Female business owner enjoys working in physical therapy

News Photos by Darby Hinkley
FYZICAL Thunder Bay owner Teresa Duncan stands in the hallway with the office pooch, Duncan’s friendly Corgi named Finley.

ALPENA — What used to be Thunder Bay Therapy and Sports Medicine became FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Center in 2020, but Teresa Duncan has owned that business for 25 years.

She loves what she does, and she loves working in the friendly community of Alpena.

The spotlight shines on Duncan this week as the first in a series on women in business to celebrate Women’s History Month in March.

“I can’t say that I’ve necessarily experienced resistance based on being a woman,” she said. “The field of physical therapy is predominantly women, although that is changing.”

She explained why she started the business.

Duncan watches the output reading on the screen of the exercise bike that Therapy Aide Barbara Suszek is riding to demonstrate what a patient would be doing at the center. No patients were allowed to be photographed to protect their privacy.

“I just felt that if I could practice the way I wanted to, I could serve my patients better,” she said. “We’ve grown over the 25 years. We have so many skilled people here. We encourage them to follow their passion. If they enjoy what they’re doing, they’re going to reflect that in their patient care.”

Duncan said buying into the FYZICAL franchise broadened the services they are able to offer. One of those services is an overhead support system hanging from the ceiling that allows patients to practice walking in an oval loop, with a harness that supports them if they need it.

“They can work on balance, and he will not fall,” Duncan said of a patient who was using the system. “Even if his legs give out, he will not fall.”

Joining the franchise allowed the center access to more resources to improve the quality of care to patients of all ages.

Duncan reiterated that the center is still locally owned and operated.

“We did not sell,” she said. “We are 100% owners. We make all the decisions. There was no staffing change as a result of it,” Duncan said. “It was resources and support.”

The 8,000-square foot facility includes an open gym area with exercise bikes and a variety of equipment, and two pools “that stay pretty busy,” Duncan said.

“We treat little kiddos, and so we have a way to get them out of the mainstream,” she said while showing off the children’s room, which they also rent to Fun First Therapy, which offers speech therapy to youngsters.

“In fact, that’s another privately owned, woman-owned business,” Duncan said. “She’s based out of Tawas.”

The building includes clinical rooms and offices as well. FYZICAL logs about 12,000 visits per year.

“We’re busy,” she said.

The Alpena clinic has about 30 employees, including Duncan and her husband Bruce, who is co-owner and office manager.

“We’ve got a wide range of skills here,” Duncan said.

Occupational therapy is offered in a separate building behind the main facility.

“We got so busy with our workman’s comp population that we needed more space,” she said.

They also own the 3,000-square-foot FYZICAL clinic in Rogers City.

While not technically on the payroll, Duncan’s Corgi Finley is the official office dog.

“He actually gets incorporated into the treatments, sometimes,” Duncan said of the 5-year-old butterscotch fluff ball. “Children, if they’re real anxious or don’t want to do something, they’ll be motivated by being able to play with him.”

She added that an adult patient with severe cognitive disabilities was motivated to walk with Finley to complete her physical therapy, when she was not responding to prompts from people.

“If you put Finley’s leash in her hand, she would walk and walk and walk,” she recalled.

That’s just one example of why Duncan loves her job: she sees the positive results of helping people achieve their goals.

“We really see some significant changes in people,” she said. “They come in afraid and in a lot of pain, they don’t know what to expect, and we work with them.”

Being a part of a patient’s progress is an incredible privilege, she added.

Duncan advises any other women looking into owning or starting their own business to leave fear behind and go for it.

“Be willing to take the risk,” she said. “In hindsight, I’m so glad I did. Don’t let the fears and the doubts consume you. Be well-planned, be well-organized, but if you have a dream of doing something, get out there and do it.”

She said she had a tremendous amount of encouragement and support when she started.

“Be willing to learn,” she said. “Surround yourself with people who love what they do, too. There are lots of good resources out there for women. There’s the Small Business Development Center at (Alpena Community College).”

She is sending three of her recently promoted female employees to leadership classes with Jackie Krawczak, who is another female business owner.

“We’re really tapping into her skills, to help train our leaders in the business,” Duncan said of Krawczak.

Duncan feels that Alpena is very supportive of female business owners.

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