"People here made me feel 'one of their own' very fast"
Corinne Evans made Tralee her home over 20 years ago. The popular and well known physiotherapist talks to Stephen Fernane about setting up her own clinic, her love of sport, and the affection she has for her adopted town
You soon learn from speaking to Corinne Evans that she is the embodiment of why size is no match for determination.
As someone who describes herself as 'five-foot nothing', it's not hard to imagine Corinne telling a twenty stone rugby player that the buck stops with her professional assessment. Diminutive in stature she may be, determined and dedicated as a physiotherapist she definitely is.
The walls of Corinne's clinic are like a museum linking her profession with her sporting passion. Rugby is the game closest to Corinne's DNA and it's a place where jerseys and balls are signed 'with thanks' and 'best wishes' to Corinne from some of the world's greatest rugby players.
Originally from Tipperary Town, Corinne won a scholarship to Singapore where she worked after qualifying as a physiotherapist. She returned for a holiday in 1995 but took up a job at the Bon Secours Hospital where she spent four years. This was the start of her new life in Tralee and a prelude to opening her own practice in 1999.
Corinne has nothing but praise for her adopted town, its people and its sense of place - all of which, she says, combined to make her transition a smooth one.
"People made me feel 'one of their own' very fast in Tralee," she says.
"I volunteered as a physio with Tralee Rugby Club for four years when I first arrived. It was great to help the club out, plus I got to meet new friends. I didn't know a soul when I arrived so from that point it was brilliant. And yet here I am 20 years later."
Corinne is genuinely touched by the welcome she received when starting her new business all those years ago. A proud Tipp woman to the marrow, such kindness has not faded from her memory.
"I remember painting the walls of the practice one day before I opened when there was a knock at the door. It was the late Bill Kirby. He heard I was opening so he arrived to the door with a bottle of brandy to wish me luck! He was a fantastic man and I know that anyone he ever met who had a pain he would always say: 'go up to that girl and she'll look after you'. Bill was such a friendly man."
All success stories have a starting point and Corinne's physiotherapy epiphany is, thereabouts at least, traceable to when she was just 9-years-old.
"I burst my appendix and the wound got so infected that I couldn't walk. It was the physio that eventually put legs under me again. I didn't know what a physio was at the time but I always had it in my mind as something I'd love to do. I've never forgot the time the physios put into me."
Corinne holds the honour of having been appointed as an independent physio by the Olympic Committee for the London Olympics in 2012 and the Rio Olympics in 2016. She even found time to enlighten one American athlete with some old-fashioned Irish faith and superstition.
"I was on duty for the gymnastics competition at the London Olympics when 15-year-old Gabby Douglas from the US sprained her ankle in the warm up before the final trials, she was distraught. Ever since I qualified I keep a bottle of holy water in my kit bag.
"After strapping her ankle I told her that we use this in Ireland for driving tests, exams and all manner of things when we need good luck. I shook the holy water on her and told her she'd be fine. She went out and scored really high, qualifying for the final.
"Two days later before the final there was an announcement over the public address asking: 'would the Irish physio please go to the gymnastics warm up area?' When I arrived, Gabby asked if I had any more of that 'special water'. You spend all those years at university studying and here was a client looking for holy water!" she laughs.
Our conversation once again returns to rugby. Corinne is a rugby women through and through. Her great grandfather was a founding member of Clanwilliam Rugby Club in Tipperary - one of the oldest junior clubs in the country. One of Corinne's proudest rugby moments came while working as an appointed physio at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
"Tipperary Town is a big rugby area. Alan Quinlan was in school with me, as was international rugby referee John Lacey. We had a very local occurrence at one of the pool games where John was the referee, Alan was the TV correspondent and I was the physio. All three of us came from the same small school and here we were working on a rugby world cup game. That was nice."
While Corinne is too professional to mention by name any of the international rugby stars that she's treated over the years, some of her observations of these athletes at the top of their sport is interesting.
"You soon realise that these stars are depending on you for their good health. Their next game can depend on your skill and whether you get them right. There is a vulnerable side to these players that people don't see away from the field. Athletes get very emotional when they're at a high level. The stardom side of it doesn't come into it. They always want to play but from my point of view player welfare is my priority. I think this has stood to me in my work."
While physiotherapy has brought Corinne face to face with some of the major sporting events in the world, she remains rooted to the core of her profession and treating clients at an 'everyday level'.
"When someone comes in here bent in two and can't get their shoes off, when they walk out, that's a far bigger deal to me. To me that's bigger than any world cup or Olympics.
"It's a very personal job and to gain people's trust you have to build a rapport with them. Some of the treatments are tough and the client has to realise you are working with them. The client has to know that you worry about them and that you will ring them up afterwards and ask how they're doing."
Corinne was recently appointed Vice President of the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists. There is over 3,000 physiotherapist in Ireland and to receive such an honour is both a personal and professional honour for Corinne.
The challenges within her profession today have increased twofold. It's not stretching it to say this is probably the first generation in history where a world structured and designed for immobility and comfort is the norm. Inactive and desk-bound lifestyles have also escalated and Corinne frequently lectures on the pitfalls of inactivity.
"Motion is lotion, rest is rust. The key is to move," she says.
"I give talks on 'well-being workshops' in workplaces and how important it is to improve posture. A 2016 report found that the treatment of back pain in Ireland costs the economy €5.3 billion. That's more than the cost of treating cancer and diabetes combined. It's a huge problem and 1 in 4 adults will suffer back pain at some stage."
Corinne concludes by reiterating how proud she is of the past 20 years and the generational links she has built up at her clinic.
The grandchildren of some of her earliest clients are now coming to her which says it all in terms of continuity.
Lastly, working alongside Corinne is Laura Sheehy and Chris Horan- people that mean a lot to her clinic. "I couldn't do what I do without them, they're fantastic," she concludes.