Meet the Health Heroes: Cate Dorr and Ford

Read more about occupational therapist Cate Dorr and her dog, Ford, semi-finalists in our 2012 Health Hero Challenge!

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Names: Cate Dorr and Ford

Occupation: Occupational therapist and therapy dog, Magee Rehabilitation Hospital

Who or what motivates you to be healthy?

Cate: I’ve always been an athletic person and have been involved in different sports teams and activities throughout my life including, making nationals for track and cross country in grade school. I’m a member of the Philadelphia Sport and Social Club’s co-ed touch football league, walk to work every day and try to do at least one 5K race a month to keep me motivated. I keep myself active because there are so many interesting and exciting activities I want to take part in.

That said, my biggest motivation comes from my patients at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital. As a full-time occupational therapist, I work with patients who are going through some of the most difficult times in their lives. They push through the pain and frustration to regain their independence after life-changing injuries and illnesses, such as brain injuries, amputation and spinal cord injuries. Magee patients are in therapy at least three hours a day to facilitate their rehabilitation—it isn’t easy. It’s really, really hard. But I see their determination and drive to get better, to recover. They believe in a way back. It’s hard to see that day in and day out and then go home and lay on the couch—they inspire me to always keep working toward a healthier life.

Ford: My people friends at Magee motivate me to be healthy. To work with my friends, I need to be very strong so I can pull wheelchairs, play tug-of-war, help people with their balance in the stairs and even help people stand up off the ground. If I’m not in my best shape, I might not be able to do all those things to help them, and I feel my best when I’m helping other people.

Describe a health- or fitness-related turning point in your life.

Cate: I have been interested in health and medicine for as long as I can remember. The more I learned about the body, the more I realized how unhealthy choices and lifestyles could negatively impact it. In high school, I acquired tendonitis in my knee from overdoing my workouts. It knocked me out for an entire season of track, and I was not happy about it. It was then that I realized that there needed to be a balance, not only with exercise routines, but in life. That is why I now vary my workouts, and make sure to include stretching, play time and a healthy diet into my daily routine.

Ford: In late 2007, Cate and I moved to Hawaii to work for a nonprofit called Hawaii Canines for Independence. I helped show the young puppies how to be service dogs and I felt proud to be such a strong leader. Then we would go to the beach. The young puppies would go flying across the sand and swim for what seems like hours in the water, and I just wasn’t keeping up. That’s when I went into training. So I really picked up my fitness regimen, going for runs on the beach and taking swims in the ocean. It made me realize that I couldn’t rely on my puppy metabolism forever—if I wanted to be my healthiest self, I needed to put in the work.

What “policy” would you institute to make Philadelphia a healthier city?

Cate: It’s still pretty common practice to give people smoke breaks, even though we all know the negative impact smoking can have on your overall health. I think the city of Philadelphia should start sanctioning daily 5 to 10 minute walk breaks. By encouraging employees to take a healthy break, get out of their desk chairs, move their body, improve their circulation and get outside, employers would be promoting healthy choices for their staff. One of the great things about Ford is that he really encourages people to get moving— not just patients, but staff, too. I take Ford on daily walks at lunch time to give him the exercise he needs between therapy sessions. Staff always ask to accompany us on our walks. So much so, in fact, that we started giving people the option to be one of Ford’s designated walkers. They need to go through special training, but it’s open to any employee. And if Magee’s own designated walk breaks have positively impacted our staff, what could it do for the whole city? Only good things!

What’s the most important part of your health or fitness regimen?

Cate: I learned it from Ford: to lead balanced life with a smile on my face. Every time Ford gets up from a nap or lounging, he first gets in a good stretch. Then he finds a friend, either a stuffed animal or another staff member, and asks if they want to join him. He gives his best effort in all his endeavors and takes naps when he needs them. He greets everyone with a smile and a wag of the tail. My daily fitness routine involves varying the activities I do for exercise, whether it’s taking a new dance class, running the Schuylkill River Trail, rock climbing, kayaking or doing body-builders and lunges in the park. I also find that when I have a friend to join me, the workout is more fun and goes by so much quicker.

Ford: I have to agree with Cate. Even on days when I might be very busy with work, I always find time to squeeze in some stretching, weight lifting with stuffed animals and, of course, my long walks.

What is your No. 1 piece of health-related advice or encouragement?

Cate: Get a pet. There have been studies that found that people who own pets (especially dogs) tend to be healthier. In fact, one study showed that people who have had a heart attack are significantly less likely to have a second if they own a pet.

There’s just something they do for you, for your health, both physically and emotionally. They are completely passionate, nonjudgmental creatures who love you unconditionally. They don’t care if you can’t run marathon, walk slow, use a wheelchair, or have a limp; they are just thrilled that you’re taking them for a walk. They don’t understand that you’re stress at work. They just know you’re home now and are thrilled to see you. There is something so comforting and therapeutic about that kind of love.