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Guest Post: Splashing toward Success [Special Olympics Swim Team]

Here at LL805, we are committed to providing resources for our community, especially ones that assist under-served populations.  We have a passionate and vast special needs community across the 805, and we are fortunate to have so many excellent resources for these families!  However, there are still gaps that need to be filled by community members.  We are honored to share this guest post by 805 resident and local business owner, Jessica Rodriguez, as she shares her heart for her patients, the struggles of venturing out in entrepreneurship, and how she saw a need in her midst — and did something about it.

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In 2015, I set off on an adventure. I took a leap of faith and decided to start my own Pediatric Physical Therapy private practice. With 5 years of experience in the field and a love for aquatics, how hard could it be? I sat at my laptop to create my mission statement, and here’s what I crafted:

Stepping Stones Physical Therapy is dedicated to assisting children to achieve functional physical outcomes in a fun, safe, and splash-friendly environment.”  

There, it was real. I had a purpose, a vision, but not a pool — minor detail. I set out to check this off my list. Alas, I was turned down by every local facility I reached out to. I couldn’t find pool space to start my business. How was I going to do this? Time to get creative… My husband and I had just moved into our first home. We had a lot of landscaping to take care of, but luckily, our home did have a swimming pool. With a lot of thought and planning, we decided to remodel our pool and install brand-new equipment. We planned to have the project completed to open in the spring of 2016.  

In April 2016, we opened our therapy pool to the special needs community. Word quickly spread throughout the community, with the help of therapists, friends, clients and social media. In my three short years in business, I have provided 515 treatments to more than 40 clients, ranging from 6 months to 18 years. The exciting part that still blows my mind, is that I have had the opportunity to treat clients from other states, and even other countries. I’ve mentored eight undergraduate Pre-Physical Therapy students during our first 3 seasons. This year, I’ve transitioned to a mentorship program with fellow Physical Therapy colleagues.

What nobody tells you is that being an entrepreneur is lonely and tiring. You are essentially creating something from nothing; while trying to make something that works well for your clients and yourself. It’s the graceful act of fumbling and picking yourself back up, one lesson at a time — all the while putting on a brave face, like, “I know what I’m doing” (truth: I have no idea what I’m doing). But, this I promise, I’m not going to stop trying to be a better business for my community. Here’s the truth behind the small business owner:  I’m the therapist providing the service, the pool maintainer, the marketing department, the scheduling wizard, the financial guru and the strategic planner. It’s exhausting, and at times I’ve questioned why I’ve put myself through it all. All the late nights, giving up my weekends, endless hours in the pool, managing a growing program single-handedly; all the while maintaining full employment elsewhere. Then I take a step back and look what I’ve created. It’s beautiful, and it’s for the kids.

It has been so fulfilling, and humbling, to hear the feedback from my clients’ families. Aquatic therapy has been life-changing for their kids; there really isn’t anything like it. The unique properties of water relax high tone muscles and assist with movement when there is low tone or reduced strength. I’ve worked clients who have Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Prematurity, Spina Bifida, and Down Syndrome. I have witnessed children’s joy splashing and playing in the water, while developing their motor skills, strength and balance. Our Physical Therapy treatments take motor development and utilize the naturally fun environment that an outdoor swimming pool provides. I incorporate swimming skills in my therapy treatments; using kicking to improve coordination and strength; arm strokes for range of motion and motor planning; and blowing bubbles for lung capacity and breath control.  

The heart of a small business is the person behind it. A big part of my business model is giving back. I found two charities to assist me to fund scholarships. Stepping Stones has donated baskets with aquatic PT services to local non-profits; including Ride On Therapeutic Horsemanship, Center 4 Special Needs, and A Walk on Water. But there was still something missing. I knew that after clients were discharged from my aquatic program, there wasn’t anything waiting for them on the other side. While other recreational activities have special needs teams, like VIP AYSO soccer and Challenger Baseball, there isn’t anything involving swimming. I found that there wasn’t an opportunity for children with special needs to participate in swimming on a team, if they were not able to meet a basic skill level. So what do we do? We make one!

I connected with a local mother who had been trying to find a recreational swim team for her 10-year-old daughter, with no luck. Together, we worked with Ventura County Special Olympics to create one in the Conejo Valley, starting in the spring of 2019. Daland Swim School, in Thousand Oaks, has graciously opened their facility for our weekly swim practice. Our swim team is comprised of 20 athletes, ages 8-14, at any ability. The Special Olympics organization programs are no cost to families. Their programs rely heavily on volunteers. I am fortunate to have a supportive community of friends, who are donating their time to coach our team.  Our swim season runs from February to May, with one swim meet. We are so excited to bring this wonderful program to our community and can’t wait to update you all on its success!

Did you know? The Conejo Recreation and Park District additionally runs Special Olympics programs year-round, including basketball, tennis, track & field and bowling. Volunteering with them will change your life and the lives of the participating athletes.  

Special shout-out to some other amazing local women in the special needs community that you should definitely check out:

Nekole, from Kids OT Help, has a unique online Occupational Therapy business. She’s an educational video phenomenon, with a huge YouTube following. Her candid, down-to-earth personality taps into the heart of childhood through her specialties’ lens. Nekole touches on motherhood, self-care, and more, in a modern family kind of way. 

Mikayla, from Timbernook Ventura County, took her love of play and the outdoors to another level. She sets up fun activities, using nature, and allows children to use their own creativity to explore the world around them. She offers programs and camps at her home base in Ventura. Mikayla has taught me to sit back and let children enjoy self-directed play. 

If you are interested in receiving more information about joining this Special Olympics Swim Team, please comment below!  

xx, Jessica





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