Creig P. Sherburne/Atascadero News • Mary Ann Burke and Steve Hodgson stand next to some of the equipment used at North County Physical Therapy to help fix injuries, strains and other physical ailments.
It’s one thing for a business owner to say she loves her community, but it’s something else entirely when a business owner gets into the thick of the community, working with other businesses and organizations to do something that — if done right and well — puts her business in peril.
Mary Ann Burke is exactly that woman, though. She owns and operates North County Physical Therapy’s locations in Atascadero and Paso Robles. But, perhaps more importantly, she and her staff are heavily involved in healthy community events.
For Burke, it started years ago. She earned a biological science degree at Cal Poly and a master’s in physical therapy at University of the Pacific. She said she planned on more school in the Los Angeles area, but hated it there. Her parents retired to Atascadero and, in 1993, there was a position open at North County Physical Therapy. She filled it and has lived here ever since.
Burke’s involvement in local sports at the very first Wine Country half-marathon.
“I ran the very first one 16 years ago,” she said, “and have been involved in every one since.”
The Wine Country half-marathon is a big event based in Paso Robles. This year, it begins and ends at River Oaks Hot Springs and is a mostly paved course. But wanting to include everyone who wants to participate, there’s also a 5K run and a half-mile “grape stomp” for kids.
Burke said it’s a fun charity event that benefits youth sports.
“Physical education, as we know, is becoming non-existent,” she said. “We need to get kids moving.”
Burke has literally put her money where her mouth is. She bought NCPT three years ago. She said the
previous owner was a really good guy, but not nearly as involved in the community as she wanted to be. So when the business became hers, she instructed her employees to find some charities to work with.
One such employee is Steve Hodgson. He’s the clinical director at the Atascadero location. It’s thanks to him that NCPT is a sponsor of Hares & Hounds.
Hodgson said NCPT’s involvement is financial, but he’s also on the race committee, helps with logistics and provides some nutrition.
Hodgson grew up in southern California and attended Cal Poly, but went to Long Beach State University for grad school. He came back to North County because “L.A. sucks.”
Hodgson said that NCPT has a great relationship with other local sporting organizations — Atascadero High School athletes come to NCPT and both Burke and Hodgson are part of Team K at K-Man Cycle & Run, for instance — but he said he thinks that if he can get people active and strong early in life, it could help cut down on the numbers of injuries he sees in his shop.
It’s a difficult point of view to follow: Burke and Hodgson — indeed, everyone at NCPT — earns a living helping fix injuries. It’s counter-intuitive to try to prevent injuries that bring business, isn’t it?
Well, no. Hodgson said that the worst part of his job is seeing people in pain.
“Watching people be miserable is pretty awful,” he said.
And that, more than anything else, has inspired him to do good work in the community.
“Find something you’re into,” Hodgson said. “If you hate what you’re doing, you won’t. You kind of have to want to do it. I’m passionate about not feeling crappy. The best part [about working here] is getting people back to what they want to do.”
The other big thing NCPT is involved in is the North County Arthritis Walk.
Burke said that before employee Mike Sherman began the walk in memory of his late father, there was no arthritis organization presence in San Luis Obispo County at all.
Burke said that Sherman’s dad died of arthritis at a young age, thus prompting Sherman to begin the event. It’s a one- or two-lap walk around Atascadero Lake.
“It’s about getting out,” Hodgson said. “It’s never too late to start a fitness program.”
Hodgson is a pretty intense athlete. He completed the Arizona Iron Man in 2007 and rides his road and mountain bikes frequently. So far, he’s avoided injury, but he suffers from an illness that, every now and again, absolutely saps him of energy and strength. It takes months of medication and rest to get back to normal.
“It keeps me humble,” he said.
Burke doesn’t have any chronic illness, but has some minor hip issues and a bit of arthritis herself, issues, she said, that make her sympathetic to her clients. Clients, she added, that can range from age 4 to 94 in a single day, with every imaginable issue.
“In this job,” she said, “you become part of people’s lives. … Hearing people say ‘I did it and I couldn’t have done it without you.’ That’s the greatest thing.”
Hares & Hounds will take place at the Atascadero Lake on Saturday, March 10 at 8 a.m. The Wine County half-marathon, 5K and half-mile grape stomp will take place on Saturday, March 24 at River Oaks Hot Springs, 800 Clubhouse Drive in Paso Robles, at 8 a.m. To register for either event, go to www.active.com.
The Atascadero Arthritis Walk will be held on Saturday, May 5. More details will be made available later.