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Josh Grawbarger talks about client empowerment and triathlons

One of Westshore’s physios talks about his journey to physio, plus how he makes his clients the heroes of their stories.

What was it like moving away from home?

I initially went to the University of Waterloo for my undergraduate degree in 2014 and it was tough to move away from Sault Ste. Marie, where I grew up. Sault Ste. Marie isn’t a small community, but it’s very isolated. From there, it’s about eight hours to the next community west, so it feels like you’re on an island. But, one of the most amazing parts about driving west is the journey to Thunder Bay. I think it has to do with Lake Superior – there are so many big, dramatic rock faces and you get all these amazing conifers growing on the side of the lake. It looks like an ocean! 

Even though I grew up on Lake Superior, I didn’t have an appreciation for it until I saw other parts of the country and realized I grew up in a pretty special place.

Josh Grawbarger and his partner, Josie, stand overlooking a glacier-fed lake with the Rocky Mountains in the background.

How did you end up in Victoria?

My partner Josie suggested it! We’ve wanted to come out to BC for a long time. She’s a midwife and got a job in Victoria (amazingly!) so we made the move by driving across the country in July 2023. We lived out of our tent and visited all the national parks we could, before arriving in August. It was the first time I’d gone west of Ontario by car and it was really fun.

One thing that stuck out to me on the trip was how underrated some of the lesser-visited parks are around the Banff area. Yoho National Park was amazing!

Joshua Grawbarger's tent campsite in the forest, including a green sleeping tent, yellow rainfly, and red tent covering a picnic table

What makes going to work fun?

The Arbutus team is a cool little family. We have a triathlon team that’s affiliated with the clinic, which is helpful because I’ll be doing the half Ironman in Victoria this year! It’s also great to be surrounded by such awesome clinicians and have excellent mentorship.

Why triathlons?

My mentor, who got me into physiotherapy, also got me into triathlons. I met him during my co-op program while at Waterloo, and I learned that he had qualified for the World Championships in Kona in 2003. It was really inspiring to hear his stories of how he got into the sport. I worked with him for a few years and knew I wanted to give a triathlon a shot one day. Moving out here put my butt in gear! I’m living in this amazing place where I can train all year round. I don’t want to waste that opportunity. 

What are your favourite athletic sports?

For me, physical activity is a big outlet. Running and biking are my jams for sure! I love being able to tune out everything going on around me and settle into my body. I think that’s how I find peace in who I am.

Josh Grawbarger on a road bike during a race.

Why is it important to you that you foster a sense of empowerment with your clients?

In my practice, I always try to meet people where they’re at so that they can get to where they want to be. It’s about listening to them and what they have to say. I also try to figure out what their goals are, so I can be a guide for them to achieve them. Sometimes, we as clinicians can get hung up on being the hero of the story, instead of letting our clients be the hero in their own story.

I feel, at times, people want more autonomy over their own health care. They’re looking for a guide, not someone to save them. I’ll do as much as I can with my hands, but ultimately they have to do the exercise and be an active participant. I’ll know I’ve done a really good job when someone tells me they’re better, they leave, and I see them less, because they’re healing and have the tools to manage their condition or injury and prevent it from coming back.

Is there a co-op or placement experience that sticks with you?

My most memorable experience was meeting my mentor (the Ironman athlete) during my co-op. I’m friends with him to this day and I worked with him until I moved to BC. It was tough to step away from that relationship from both personal and professional perspectives! I think he saw my passion for my profession and he wanted to nurture that. I wasn’t just there to build my resume, I wanted to learn! There’s a lot he taught me, beyond what I learned in school, that I use in my practice today. And of course, he got me into triathlons. He’s shaped my personal and professional life! I’m extremely fortunate to have worked with him. 

Why physio?

When I was in grade 12, I thought I wanted to be an electrical engineer! I had it all figured out: I’d work on solar panels and go to my cabin whenever I wanted. But then I realized I’m terrible at math (calculus was not my strong suit) and that my true passion was really science and biology! 

My life is so different now than what I thought it would be 10 years ago. A big part of that was thanks to a chiropractor from my hometown, who treated me for my football injuries. He told me about Dr. Stuart McGill, a professor at the University of Waterloo, who studied low back injuries and how he was able to help his patients improve. I learned everything I could from him, absorbed it like a sponge, and worked at his lab for a few years doing low-back research. But through that work, I realized Physio seemed like a more applicable career path for me.

What motivates you to stay active?

Josie and I go for runs together after work, and it’s a chance for us to talk about our days and hit on the positives to end it. We like it because we can get everything out, especially anything stressful, and not bring it back home. I also love competing, and being registered for races keeps me motivated to stay on top of my training! 

You’re both into Survivor!

We’re pretty big fans! But, we also love Downton Abby, which we binged during the pandemic.

Favourite spots in View Royal?

The Galloping Goose trail! It connects everything. One of our favourite hangout spots is the Nest Cafe, just off the trail. And, Thetis Lake, we live five minutes away. My favourite place to run is Elk Lake, it’s a pretty awesome little gem. Josie’s doing a trail running series all around the island, so we’ll be able to explore new places that way, which will be nice.

Josh Grawbarger and his partner, Josie, posing with sunglasses on top of a mountain overlooking the Salish Sea on Vancouver Island, Canada.

What’s new in physio?

I subscribe to the ‘Hump Day Hustling’ newsletter from the Institute of Clinical Excellence and in it, I get roughly five new physio-related research articles that were released in the last week.  It was something one of my mentors on one of my placements shared with me. Sometimes they apply to my work, which I find helpful. But otherwise, I find information from good, old library sources! YouTube can be great, but you really have to have a critical lens with everything you consume on the Internet.