Pilates Offers Path for Physical Therapist
|Physical therapist Sharon Gawin works with a patient in one of her two studios where she uses the Pilates method of exercise for rehabilitation.|
For Sharon L. Gawin, MPT ’96, a desire to spend more one-on-one time with her patients and the discovery of the Pilates method of exercise has taken her down an unusual path in the physical therapy world. As the co-owner of Body Evolve studios on Chicago’s North Shore, Gawin uses Pilates as the primary means to rehabilitate her clients.
“It’s not typical for physical therapists to devote themselves to Pilates, but it is hard to incorporate it as just a little bit of your therapy. It isn’t that type of exercise,” she says. Unlike the mat exercise classes with the same name often found in health clubs, Gawin’s purist approach employs the more than 500 exercises developed by the method’s originator, Joseph Pilates, in the early 20th century. The equipment he designed fills her studio. Much of it consists of “beds” that use springs as resistance to improve core strength, the primary building block of a well functioning body, Pilates believed. His exercises have long been a staple in the dance community.
Following graduation, Gawin took the road more traveled for physical therapists, working at Evanston Hospital’s rehabilitation unit for six months and then switching to the outpatient orthopaedic clinic. There she often paired with Steven L. Haddad, MD, associate professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery, to rehabilitate injured dancers—a fitting use of her 13-year dance background. Later, she spent two years working for a private orthopaedic clinic. By this point in her career, she found herself becoming increasingly frustrated.
“In an outpatient clinic, I felt that I wasn’t doing what I went to school for,” she says. “I was seeing too many people in one hour. I had no time to work with them, and they wanted to ‘get fixed’ right away. I needed something more.” She knew about Pilates from her dancing, but it wasn’t until she started taking classes for fun in her free time that she began to consider using the exercise method with her patients. Once the idea took hold, she knew that the only way to implement it was to work for herself. As a trial, she rented space in an existing exercise studio, quickly developing a working relationship with the owner, now her business partner. The pair opened their co-venture in 2000.
In her own studio, Gawin tells patients up front that Pilates is a long-term fix that takes time to achieve. “Some people don’t have the patience for it,” she says. With time on her side, she spends the entire one-hour session with each patient learning how his or her body moves, allowing the focus to be on retraining movement patterns. “I’m very analytical in my approach to working with my patients,” she says. “I love problem solving.”
Those two strengths, along with an aptitude for math and science, prompted Gawin to earn an undergraduate degree in engineering from Penn State University. Finding the corporate world too stifling, Gawin decided to switch careers.”The transition from engineering to physical therapy isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds,” she says. “Now I focus on engineering of the body.”
Her staff includes fellow Northwestern graduate Suzie Grawe, MPT ’98, as well as certified Pilates instructors who work with the general population or with patients who have completed their therapy but want to continue with the exercises. She also offers a continuing education program for medical professionals interested in learning more about Pilates and injury prevention. As an entrepreneur with a flexible schedule, the 38-year-old can perform her job in an environment that suits her. “I am a bit of a control fanatic anyway, and I’m hard on myself,” she adds. “I wanted to do it my way because I thought that was the best way to help people.”