Friday, November 17, 2017
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Profile: Tim Poppe

by Dawne Belloise

Snow blade extreme athletes in mid-air ballet, wrestling teams in their bulked-out best, Everest climbers with their heads in the clouds, surfers tangling with impossible waves, mountain bikers and fat bikers rolling over the snow, skiers questing for their endless winter on the underside of the globe, and even well-known celebrities all smile from autographed photos, framed in their elements, hanging on the walls above the padded tables and exercise equipment at Physiotherapy Associates.

photo by Lydia Stern

Each one has a story for physical therapist Tim Poppe to reflect upon, documenting his years of helping people heal from injuries, from Houston to Denver to Crested Butte.

With this year’s epic snow, Tim says his experience is, “When it snows there are always more injuries and bigger injuries. People are more daring. It’s powder days. You ski hard. Things happen. Bad things. And people are shoveling more so they hurt their backs and shoulders.” It’s been an exceptionally busy year for Tim.

When his dad finished his tour with the Air Force in San Antonio, in 1974, the family moved to Houston, where Tim then spent most of his life from age five. Their home was “out in the sticks,” as Tim describes his neighborhood before sprawl and congestion surrounded the ranches, fields and woods he played in as a boy. “We had plenty of places to go ride our bikes and get away from the houses,” he recalls. Riding was his joy and he and his friends rode their BMX bikes all day, building dirt jumps and BMX tracks.

In high school Tim joined the school band, blowing cool jazz with his trumpet, influenced by the styles of Maynard Ferguson and Doc Severinsen. Although he enjoyed playing jazz, the music he listened to in his youth was the opposite. “I listened to ACDC, Van Halen and Ozzy, heavy metal and a lot of country. I was all over the board. I never missed a Van Halen concert when they came to Houston,” he laughs proudly.

Out of high school in 1987, Tim enrolled at Texas A&M University, “taking everything. I changed my major like seven times. I started out in zoology and that’s eventually where I ended up. I was interested in biology and animals and I had thought about veterinary school. Then I was a wildlife and fisheries major for a while. I was also an engineering major, and a business major.”

But business just didn’t do it for Tim. “I walked out of my accounting class the second time I attended.” He had thought that maybe following in the footsteps of his father and brother, both accountants, would be a plan since he still hadn’t figured out which direction was best suited for him.

“Although economics was kind of cool, being a business major was awful,” Tim concluded, and he circled back to biology. “I went to college trying to figure out a career but I saw that a biology major was going to keep me in school for many more years because to work you need a Ph.D. and you have to learn to write grants and that’s not what I saw myself doing.” He did, however, graduate with a bachelor of science degree in zoology.

Tim had started racing road bikes in his senior year of high school, not that there was a lot of that going on in Texas at that time. “But I loved riding. It was hard to find races in the late 1980s in Texas.” So, when he arrived at college, Tim joined the bike team, competing in collegiate racing. It opened up the concept of biomechanics, or body mechanics, which is basically how you set your bike up to fit properly to optimize your performance. He feels it might have been the spark that set him on the path to physical therapy.

“I didn’t even know what physical therapy was. I had never had a bike injury. My parents suggested that I check it out since I was still searching for a career.”

He shadowed therapists in one clinic to explore the concept and recalls, “The first time I went to observe, I wasn’t interested in it whatsoever, but I ended up observing a different clinic and I immediately fell in love with it,” Tim says. He felt the second clinic was more vibrant, with multiple therapists and more patients. “There was more going on. It was a more stimulating environment. I said, ‘This is what I’m doing.’”

Tim volunteered every weekend and summers for the next two years, doing laundry, cleaning whirlpool tubs, work tables, and anything the clinic needed done, just to get experience while he finished his undergrad degree.

“It was amazing, I got really lucky to be able to work in that clinic. It did a lot for me as a young therapist. We worked with a really great group of orthopedic surgeons who worked for every professional and college team in Houston,” Tim says. He was hired full time for a semester just before he went to physical therapy school. “I was in their clinics when I wasn’t in mine, learning stuff from them. There was always something cool going on, always something to learn.”

He enrolled at the University of Texas medical branch in Galveston. A three-year program earned him a master’s degree in physical therapy in 1996. Through his volunteer connections, Tim got a job at a clinic in Houston, staying on for several years before he decided to get out of Texas and head to Colorado. “I was spending a lot of time in Summit County skiing in winter and hiking in the summer while I was still in Texas,” he says, and in 2003, he cleverly plotted to combine his ski trip with the chance to relocate and set up a few job interviews in Denver. He moved six weeks later.

At his new clinic, Tim worked on many sports injuries as well as non–sports-related injuries, while enjoying his Front Range life. “I thought Denver was amazing back then but now, you couldn’t pay me to live there,” he says.

It was while he was working in Denver that Dr. Gloria Beim was building her new surgery center in Gunnison and she was looking for somebody to open a physical therapy clinic in her new space. Tim’s clinic at the Denver physiotherapy office was recommended and his boss offered him the position. Tim moved to Gunnison in 2005, moving up to Crested Butte a few months later.

He worked at the Gunnison clinic and began working with the Crested Butte Academy. Eventually, he began taking patients in town. Relatively soon afterwards, he opened his own clinic on the mountain, Physiotherapy Associates. Tim moved his mountain office downtown in 2011, where it’s located today, upstairs from Brick Oven Pizza. He quit the Gunnison clinic in 2014.

Tim met Amelia Jervey in 2010, running around in the same circle of friends. “She’s smart and a lot of fun, and we just fit. We have so many of the same interests. And man, does she put up with me! We started dating, got married and now we have a bunch of kids,” he laughs.

Amelia teaches second grade, but took a year off because, well, as Tim says, “a bunch of kids.” The twin girls, Maddie and Izzy, are ten months old and their son, Ryder, will be five in April. “As a father, I’ve learned a lot about everything, tutored by my four-year-old,” Tim chuckles. “Ryder started playing hockey at three years old and he’s like every other kid in this town. They can ride a bike at four years old and ski the Headwall at six. He’s a good blue run skier. The kids in this town are all better skiers than you. It’s mind-blowing.”

As a kid, Tim read sports biographies. “I loved sports, all sports, but biking has always been my favorite,” he admits. “It was like an adventure, it was mobility. You could get on a bike and get away and go places. I think that’s why I ended up here.”

Tim occasionally does some Enduro mountain bike racing and claims bragging rights to 11 surgeries and many broken bones. “You would think I’d become a better athlete and break myself less,” he grins, “or maybe I’m just not very young anymore or smart about it. I play hockey, I’m horrible, but it’s so much fun.”

Tim loves that he can help people through their injuries to the subsequent healing. “It’s cool to see people you’ve worked on out skiing, riding their bikes and living their lives again after healing. I see it every year—somebody tears up their knee or breaks their leg and you see them the next year out skiing again. You share in their victory, whatever it is. It feels good to see people get back to doing what they love to do, to get off their crutches and walk, to ride their bike. I feel like I share in every one of those victories.”

With all the big-city living Tim did, from San Antonio to Houston to Denver, he understands the beauty of living in a small, compassionate community like Crested Butte. “You don’t get people taking care of people or even the willingness to help each other out in cities. To think of all the experiences my kids can have here—skiing and biking in a really safe community. We’re so lucky. This is where I needed to be. I have more like-minded friends here and people want to hang out and get along. You don’t get that in Houston, where it’s all about your career, car and house. Here, it’s not about the material things, and if you really think about it, who says to themselves, ‘I’m gonna move to this town where it’s really cold and get paid less’? Because here, we value friendships and experiences.”

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