Pursing All Callings
Some know her as a dancer or a musician; others remember her as a crafter of specialty coffee drinks. Some would call her their therapist or instructor; others marvel over her accomplishments as an ultra-runner. As of late, many have come to know her as a classmate and fellow follower of Jesus Christ. The first thing most everyone came to know her as—was Lindsay.
Clarkson College alumna Lindsay Donovan takes life in strides, both literally and metaphorically. The 2011 graduate of the Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) program has spent much of her young adult life pursuing her passions and discovering new ones along the way.
Lindsay’s first love was music, which she says, “soothes the soul.” She began playing the piano at age 8 and warmed up to singing in front of crowds as her young voice matured. The first time she picked up a guitar was in high school, and so followed the world of songwriting and the desire to share her music with others. At age 17, Lindsay released her first extended play and then a full album at age 19. She played shows regularly at music venues and coffee shops in Omaha and even went on a small tour throughout the Midwest. For much of her life, and separate from her own musical venture, she has been heavily involved in various worship bands. “I love playing and writing and being able to connect with an audience,” she says.
Lindsay’s knack for performing transcended into her academic pursuits. She began taking dance lessons at a local studio during her senior year of high school and could see her future taking shape. In 2002, she enrolled at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and declared a major in Studio Art with an emphasis in Intermedia.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree in spring 2008, she began researching graduate schools that offered advanced degrees in art or dance therapy, but she had some reservations. “The economy was poor, so I was a little nervous about going into this field and not being able to find a job,” she says. Pondering her next step, she continued her job as a barista at a local coffee shop where she had worked for the last five years.
Questionable career outlook was not Lindsay’s only deterrent in seeking a future in dance therapy. For some time, she was experiencing spells of lingering pain throughout her body. Unsure of the cause and the implications, she continued to dance and hoped all the unusual aches and twinges of pain she was feeling would dissipate over time.
Months went by, and, to her despair, the discomfort only worsened. It turns out the pain Lindsay was experiencing was chronic. “I tried taking medicine for a while to manage the pain, but I hated it because I was so tired all the time and couldn’t function as a normal person,” she says. “I wanted to try something more natural and holistic.”
That’s when Lindsay decided to undergo physical therapy and first met her clinician, Dr. Michelle Reilly. Dr. Reilly had just finished her residency program and was at the beginning stages of establishing her practice as a performing arts physical therapist. Much of her initial clientele, including Lindsay, came from peer referrals at the clinic where she worked. “Another therapist referred her to me to talk about how to manage her muscle pain in relationship to her interest in dancing,” she shares. “Because exercise within tolerance is one of the best things a person experiencing chronic pain can do, I encouraged her to continue dancing.”
In her physical therapy sessions, Lindsay talked about her aspirations to become a dance therapist with Dr. Reilly. “She could see how it could be very healing and could help people return to what they wanted to do. We talked about this some, and I mentioned that physical therapy would do exactly that—turn movement into healing—but for a wider population.”
During the time of Lindsay’s treatment, Dr. Reilly accepted a position as an adjunct instructor in the Clarkson College PTA program. By that point, Lindsay had grown very interested in the profession. “I didn’t even know a PTA position existed before I started going to therapy,” she says. “I loved the direct patient care aspect of it.”
Then, several months later in fall 2010, Lindsay and Dr. Reilly crossed paths once again, only this time not at the clinic. “I was very surprised when she showed up in my class!” says Dr. Reilly, who had transitioned into a part-time teaching position at Clarkson College. The two spent the next four semesters working together as student and instructor, and Lindsay successfully completed her PTA degree in December 2011. She dedicated the month following graduation to studying for her certification examination and passed on her first attempt. Before seeking a job, however, she had one other avenue to pursue first.
Not long after enrolling at Clarkson College, Lindsay attended a free yoga class near campus. Never having tried this form of therapeutic exercise before, she was amazed at how the combination of physical and mental elements yoga entails eased her body pains. It quickly became ingrained in her life, and by the time college graduation neared, she explored what it would take to become a certified instructor. What it took was 200 intensive hours of teacher training, which Lindsay began one week after completing her PTA licensure exam and completed in just four months.
After earning her yoga instructor certification, Lindsay accepted a fulltime PTA position in June 2012 at a skilled nursing facility in Omaha, Neb. She grew very fond of helping her geriatric clients recover from a wide range of circumstances, such as knee replacements, strokes, heart conditions and dementia.
So, here she was—a practicing PTA, certified yoga instructor, two-time college graduate, singer, songwriter and an acclaimed dancer. But that’s not all she was. About four years ago, around the time she began her PTA career, Lindsay decided to train for her first half marathon. Running 13.1 miles is a tenacious goal for most people, and her battle with chronic pain only escalated the challenge. With great persistence, however, she trained her body to adjust to the more vigorous movements running requires and completed not one but several half marathons in a two-year period. In May 2014, she took her running about 26,000 steps farther and completed her first full marathon (26.2 miles).
It didn’t stop there, though. Hankering for a more extreme challenge, Lindsay submerged herself into what some would call a world of total insanity, also known as ultra-running. To be an ultra-marathoner, a runner must complete any footrace that exceeds the distance of a full marathon. Many first-timers opt for an approachable 30-mile run, but not Lindsay. In July 2015, she completed a 50-mile race in Leadville, Colo., fully embracing the high altitude levels and rugged terrain of the Rocky Mountains. The experience was life-changing. “Running has taught me that I am stronger than I think I am and can go farther than I ever thought I could,” she says. “It has given me confidence to face my fears and reach goals in all areas of my life.”
The ultra-marathon wasn’t the only life-altering plunge Lindsay took last summer. After more than three years of working at the rehab center, she decided to put her PTA career on hold and enrolled as a full-time student at Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in Redding, Calif. “The Lord was leading me to move to Redding for a reason.” Lindsay says. “I wanted to be immersed in a revival culture and to deepen my relationship with Him.”
The move to Redding did not come easy for Lindsay, who had never lived more than a 20-minute drive away from her parents. “It was scary to kind of pause everything I was doing in my life, move to an unknown land where I knew virtually no one and put my full trust in the Lord that I would be financially secure.” In time, she developed a close-knit group of friends and began working part-time as a retail associate at a local running store.
Now at the end of her first year as a ministry student, Lindsay has no regrets. Along with strengthening her relationship with God, ministry school has helped her blossom in ways she couldn’t have predicted. For most of her life, she has fought a fear of public speaking that many might not expect from a dancer and musician. “When I’m in front of crowds speaking, I can’t hide behind creativity or an instrument like I can when I’m performing,” she says. However, “In school, they’re very intentional about teaching us how to be vulnerable with people and learning how to really get to know people and letting them get to know you,” she says. “Now, I’m able to get on stage in front of 500 or 1,200 people and openly talk about what God is doing and what healing has happened with my body.”
Lindsay returned to Omaha for the summer to spend time with her family and to work pro re nata as a PTA for her former employer. She plans to return to Redding in September to start her second year of ministry school and is unsure whether she will continue on for the third-year internship component. “Right now, for me, this is more a personal journey than anything else but has opened my eyes to other possibilities.”
Considering her track record of diverse experiences and valiant pursuits, one can only guess what those possibilities might be for Lindsay. She, herself, doesn’t even know what exactly her future holds, but she’s ready to welcome it with open arms. “I’m just looking forward to the next year of school and all that God has in store for me."