For Therapeutic Associates at the Athletic Club of Bend clinic director Laura Cooper, having spent her entire physical therapy career in Central Oregon has shaped her approach to patient care. As an active person herself, she recognizes that Bend is a community of extremely active and highly motivated individuals who are passionate about the region’s outdoor activities from mountain biking and trail running, to paddle boarding and kayaking, to wakesurfing and a range of other adventures. It’s a rich experience, she says, to partner with patients who span all ages and activity levels. She values the gift of time that the PT profession affords to get to know every patient on a personal level, empowering her to be creative as she partners with them on their physical therapy journeys.
Outside of the clinic, Laura finds joy in playful moments with her kids and husband, in movement and in the spaciousness of time when she doesn’t have to pay attention to the clock. Depending on the season you may find her riding her cruiser, catching a wave behind her family’s boat, carving turns down the slopes of Mt. Bachelor or practicing and teaching therapeutic yoga.
Q&A with Laura Cooper
Q: What would you say is one of your biggest passion projects?
I’m a seeker and so self-study, reading and learning from others is my passion project because I can see how it enriches my own life and then my ability to lead a team, to raise my kids and hopefully to be the best partner I can as a wife, and then certainly in partnering with patients as well. There’s a ripple effect if you’re at a good space within yourself – well rested … eating food that’s vibrant … having appropriate or interesting stimuli – then life actually unfolds beautifully, and it doesn’t feel so exhausting. So, I try to do whatever things are going to enhance that for me, and then it ripples to others.
Q: Pursuing personal enrichment not just for the impact it has on you, but also on others is inspiring. What motivates you on this pathway?
My kids — 19-year-old Ry and 16-year-old Lia — that’s my purpose, that’s why I do what I do. My why is to show up as fully as I can for them. I think I would be living in a van at the ocean without a professional career if I didn’t have them.
Q: Interesting! It seems like, as far as professional careers go, yours is an optimal fit for you in that you’re passionate about caring for others. So, what do you love most about being a PT?
The privilege of getting to know patients at a much more intimate level than our fast-paced day-to-day generally affords is really what brings me the most satisfaction as a professional PT. It’s getting to build that relationship and have someone really trust you at a time when they’re vulnerable due to an injury or the state that they’re in. Being able to help a patient find inspiration and motivation and to believe, when they may not be feeling so hopeful, that they’ll be able to return to what they love doing – that’s a real privilege.
Q: You spend your workdays helping others get back to what they love to do, so what do you love to do during your time off?
I love getting away to a warmer beach somewhere and doing my best in the ocean waves, but wakesurfing is much more realistic for me in Central Oregon – Cultus Lake and Lake Billy Chinook. I think the cool thing about surfing is that my brain can tend to move fast and if you’re not in the present moment then you’re either going to miss the wave or crash – you still have a good likelihood of crashing anyway, but it requires that presence. It feels so calming and satisfying – versus always thinking about the past or anticipating the future – staying right in the zone. That’s what yoga does as well.
Q: What other sports or activities do you enjoy?
I’ve skied since I was 4 … I don’t love the cold as much as I once did. I ran in cross country in college, and I’ve done triathlons, but I don’t run much anymore. My goal is to be fit for the fun curveball invitations that I might get.
Riding my cruiser – my husband and I love to do that! It’s hard to not just have a big grin when you’re riding – we’ll do the ride to the amphitheater and go to the concerts in the summer on our cruisers.
I’m not a terrible golfer, and I love to find golf balls and gift them to our staff. If I make it not just all about the golf game, I’ll join my husband … it’s beautiful to be outside, but I’m not a golfer like he is.
I just want to be fit and well to live my best life as I age and to be able to show up for patients and not be exhausted or have my own body break down. That motivates me to keep active.
Q: Showing up for your patients is important. What inspired you to become a physical therapist?
I came from a family of healthcare providers and was inspired to become a physical therapist when I was fairly young. As a junior in high school, I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon, but my dad, who is now a retired physician, was dissuading me because of the quality-of-life element. Around that time, one of my good friends sustained an injury to her leg, and so before basketball practice, I went to physical therapy with her. I loved how the PT remembered things that we had told her about our lives during the prior session and how I could see the progress from each visit and how quickly she was back to full play. And so, my interest was piqued!
Later when I was running cross country and track at the University of Oregon, I partially tore my Achilles, which required me to seek care initially at the treatment center at U of O. And then that summer I partnered with a physical therapist while home in Corvallis and going through that process really solidified that this was something that I would enjoy doing as a career.
Q: What do you believe is the most important quality you bring to your role as a physical therapist?
I think the most potent gift that I offer is really showing up fully and presently with others. I’m grounded and passionate, and most of the time those two things are in balance with one another. I’m an intentional leader and care deeply for those whom I interact with – my patients and my team. And, I am grateful.
Q: What do you wish everyone knew about PT?
I wish more people knew that physical therapy is really what you make of it in terms of the commitment and how much you’re investing … and that you can trust the physical therapist to meet you where you are versus that you have to conform to some ideal of a patient. I think more people would seek to partner with a physical therapist if they knew that it was not structured but is dynamic in how it can meet their needs.
Q: What advice would you give someone who is uncertain about trying physical therapy?
Just schedule that initial appointment and know that you’re not committing to a big, long course of care, but that you can meet and make that determination with the physical therapist – about if this is going to make sense for you at this point in your life and help you to achieve the goals that you desire. If it resonates with you then it will be clear that this is going to enhance your life.
Q: The future can certainly be uncertain, but you don’t know unless you try! Speaking of the future, if you could time travel would you go forward or visit the past?
If I could time travel, I think I would go to Scotland … I’d love the Braveheart time where it’s kind of gritty and not necessarily very comfortable but stretched you and there was a deep sense of community. I think the music and the countryside are beautiful, and so, I think that’s where/when I might go. That’s tricky because I also think about going back to where my ancestors came from. I wouldn’t go forward though; I would definitely go back. I think we could learn a lot more.
Q: Braveheart won 5 Oscars. Do you have any other award-winning favorites? Maybe a series you’ve binge-watched?
I’ve definitely watched a few series in my life, but the one that stands out, the very first show that we ever watched back-to-back, is Kiefer Sutherland’s 24 many years ago. It would be like where my husband and I would look at each other and say, ‘Just one more.’ That was the early days when you could stream and didn’t have to wait a week for the next episode.
Your Healthcare Partner
At Therapeutic Associates Physical Therapy – Athletic Club of Bend we believe in providing creative, fun and meaningful programs customized to fit our patients’ lifestyles and goals. Here, every patient can depend on our experts to get them back to the things they love as quickly and safely as possible.