I am Dr. Julianna G. Winninghoff, DPT.
Dreams Shift Based on Life’s Circumstances
Many people associate me with the scooter that I use to get around. While it might not be obvious these days, I’ve been a strong, active person who loves the outdoors throughout my life. In high school, for example, I ran varsity track all four years, skied, ice skated, and hiked throughout the High Sierras. I kept running track in college. Spent five months studying abroad and enjoyed the active outdoorsy life in Europe—I even met and spoke with Pope John Paul II! After college, I ran three LA marathons, re-visited Europe twice, and hiked to the top of Mt.Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. I love doing—and doing things well, with energy and drive.
An active, rich mental life has also been critical to me. When I earned my Masters in Physical Therapy in 1992 at age of thirty, I was exactly “what I want to be when I grow up.” What a great privilege. Since then I’ve worked in many settings: at a 450-bed acute care hospital, as an outpatient physical therapist, in rehabilitation, in pediatrics, and at skilled nursing facilities. I’ve taught wound management (Go, debridement!) at Loma Linda University. I also developed and worked at a wound care unit in Southern California. With the help and support of Team Movement For Life I earned my Doctorate in Physical Therapy in 2009. To be able to take knowledge and apply it in the real world to care for and strengthen others is what our profession is all about, and I have loved to be able to contribute.
Of course, life isn’t only about sports, activities, and work. It’s also about family, growth, and aspirations. My husband Craig, son Paul, and I moved to San Luis Obispo in 1994, where I worked rehab, acute care, and SNF. And in 1996 our daughter Sadie came along as well. Our family was growing up and our children were beginning to explore their own talents and gifts when I started working at San Luis Sports Therapy in 2000. Now as the mom of two wonderful children and the wife of a supportive husband, I set my sights on achieving my next set of professional goals. I dreamed of the day that I would be the director of my own clinic. I saw myself leading a team of therapists and other highly skilled, dedicated individuals. Together we would empower our patients and teach them tools to achieve their goals.
That dream, unfortunately, came up against a major obstacle: In 2002, five days before Christmas, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. My dreams— my entire world, in fact—were shattered. People say they can remember where they were when they heard that President Kennedy had been shot, that the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up, or that terrorists had destroyed the World Trade Center towers. I remember where I was, even what I was wearing, the day I told Jim Glinn of my diagnosis. All of my dreams were torn away from me, completely without my control. I was devastated!
Suddenly my personal and professional lives intersected in a way that I didn’t plan and didn’t want. Of course, I had worked with MS patients. Many of them were people with advanced progression of MS and not those who presented with “silent” disabilities. I knew what MS looked like, what people suffering with it went through. As I worked with them, I began to picture what it might mean to need someone to work with me. As my own MS progressed, I continued in the clinic for as long as I could, but eventually the MS made that work impossible. Leaving the clinic and what I love to do was one of the hardest days of my life. With everyone’s support and guidance, however, I have learned that one’s dreams adjust.
My original dreams have had to shift under the reality of life’s circumstances—a statement that’s true at one time or another for almost everyone. But I am still working toward a vision. Instead of directing my own clinic, I’m now responsible for twenty two clinics and more than 114 therapists. Instead of seeing my own patients, I now read documentation of the healing work that takes place with those other therapists’ patients. To be honest, I’d be lying if I said that I did not miss the hands-on work of being a physical therapist. But I feel a great sense of fulfillment and accomplishment in helping my fellow therapists become strong documenters and thereby advocates for their patients.
The desire and drive that I’ve had all my life are still there. I don’t always feel inspirational. When I have a bad day, I curl up in a ball of tears in my closet, and then I remind myself that the disease of MS does not—and will not—define who I am. I am deeply grateful to my fellow Team members at M4L for giving me so much support, and strength.
Some say that I inspire others….when it is my husband, children, and family at Team M4L who inspire me every day. The inspiration we receive is the inspiration that we turn into a healing gift for others.
I am Dr. Julianna G. Winninghoff, DPT.