Zach Ray's Story

The story of an injury that changed my entire life...

My childhood was centered around sports. My world was Football, Football, and more Football. I loved every aspect of it; the competitiveness, the team camaraderie, and the game itself. It made me feel important. I was so passionate about it that it guided my life well after high school. I still remember my first college season; one Saturday morning game in particular. I was so pumped! The smell of the freshly cut grass and the vibrations of the crowd rumbling through my veins. My senses still paint a vivid picture that I hold close to my heart.

My last game…

Little did I know, this would be the last time I would step onto the field with that distinct energy around me. The ref blew his whistle for the opening kickoff, adrenaline surged throughout my whole body, and I sprinted down the field with everything I had. Then out of nowhere, everything seemed to just go completely quiet. I got hit... Consciousness slipped from my grasp... It felt like I was in a cloud, a lucid dream-like state. I woke up to the muffled sounds of my Athletic Trainer intermittently blocking the sharp brightness of the sun. I wanted to listen to him. I wanted to know what was happening to me but I just couldn’t force myself to keep my eyes open long enough to comprehend what he was saying. I laid there motionless on my back, attempting to replay what just happened and fill in the gaps of my confusion. I was more outside of my body than in it.

Realizing my Football career was over...

I didn’t realize at the time, but I sustained a head injury that would completely change my life. The aftermath of this concussion was both mental and physical. The side effects were scary. Every morning my hands trembled as I attempted to eat breakfast, my eyes had become strained and overly sensitive to light, I started having trouble remembering simple things, and I had anxiety that consumed me. I assumed I disappointed my team, which made me feel bad enough. But I wasn't ready for the extreme change in friendship dynamics it caused between guys I called brothers just a week ago. My teammates inevitably treated me differently for being injured. It actually made me resent them. Honestly, I didn't want to hear about their successes without me. My coaches thought I was faking it and, nicely put, told me to stop being a coward. I hated them for that. All I wanted to do was get back on that field and prove to everyone the kind of athlete I knew I could be. The sense of helplessness I felt for not being able to do any of those things sent me into a downward spiral of depression. There seemed to be a void that could never be filled... My passion left me, and I felt as if my life would never go on. I completely lost my sense of self and questioned my purpose in life. My dreams, desires, and plans were shattered in that one game. I had no idea how to cope or how to move forward without football...without it... I was lost. 

I had no college major at that time. I admit I hadn’t given it much thought since my sole focus was being a college athlete and wasn’t sure what interested me on the academic side. My luck finally started turning around after a meeting with my academic advisor. A very special lady to me; she helped direct me towards what eventually changed my life. She recommended I take an anatomy class to "keep me around sports". I didn’t have a better idea so I agreed to sign up for the class. To my surprise, I found a passion for science and became obsessed with understanding how the body works. 

The epiphany that led me to dedicate my life to helping others…

Still unsure of what my future career would be, I participated in a Special Needs Exercise Development Internship where I customized sports specific training for severely handicapped adolescent teens. I remember one patient in particular. He was a college student like me, except he would live the rest of his life in a wheelchair. He was dealt a terrible hand in life, yet he was so cool. It seemed like nothing negative had ever happened to him, and he motivated me. I genuinely enjoyed spending time with him and made it my mission to get him moving. 

I had an idea...I decided we should get him in the pool to progress his therapy. The program advisor was hesitant to the idea at first, and initially declined my attempts at transforming his rehab routine. To their dismay, I was relentless about it. I hadn’t fought for anything that hard since playing football but I wanted him to have some form of normalcy. I only rotated to working with him once a week, but by the end of the summer, I had successfully taught him how to swim. The moment he reached the far side of the pool for the first time, he had tears streaming down his face. I was so happy for him that I became overwhelmed with emotions too. I felt his pain and his struggle. I watched how hard he fought to accomplish this goal and at that moment, looking at him, I fell in love with helping people accomplish their goals. It felt great to have a purpose again! I felt rejuvenated and inspired! Finally, I knew what I wanted to do for my career. I wanted to prove my ability to provide innovative and different approaches to modern medicine. I decided to enroll in Physical Therapy School.

