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ADVANCE Perspective: Physical Therapy & Rehab Medicine

'The Power of the Human Spirit'

Published June 12, 2014 2:53 PM by Brian Ferrie

CHARLOTTE, NC -- Jimmy Fallon isn't down here for the APTA's 2014 NEXT Conference and Exposition, but he was about the only thing missing from the "Tonight Show"-style opening event last night. APTA CFO Rob Batarla served as master of ceremonies, with the homage including everything from a comical monologue to interview couch, succession of guests and even a house musical act, the Doug Burns Band. Fittingly the first guest was APTA President Paul A. Rockar Jr., PT, DPT, MS, who excitedly announced the "fantastic news" that Michigan had just become the 50th state with direct access. He geared additional comments toward PT students, emphasizing they can be "game changers for the profession."

New APTA CEO J. Michael Bowers then took his turn on the couch and was asked about his impression of PT professionals since taking the job in February. "I love you guys," he said with a broad smile, eliciting enthusiastic applause from the packed auditorium. When the discussion turned to APTA goals, Bowers added, "We want to be as large and strong an organization as we can be, continuing to expand our reach."

Other PT dignitaries who took the stage to offer comments on the profession included Skye Donovan, PT, PhD, OCS, program chair of the conference work group, and Cole Galloway, PT, PhD, professor and interim chair of the department of physical therapy at the University of Delaware.

But the star of the show was keynote speaker Captain Mark Kelly, an American astronaut, bestselling author and retired US Navy pilot who flew 39 combat missions during the Gulf War. Kelly's own accomplishments would have been more than enough to justify keynote status, but his presence carried even greater relevance because he's also the husband of former US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Kelly has served as Giffords' primary caregiver and most ardent supporter during her continuing recovery from a gunshot wound to the head that miraculously did not take her life at a 2011 community outreach event in Arizona.

The inspirational speaker captivated attendees with stories about his rise from troublemaking teen in New Jersey to decorated Gulf War veteran, before ultimately becoming an astronaut who made four trips into space and commanded the final mission of space shuttle Endeavour.

"I firmly believe we all learn at different rates," he said. "How good you are when you first try something isn't the only indicator of how good you can become at it."

He emphasized that life has taught him the power of having a goal, a plan to reach it and working hard toward that end. Kelly related how applicable this philosophy is to physical therapy in general and his wife's recovery in particular. The powerful presentation even included a short video of Giffords herself addressing the audience about her progress and continuing determination to overcome the effects of traumatic brain injury.

"The power of the human spirit is an incredible thing, and physical therapists get to see it every day," Kelly emotionally stated. "It's really amazing what you all do and I want to thank you for it."

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