The greatest games in the world are upon us, and as we all tune in and cheer on the nation, we can’t help but marvel at these world-class athletes. To have made it to the grandest arena in sports means they’re truly a cut above the rest—and cut from a different cloth. Their qualities are not unique, though; in fact, we think rehab therapists (PTs, OTs, and SLPs) have a lot in common with the elite athletes currently competing in Rio. Here are four of those shared characteristics:

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1. Rehab therapists and world-class athletes both perform at the top of their game.

For a world-class athlete, there’s no greater stage than the one currently occupying Rio, and to make it there, you have to be the best in your field. There’s a lot of pressure that comes with performing at the highest level, and rehab therapists feel that pressure—those high stakes and that distinct honor—every day, because that’s how much their patients mean to them.

Of course, PTs, OTs, and SLPs know they have to be the best—but it’s not only for their patients; it’s for their profession, too. Like a swimmer demonstrating the prestige of that particular sport, rehab therapists perform at the top of their game because they’re demonstrating to everyone—their peers, patients, and fellow healthcare providers—their prestige as valuable members of the healthcare community.     

2. They both put in a lot of time, energy, and work when no one is looking.

“When I was an athlete, I knew that if I woke up two hours before training, ate one more egg at breakfast, or finished one last back squat at training, it would make me better and I would accomplish my goal,” Steve Mesler—bobsled champion and entrepreneur—explains in this article. “Sometimes that goal was three and a half years away. That’s a long time to think that an extra egg will have anything to do with the final outcome.”

For the most part, we don’t think about what world-class athletes are up to every day—except when we tune in to watch them compete in the grandest of all competitions every four years. And yet, those athletes are working tirelessly almost every second of every day: training, preparing, and fighting to make it to that competition. There’s no sportscaster play-by-play for all of that effort; it isn’t coating the mainstream news or sports sites. Most of these athletes aren’t even blips on our radars until we tune into the ceremonies.

The same could be said for rehab therapists. They work tirelessly in school, in clinicals, in continuing education, and in practice. But, patients don’t know—and appreciate—that until injury strikes. And when those patients receive treatment, they marvel at the care their therapists deliver—just as we all marvel at those athletes’ performances. And both are the product of countless hours of round-the-clock, behind-the-scenes work.

3. They’re good sports.

Too often in major league sports, we see ugliness—friendly, professional competition turned malicious. The desire to win at all costs trumps the love of the game. Rarely do we see that on the world’s biggest stage. It’s an honor and privilege to compete; those athletes dedicate their careers to earning a chance to represent their countries. Rarely do they disgrace themselves or their countries with poor sportsmanship and mean-spirited behavior.

In a recent WebPT blog post, author Erica McDermott makes the case for cooperation, rather than competition, in rehab therapy. Her main point is that friendly competition—the kind that drives providers to innovate their models, better their care, and help more people—benefits the profession as a whole. That’s what happens when you play for the love of the game, not the desire to win at all costs. And that’s what rehab therapists—and world-class athletes—do: rather than aspiring to being better than each other, they aspire to being better, together.   

4. They care about the details.

“At one point or another during my career, I competed in every seat in the sled, including spending time on the world cup tour as a driver,” Mesler continues in his article. “That was a rarity for a push athlete. But it made me versatile and it kept me curious about every aspect of my sport—from push technique to aerodynamics to the composition of the steel in our runners (the blades on the bottom of the sled).” As a bobsledder, he knew details were everything. After all, catastrophe can happen quickly when you’re “going down hills at over 85 mph in what amounts to a fiberglass garbage can with skates.” Now, as a business owner, Mesler knows the details are still as important as ever: “you are responsible for knowing how the entire ecosystem, inside and outside, of your company works.”

This mindset holds true for rehab therapists, too. In practice, the details matter, because they can make all the difference in helping their patients get better, faster. Furthermore, when you’re dealing with musculoskeletal injuries, sloppy treatment and technique can exacerbate injuries, delay healing, and intensify pain. When a patient’s health hangs in the balance, there’s no choice but to obsess over the details.


World-class athletes wait four years to get to the greatest stage of their career. They have the full support of the nation behind them, and they know an honor and privilege that few will ever experience. Fortunately, if you’re a rehab therapist, every day is an opportunity to enter the greatest stage of your career. Every day is a chance to gain the respect and admiration of your patients. Every day, you know the honor and privilege that comes with healing people. And while rehab therapists may not earn medals or grace any podiums, they impact lives in ways world-class athletes could only dream of. Because ultimately, it’s thanks to their rehab therapists that many of these athletes are even able to compete.

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