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Meet Katina

Soccer referee. Physical therapist. Hero.

“In retrospect it was a little crazy,” Katina Salvey candidly admits.

She’s perched on a stool in a Vancouver Clinic exam room, tracing back how she found her calling in physical therapy (PT). Outside the doorway the department is bustling, but inside Katina fills the space with graciousness and calm.

Katina explains that her original career interest was operating room nursing. When she tore her ACL during a pick-up soccer game in college and needed surgery, she convinced her doctor to let her have an epidural instead of general anesthesia. She stayed awake for the entire operation and listened as her surgeon walked her through every cut and stitch. Then Katina did it again less than two years later: She tore her ACL (the right one this time) and stayed awake through the second procedure as well.

She went through PT after both surgeries, but the second time around she suffered some setbacks. It took 10 months to rehab her knee—a nail-biting amount of time for the former Ridgefield High School athlete.

“The thought of ‘Will I ever play again?’ was really looming,” she says. “It’s scary to be an athlete and have that taken away from you.”

However, her physical therapist talked her through her doubts, offered the right exercises to build muscle strength, and helped her get back in the game with a refocus on refereeing.

“I realized that everything could be done perfectly in the operating room, but if you didn’t have quality PT afterwards, it was useless,” she says. “The outcomes come from the work you put in afterward

With that insight, Katina abandoned the idea of nursing and dove headlong into the seven-year process of becoming a physical therapist. It’s a rigorous and competitive path. Schools typically accept just 10 to 15 percent of applicants.

Katina transferred from the Bible college she was attending in South Carolina to Washington State University–Vancouver, where she earned a bachelor of science in biology. She went on to earn a doctor of physical therapy at Eastern Washington University. She followed up her degrees with internships in acute care and outpatient orthopedics. The road was long, but it’s one Katina and many grateful patients are glad she took.

“She’s really good at what she does,” says Kevin, one of her patients. “She has a way of putting people at ease and she stays positive. I know she cares about her patients and wants what’s best for us.”

Katina has a particular interest in helping motivated individuals, such as athletes, recover. She says that they’re willing to work hard and that their struggles are something she can relate to. Since her initial ACL surgeries she’s had three more knee operations. Many of Katina’s days close with her exercising on the same equipment she uses with patients.

“I challenge myself to be able to challenge my patients,” she says. “I’m with you. I understand that mental battle. When you only get so many hours in a day, it’s hard.”

She puts into practice the advice she gives her patients: Find the inspiration for doing PT—the reason to keep going when things get tough. Katina’s motivation has always been soccer. For nearly two decades she has officiated games in Southwest Washington and mentored new female referees.

“It’s not an easy job to run your tail off and get yelled at,” she says. “But there are no games if there are no refs.”

Katina brings the same passion she has for soccer to her day job. Articles with emerging strategies and approaches for getting athletes back on the field quicker are Katina’s clickbait. She recently became certified in blood flow restriction training, a newer technique that involves cutting off blood flow to stimulate cellular stress within muscle tissue and promote muscle growth. It can be a good option to help keep postoperative patients from losing muscle mass when they can’t put weight on a limb.

But while new PT techniques are important and valuable, the real ace up Katina’s sleeve is her attentiveness. She constantly asks her patients questions: Do you hurt today? How did your exercises go? How did you feel? What was the quality of your soreness? How long did it last? She has an eye for watching how people move and seeing what needs to be done to correct that motion.

“I love getting you back to doing the things you want to do,” she says. “I want to give you the tools so that the pain doesn’t come back. I want you to be able to learn how to take care of your body.”

Katina helped one of her patients rehab from several injuries. He now calls her his hero. Read the full story: