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Justin's Journey - A Good Read

So we've already told you our sad news that Justin is leaving us for PTA (physical therapist assistant) school ... though we will miss him at Specialized PT, we are happy for him and wish him all the best - maybe he will come back to us someday after PTA school - wouldn't that be fabulous?!?  It's not really SO sad though, because we are always pleased to see high quality individuals sticking around in our field.  Justin doesn't talk much about himself, but he has a great story--it's a very nice example of extraordinary drive and determination overcoming adversity, beating the odds, and resulting in success.  It's the sort of drive that we know will result in Justin's long-term success, no matter what path he chooses.  So I asked him to put pen to paper (so to speak) and get it all down for us.  He has done just that - here is Justin Blatchford's story - enjoy!

I went to high school in a small town of Ponca in northeast Nebraska where as an athlete, I participated in 4 sports.  My high school sporting resume consisted of: golf, basketball, football, and baseball.

I played a lot of positions in football including running back, kicker, punter, and defensive back all throughout high school. Playing both sides of the ball and on special teams was exhausting but this gave me a great appreciation for the game as a whole. During the summers I participated in camps, played baseball for the Wakefield legion team, and golfed in my spare time. In the winters I participated in basketball followed by golf in the spring. Golf was my first love. Growing up, I played several rounds a day at our local course. By the time I was in junior high I had broken and set the course record which still stands today.

During my senior year I was presented the offer by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to walk on for their football program. I began my career as a defensive back in the fall of 2008, as a red shirt walk-on. Most walk-ons are “recruited”, I was an “un-recruited” walk-on.  There was one other person who was “un-recruited” that year, we showed up in August to find one-hundred plus men who have already worked out, eaten well, and gotten to know each other for the past two months. I felt as if I was already a step behind everyone else and at that point I knew I was going to have to work extremely hard to even stay on the team. I had to prove myself worthy to a coaching staff, who had no idea who I was. Earning their trust was not easy, but completely worth it in the end. After the first few weeks went by I had gotten used to the speed of things, met some guys on the team, and found myself in a routine of football 24/7.  Though I felt more comfortable I knew there was no room for mistakes.

After a year of redshirting, playing on scout team, and getting to know the ropes, our class was no longer the “new guys”.  As a redshirt freshman I earned the trust of the coaching staff and was quickly gaining playing time. I was asked to be on the travel squad for each game, privileges only seventy-five are granted.  The travel team is put in place for both at home and away games; these are the men who are prepped for the game, and those who should be prepared to see playing time.  It is those who are on travel squad who are brought to a hotel the night before the game for meetings and meals, and are bussed to the games.

It was during the first away game I experienced the highlight of my career of scoring a touchdown off a blocked kick in the Baylor game on Halloween.  Eric Martin, a linebacker, blocked a punt that went soring into the air. I waited underneath the ball which seemed like forever - once the ball was in my hands, my inner running back took over and I headed for the end zone. I was so nervous, my legs felt like Jello. I could hear the crowd cheering and sense an opponent at my back. I had only one choice to get into the end zone, and that was to dive. I placed the ball in my right hand and dove head first at the pylon. The play was reviewed and confirmed a touchdown.  It was an amazing feeling and I will never forget the sidelines reaction, with coach Bo even joking the next day in meetings about switching me to offense while handing me the game ball. The rest of the year went relatively smoothly minus the big 12-championship game against Texas in which the refs decided to add another second on the clock but that's a whole other story. All in all I came out of the season in the best shape I have ever been in ready to step foot on the field in the Spring.

Just as I was reaching my full potential, I experienced one of the worst injuries the training staff and team doctors had ever seen (At least that's what they told me). It was during the second day of spring practice in 2010. I was going up for an interception but a teammate accidently side swiped me and I ended up landing awkwardly on my left leg tearing my PCL, LCL, lateral meniscus, and posterior capsule.  After a six-hour surgery on Easter weekend, cadaver ligaments from a motorcyclist were used to repair the damage to my PCL.

