentary individuals are more likely to experience medical conditions that are associated with severe consequences from this virus. Our job is to help and advocate for people whose injuries may be preventing them from being more active. Consider that 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise is advocated as one of the most effective ways to treat and prevent conditions like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, (risk factors for severe COVID disease), while also stimulating your immune system – what if you can’t walk due to pain?”
What about the plans to move to a new location?
These plans were set in motion before the pandemic hit. In spite of the uncertainty, the plans are moving forward.
“For Lift Clinic and Enhanced Performance, we’ve continued to support each other through this pandemic. We’ll continue to support one another whether we’re in the same physical location or nearby. We’re optimistic that we can make things work independently and so we are moving forward.”
As small business owners, this year really has proven what it means to choose a career path with higher risk. Travis and the team are proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish this year in spite of the uncertainty.
“We’re committed to our professions and our clients for the long haul. Taking the opportunity to move out on our own will make our operation a little bit simpler and give us an opportunity to grow our team, while keeping ties with Enhanced Performance and other gyms, sport clubs and the broader community.”