Developing My Passion...

The field of Physical Therapy intrigued me so much I found myself voluntarily immersing myself in the information, losing track of time the same way I used to with Football. My creativity ran wild as I started developing my own trains of thought that led me to question traditional beliefs in medicine. I was fascinated and developed resistance to simply conform to textbook medicine that seemed impersonal and outdated to me. This caused the Faculty of my Doctoral Program to negatively push back on me. New ideas that are now deemed “innovative” were looked down upon as “rebelling” at the time. They hated the way their teachings were being challenged, especially by someone they classified as a stereotypical “jock.” I was bullied countless times by multiple Academic Leaders in Grad School.

Faculty bullying led to self-doubt…

"You'll NEVER wear athletic clothing to work"..."You'll NEVER be respected as a doctor" they said. I tried to brush it off and not let it bother me. I attempted to stand up for myself when they wouldn't stop. The constant discouragement made me angry. They laughed at me when I told them being relatable would help me with future patients, allowing me to make more of an impact on their lives. Nothing was good enough for them. I felt I was better than this, but their repetitive put-downs wore on me. I was exhausted, I was out of money, and now I was unsure if I was even good enough for the field of Physical Therapy. My hatred for the staff, faculty, and school grew. 

Again, I didn’t want to feel that way, but negative emotions consumed both my mind and my body. I was furious that they had continuously tried to take everything unique away from me. They wanted to pry my creative ideas from me and told me I was wrong every time I said something that was different from traditional methodology.

Work Ethic is the one thing I knew I was always in control of...

I’ve always known my thought process was off the beaten path, I’m the black sheep of even my own family. My foundation is as a free-thinker with revolutionary ideas. My professors tried to force me into their box, and it left me distraught, frustrated, and depleted. Inevitably though, my competitive instincts took over. I knew I had to take care of myself and study excessively to be able to overcome all the judgment, victimization and criticism. I was forced into perfection, as I realized I did not have the same room for error that others had. They told me in every way that I would NEVER make it...I proved them WRONG. I graduated at the top of my class and even gave my professors a goodbye curtsy on stage when getting my diploma.

Finally making it into the Endzone…

I decided to leave all of that in the past. No longer would I give them power over me. I was driven and obsessed with moving forward from this point. I quickly moved out of the area and found new mentors. I buried myself in research and experimented with new techniques in the field. I worked nonstop, taking on every patient I could. Before I knew it, I had built a clientele from the ground up.  

I propelled myself into the industry as a business owner and created Live Athletics. Finally, somewhere to have the freedom to innovate and do my thing. Word spread in the community and soon I had too much volume to handle. To date, I have been practicing as a Doctor of Physical Therapy for over 10 years and have a full staff of about 15 sports enthusiasts like me who are striving to push the industry forward with me. Oh, and you better believe ALL of my employees are swagged out with athletic clothes from an active clothing line we created. It allows them to move freely while they work side by side with clients. Disrupting the market is now what makes me successful. It allows me to provide highly sought after Clinical Rotations for Graduate Students, and extremely competitive DPT and PT Aide positions where I regularly teach and mentor individuals on staff.

It was all worth it. I'm living my dreams. I have been fortunate enough to work with some of the Nation's most recognized Professional Athletes, Olympians, and Hollywood Actors... But honestly, the best part of my job is providing the resources to help YOU! My personal struggles and triumphs around the world of sports gives me unique insight to patients that not all practitioners have. I understand the impact injury has on your life and will help you overcome them not only physically, but mentally and emotionally too.

Thank you for taking time to learn about my story. I hope you can persevere through life’s challenges. Always know that myself, and the people of Live Athletics are here to help you.

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 - Live Athletics President & Founder - Fitness Coach