Heather Callahan, Fernie Athletic Therapy and Rehabilitation


Mention the town of Fernie in the south-eastern corner of British Columbia, and many people think of skiing, hockey, snowboarding and many other winter activities that attract people to this popular spot. Those who visit and live here, including aspiring and professional athletes and just active-minded people have one thing in common: injuries go with the territory, and access to rehabilitative services is part of the game. Fernie resident Heather Callahan realized the market was perfect for the start of Fernie Athletic Therapy and Rehabilitation in the fall of 2006, as there was little available in the area in the form of treatment services for sports injuries.

Heather, a Certified Athletic Therapist, was looking for a change from the work she did with the local ski patrol which was mostly limited to quick assessments and treatments. Her background included working with recreational and elite athletes involved with hockey, track and field, alpine skiing, snowboarding, gymnastics, rugby, soccer and football, which helped her appreciate the biomechanics and physical demands of each sport. “Starting my own business was also the only way I could gain employment in the field I had invested my training and experience in, without limiting my growth or income-earning potential,” she says.

She added to her professional training and experience by participating in Community Futures Development Corporation’s Self-Employment program. “Their Enterprising Edge and Be Your Own Boss courses were invaluable to having the business start in the right direction, as was a breakfast workshop about strategic alliances presented by the Women’s Enterprise Centre in Fernie.”

What really drives Heather’s business is her passion for her work. “I love being able to help people every day and getting to know them and their injuries in order to offer a more personalized and effective service. For example, recently I was able to observe reconstruction surgery on a knee ligament in one of my patients. The knowledge I gain through this kind of experience enhances the way I manage future rehabilitation.”

Working in partnership with other treatment professionals to achieve the best results also helps market the business. “I’ve taken the time to get to know some of the other local therapists such as chiropractors and massage therapists and their treatment strengths and techniques, so I know when to refer my patients to them to achieve optimal recovery. They refer patients to me as well,” she points out. “In fact, word-of-mouth recommendations are by far my most effective form of advertising and source of new business.”

Becoming involved in the community through local sports teams and clubs has provided Heather with an opportunity to step outside the clinical setting and watch the athletes she has treated as patients while they train and compete in their sport. “It’s great to communicate with their coaches and help these athletes return to their sport after an injury, as well as help them prevent future injuries.”

The rapid growth of Fernie Athletic Therapy and Rehabilitation has provided Heather with the opportunity for expansion and to increase the services she provides. “I know that for that to happen, I must continue to provide the level of service I first outlined in my business plan,” she says. “The most important thing I have learned is that uncompromising quality is a guaranteed key to success.”

It all makes for a busy one-woman operation with a patient base that continues to grow. “When you work for yourself, it’s easy to get pulled into doing too much,” she says. “You have to make time for family and friends and learn how to say ‘no’ to things that are not pertinent. But overall, being my own boss has allowed me to thrive both personally and professionally.”