On my first post-surgery appointment with the medical and training staff I was told how extensive the damage was and that I would be lucky to play the following season. If I planned to ever play again it would take up to twelve months of rehabilitation to be able to even start practicing. I left the hospital in a brace that ran from my thigh to my ankle. I would wear this for the next three months. At this point I was unsure if I should continue to play because if I did come back it would be an uphill battle to get back on the playing field.

The road to recovery was long and agonizing. I spent approximately four hours a day doing rehabilitation with the athletic training and strength staff with weekly updates from the doctors. Some of the workouts included using the alter G, similar to the one at Specialized Physical Therapy.  In addition to the individual rehabilitation sessions, I also attended classes followed by team practices/meetings making for some very long days. This pattern continued for the next six months when I finally met all my rehabilitation goals and during the third game of the fall of 2010 season set foot back on the field participating on special teams, only six months after a potentially career ending injury.

I worked extremely hard day in and day out to defy odds and get back on the field. That first season back was tough because guys on the team had passed me by on the depth chart but it was a great learning experience and has definitely developed me into the person I am today. The season was rough but it was good to get back into a normal schedule of training and practice without worrying about my knee. 

During the offseason between sophomore and junior year, I worked extensively with the training and coaching staff, determined to return to the player I was only a year ago. As fall camp arrived I knew I had to prove myself to the coaches that I was back. I wasn't one hundred percent, but I dedicated myself to learning the details of the game so that I could make up for a lost step. I entered the fall season as the starting nickel/dime back. The nickel and dime positions are two of the toughest, most confusing, and stressful positions on the field. I played hybrid role, a mix between a corner, safety, and linebacker all depending upon the offensive set up.  This year was an amazing year, I gained a ton of experience, got to play in some amazing stadiums, received my first of two black shirts, and played in memorable games including the Penn State game, where I was a captain in one the most eerie games in recent history due to the Joe Paterno scandal. 

Senior year had begun; I had for the third time a new defensive backs coach. This can be very difficult because earning the trust of your coach takes a lot of time and effort. A walk-on is different from a scholarship player in that they sacrifice everything for free, and plays for the love of the game and the university. Fall camp was a difficult part of the season but in a way was very exhilarating to spend all-day and everyday at the stadium. After five years of football I had watched several of my friends who were walk-ons be awarded a scholarship for all of their sacrifice, success, and perseverance.  It was the fall camp of my senior year that I finally heard my name called. All the hard work and determination had paid off.

I wanted to take everything in going into my final season at Nebraska. I had dreamt of playing at Nebraska as a little boy so I wanted to take nothing for granted. I wanted to take in each crowd, savor each tunnel walk, and sign every autograph. This year was the beginning to an end of what was an amazing ride. I proposed to my wife after the third game, for the second year was the starting dime back, and made some game changing plays including a broken up pass to win the Michigan State and Penn State games. I wouldn't have changed a thing after looking back. Each experience has developed me into the person I am today and I am forever grateful for that. After an amazing season, I was handed a box of memorabilia that I will treasure forever, but never more than the relationships I held with such an amazing team and staff. I am forever blessed to have “Played for Nebraska”.

After graduation I got to go to Africa on a mission trip and worked for Pioneers Golf Course until I moved to Omaha to live with my wife. After some reflection I soon realized that the bodily harm I faced throughout football might have actually been a blessing in disguise. It brought me to pursue a career in physical therapy in hopes to help people reach their goals in rehabilitation and performance, just as I did.

I was fortunate enough to have stumbled upon Specialized Physical Therapy. I knew it would be an excellent way to gain hand-on experience, learn multiple specialties, and prepare myself for school. Specialized Physical Therapy not only met my expectations but also went above and beyond what I knew possible. I have worked for Specialized Physical Therapy for over a year now, enjoying every minute. Sadly, in order to optimize my chances of getting a career in the physical therapy field I am starting classes again this fall. As an employee of Specialized Physical Therapy I have learned a great deal, discovered new strengths, and developed amazing relationships. I have greatly enjoyed my time here, and hope to one-day return. 

PS from SPT:  Justin, do you think you could make your way back to Omaha for any of the Specialized PT 4-some golf outings next year?  Geesh, who knew?? We will definitely save a spot for you - who says it's not fair to bring in a ringer??  Ha ha! :-)

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