DPT Alumna Combines Passion for Figure Skating with Physical Therapy Expertise

Hannah Kimberly with patient at the ice rink

Although she can be found in the physical therapy (PT) clinic wearing sneakers, Hannah Kimberly’s footwear of choice is actually ice skates.  
Beginning at age 5 and continuing through college, Kimberly, DPT ’19, was a competitive figure skater,  earning four national championships as part of her intercollegiate team at the University of Delaware. Numerous injuries on the ice lead her to study PT at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Through recovery and return to competition, she learned about the many facets of PT, including musculoskeletal and post-concussive rehabilitation.

“After working with the physical therapists, I realized what a rewarding career it can be and decided that it was what I wanted to do in life,” Kimberly said.
Last winter, Kimberly’s love of physical therapy and skating combined at Adaptive Skatefest, an adaptive skating event held at MedStar Capitals IcePlex in Virginia. The event was the first adaptive skating event held by U.S. Figure Skating. Joining forces with Gliding Stars, an adaptive skating organization that supplied specialized walkers and equipment for participants to use to balance on the ice, more than 40 military veterans, active-duty service members, skaters with disabilities, and family members received free skating lessons. 

It was natural for Kimberly to share her expertise during part of the mandatory training for staff and volunteers at the event. “I realized I had a lot I could contribute to the conversation due to my skating and physical therapy background,” she said. “I helped the staff and volunteers think about what kind of assistance someone with a certain diagnosis might need and how to best help them.” 

At the event, Kimberly worked with a woman with cerebral palsy. She credits her PT education with being able to adapt the skating instructions and provide energy conservation techniques so the young woman could enjoy the full two hours on the ice. “It was amazing! With the adaptive equipment and my help, she was able to skate laps around the rink despite using a motorized wheelchair for all of her daily mobility,” Kimberly explained.

The idea of adaptive sports is not a new concept for Kimberly. During her Interprofessional Community Practicum Course in the DPT program, she collaborated on a project to modify recumbent bicycles for people with a variety of physical limitations. However, this was the first time she had considered or participated in adaptive skating. “I have been a part of U.S. Figure Skating for a long time, but it was truly special to be a part of this inaugural event,” she said. “I can’t wait to do more events like this.”  

Kimberly believes the biggest takeaway from the event was raising awareness for adaptive sport opportunities. Physical therapists can provide education about resources like this to patients. “I have seen firsthand that adaptive sports help individuals with disabilities recognize that they are not alone, and feel more connected,” she said.

When asked how she will continue to combine her love of skating with her future PT career, Kimberly has high hopes. “I want to facilitate regular adaptive skating events for the D.C. metro area,” she said.