The countdown to the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships is on! We’re just two short weeks away from the big event, which will bring together the very best skaters from all over the country, competing for gold, glory and the chance to join the U.S. World Figure Skating Team and the U.S. Olympic Team.

Regions Hospital and TRIA Orthopaedics will be on-hand to treat any injuries or illnesses among the 1,600 coaches, officials and competing athletes. Melissa Stevens, a physical therapist with Park Nicollet, works with skaters of all ages on a year-round basis. As a life-long skater herself, she understands the specific types of medical conditions that are most likely to impact patients, and is able to help them overcome injuries and concussions in order to get back on the ice.

“I started skating at age three, started taking lessons at age seven, began competing at age 11 and then made the transition to coaching at 16,” she says. While her resume as a competitor is impressive, Melissa’s history of guiding other skaters began long before she joined Park Nicollet. “During college I directed a community center’s ice skating program and put on their first ice show ever. During PT graduate school, I assisted a skating session for people with disabilities. Finally, a couple of years ago, I returned to coach at the rink I grew up at alongside my own childhood coaches. At that point I knew I was back home.”

Though she has always had a passion for lacing up her skates, Melissa’s relationship with the sport wasn’t always pleasant.

“When I was 12, I had severe pain in my legs. I was diagnosed with chondromalacia patellae and told to stay off my feet,” she recalls. “This wasn’t acceptable advice for a 12-year-old, let alone a competitive skater who was getting up at 5 a.m. to skate before elementary school started. Ultimately, I got custom orthotics for my shoes and custom narrow orthotics to fit in my ice skates and this simply resolved all of my pain.”

While the orthotics would help with her leg pains, a few years later Melissa would experience another setback that was far more serious, both for her skating and for her everyday life.

“When I was 16, I was rear ended on the freeway and my car was totaled,” she says. “As a result, I had severe neck pain and memory issues, and at times I had trouble finishing my own sentences or forgetting where I was driving to. It took a while to resume my normal lifestyle, including getting back to competitive skating with its double jumps and fast spins.”

Now as a physical therapist, her own struggles from childhood have given Melissa the drive to comprehensively search for answers for patients in pain, and to connect them to resources they need to find further relief. Melissa will be one of the many HealthPartners and Park Nicollet specialists who will provide care during the big event, taking place Jan. 15-24. She will also be on hand for the first-ever Figure Skating Frozen 5K, taking place on Jan. 10 at Guidant John Rose MN Oval.