Age: 36 | Location: London, UK
If you spot a woman with a wide smile and curly hair headed to the gym in a North Face co-ord, waffle shorts and a matching jumper, it’s probably The Physio.
The set is so comfortable, she hardly takes it off.
‘It's just like wearing a stylish duvet.’
Most days, she’s up hours before her job actually starts.
‘I am one of those strange people that plans my week around things that are important to me. My alarm may go off anytime from like 5:45 to 6:30, the reason being that then I can fit in certain things in the morning, like doing a bit of yoga or sometimes just sitting on my balcony, looking at the sun, believe it or not.’
There are all sorts of physiotherapy: musculoskeletal, neurological, cardiological. Before choosing to specialise in sports performance, catering to the needs of professional athletes, The Physio worked for the NHS and received training across the board.
‘I worked in the NHS for the first six years of my career. Actually, I went back into intensive care for a little stint during the lockdown when the Nightingale opened up and really needed staff, but then after that sort of finished, I just thought, okay, well, I really do enjoy working with athletes and those that want to progress in something and better themselves and are heavily motivated.'
Either way, it seems to me that The Physio was always destined to help people one way or another.
‘A lot of people think of it as just taking the pain away, but there's so much more to physiotherapy than that.'
'There's a huge psychological element to it and my understanding of that is what really helps me to help people, more than perhaps some other practitioners. My parents used to own nursing homes and I would always help out there. I learned so much through, like, having hundreds of grandfathers and grandmothers. I think I just saw through what my parents were doing that there's a lot you can do for others.’
Despite all this, she somehow believes that she’s still learning how to properly be – as she puts it – a ‘decent human being’.
‘I feel like there are certain things that we carry forward from our start in life. There's so many things that happen to us and obviously every day things are changing in the world. I feel that being a good human and not letting things get to you or change you or breaking down is actually something that you have to actually work at. Especially living in a place like London.'
'I'm not from London so for me the city can sometimes be really hard.'
In a coming-of-age struggle that many can relate to, The Physio discovered that getting to grips with a city of nine million people isn’t entirely straightforward.
‘I lived here for a year and then my dad moved me to Cornwall. It was a bit of a weird situation because I wasn't with my dad for that first year, I was with my mum. My birth mum. She actually put me up for adoption, yeah, and dad found out so he came to get me. So I was here for a year and then I was not for many years and then seven years ago I moved back. When I moved, I was walking around, trying to figure out where I wanted to live because I didn't have any permanent address. It was very strange. My first job was for Kings College University and that was the hospital I was born in which I didn't quite realise. I don't know, it all sort of strangely fit into place.’
I ask where she’d choose to live, if she could go anywhere in the entire world.
‘That's super hard. That's the hardest question. I think maybe Canada. I know that's not a lot of people's first choice but I think it's amazing when you get out to explore, and I don't mean the cities, I mean out into the mountains and the rivers. It's just incredible. There's so much amazing nature, so much scenery. I find the extremes in the weather quite enchanting really. I also think it's one of the places that has some of the most genuine happy people. When you go to Canada people are just genuinely super excited and super happy to see you.'
'I did think about moving there once.’
Why didn't she go?
‘I was in a serious relationship and they didn't want to. In hindsight, I should have just gone.'
To me, The Physio seems completely in control of her own life and where it's taking her. There’s all sorts of things she loves about who she is, beyond what other people think or do, but her hair is top of the list.
‘Because I grew up in a heavily Caucasian area in the deep south of the UK, things like my curly hair weren't particularly pretty. I used to straighten it every day before school - this is really sad - even before, you know, we had the good old GHDs. I've tried all the tricks with the iron and the ironing board and trying to iron my hair out straight from a very young age. Trying to assimilate was a big part of that. Now, I cannot understand for the life of me why I did that.'
'Now, it's a bit of a common joke between my friends that I regularly touch my curls when I'm talking. Some people think I'm flirting with them. Some people think I'm bored. But I actually just really enjoy my hair.’
It's clear that years of reflection have made her more self-confident.
‘When you grow up in a very Caucasian place, black isn't beautiful. It's either exotic and fetishised or you're met by stereotypes. I will say, sadly, it's part of the reason I actually left the NHS; people's perceptions of what black people are and how they move and how they behave. It made me second guess myself every single turn and I I believed a lot of things were negative about myself when actually they were just completely normal. Behaviours or mannerisms. I think all those things held me back in a lot of ways. Then somebody said to me, 'You just need to be yourself and accept that you're not for everyone and you're not meant to be for everyone.' I think that's the beauty of it actually.'
To end our chat, I ask her what’s something she believes she’s mastered.
She laughs, a characteristically cheerful giggle.
‘The art of a good cheesecake.’
Whether she means eating or baking, I'm not sure.