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Making it in Big Sky: Lone Peak Physical Therapy

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John Boersma stumbled upon Big Sky while on a fishing trip, decided to quit his big city job, sold most of his stuff, moved to the mountain town in 2001, and opened up Lone Peak Physical Therapy soon thereafter. PHOTO COURTESY OF LONE PEAK PHYSICAL THERAPY

By Doug Hare EBS SPORTS EDITOR

John Boersma decided to start his business in Big Sky because he wanted to treat patients that wanted to get better and were motivated to put in the work to get there. After working in a large metropolitan city, he found himself treating a large percentage of patients that did not seem to care that they couldn’t be active—many were unwilling to put in the work to help themselves recover.  

Boersma ended up moving to a company that treated primarily athletes at the high school, collegiate and professional levels, and while he enjoyed the patient population more, he found himself weary of the chaos of life in the city. After some soul searching, he decided to move to a mountain town in the West because it fit the lifestyle he craved and he knew the type of people that gravitated to these towns were active and motivated to keep their bodies healthy. 

After traveling to several mountain towns to research options, Boersma stumbled on Big Sky, almost by accident, while on a fishing trip. He and his wife quit their jobs in the city, sold almost everything they had and moved to Big Sky to start a family in February of 2001. At the time, the population of Big Sky was roughly 600 people. The first several years were extremely lean, but 18 years later Lone Peak Physical Therapy employs 60 team members around the state—the majority of his team working in the Gallatin Valley.

Explore Big Sky: What is distinctive about your company’s approach to physical therapy?

John Boersma: Lone Peak Physical Therapy is passionate about challenging the antiquated and often impersonal methods that exist in our current healthcare system’s rehabilitation model. Big hospitals and orthopedic physician-owned therapy clinics are taking over the rehabilitation industry, and we believe client care is suffering. We are focused on fighting against this trend by staying focused on our clients’ needs first and foremost. We avoid generalized treatment protocols and cookie cutter approaches to rehab and encourage creativity and outside-the-box thinking from our team. We believe each patient is unique and to achieve the best result they need to be treated that way.

EBS: What has been the key to your success?

J.B.: We exist with the goal of making our clients’ lives better. Our team works extremely hard to guide our clients toward the life they want. We feel fortunate and know the responsibility of being trusted with the health of our clients. Our philosophy is simply to listen to the client and their specific needs and then guide them to find the best path back to the activities they love. 

EBS: Do you remember your first customer or first sale?

I remember one of my first customers, a long-time local of Big Sky, walked into my office the first week I opened and [described] his story of chronic debilitating back pain. He told me no one had been able to help him and every one of his doctors had given up on him. He then asked me, “What the f**k do you think you can do for me?” Long story short: over time we were able to get him back to his favorite activities, he became a good friend, and actually ended up working with our team. It was incredibly rewarding to see his entire disposition change as he began to feel better.

EBS:What are the biggest obstacles to operating a small business in Big Sky?

I would say the advantages far outweigh the challenges, but typical answers like high real estate costs, limited housing options and limited services have definitely affected us over the years.

EBS: How has the business landscape changed since you started out?

J.B.: Well, the biggest change has been the size of the population.  With more and more small businesses sacrificing to make it work here, Big Sky is now a much easier place for a family to live, which means more clients and more quality employees.

EBS: What is it about Big Sky that compels you to stick it out through the hard times?

J.B.: The answer is simple: the people and the outdoors. We all love Big Sky for those two reasons. The people that have chosen to make Big Sky their home are special. They make their own rules, are not afraid to take risks and believe in living life to the fullest. How could anyone not want to be surrounded by that?  The beauty of the mountains and the endless activities that challenge and inspire us are so compelling that I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

EBS: What is one of the most memorable moments you have had as a resident/business owner in Big Sky? 

J.B.: A few years back, I came to work in the morning to find bear paw prints all over the floor and mirrors of our performance clinic. Apparently, one of the members had left the back door cracked open the previous night and a curious black bear found his way in. I was happy he also found his way out before our first customers showed up the next morning. I love cool experiences like that that could only happen in a place like Big Sky.

EBS: What was a business idea that didn’t work?

J.B.: In the past, we partnered with a certified dietician to try and add nutrition services for our clients. We passionately believe that this is a key ingredient for optimum physical health and for living better. Unfortunately, we could not make it work. It could be that we just didn’t have a large enough population to support it or that, in general, the people of Big Sky already eat a healthy diet. Maybe, it was just too early, but ultimately it was a big failure for us.

EBS: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?

J.B.: “Do sh*t.”  Plain and simple. We all love to talk about ideas, but deciding to actually do something and then acting on it, right or wrong, has helped me more than anything else. 

EBS: What advice would you give to small business owners just starting out in Big Sky?

J.B.: You have to want to be here more than anything else. It is going to be hard and you will struggle, but getting the chance to live in this community is worth it all. If your goal is primarily to build a business and make piles of money, there are way easier places to start something.

EBS: Where do you see your business in 10 years?

J.B.: We want to be known as the best company to work for in the state of Montana. We are building this business on people and we have an absolutely incredible team of professionals that are the heart of our company. We are constantly looking for opportunities to grow and expand. We believe that Montana is absolutely one of the best places to live in the entire nation. If we can provide stimulating jobs and help people find a career with true work-life balance, we will have accomplished our goal.

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