Conquering Challenges and Achieving Dreams

Cassie Van Otterloo's dream of becoming a physical therapist began in high school. She had always been into athletics, including playing basketball, volleyball, soccer, and softball in high school. “I love the physical activity that comes along with it, but being heavily involved in sports, I had my fair share of injuries as well.”

She dealt with stress fractures in her shins, stress fractures in her lower vertebrae, and severely sprained hip flexors. Then, during her senior year of high school while playing a basketball game, she tore her ACL. It was a basketball career-ending injury, and the recovery process required that she go to physical therapy.

“My own physical therapists (PTs) had a significant impact on my life,” says Van Otterloo. “When people walk through injury, it’s so much more than a physical burden: it’s a mental and emotional burden, because a part of you doesn’t work the same anymore. For me, having been in sports my whole life, it was a massive identity shift.”

During some of her most difficult moments of recovery, Van Otterloo could count on her PTs to help her not only recover physically but to process what had happened on the basketball court. Van Otterloo appreciated how, at the many ACL rehab appointments she had over the course of nine months, they asked about her family, her school day, and what she liked to do for fun.

“I was never just a case number or a torn ACL. I was Cassie to my PTs—I was a whole person. They walked alongside me in an incredibly restorative way,” she says. “It was powerful to be a part of and to think about how transformational it would be to be able to enter someone’s life in that way, also.”

Getting into physical therapy school is a difficult task: not only do applicants need to maintain a high GPA and take rigorous coursework, but they also must earn 100+ observation hours, take difficult entrance exams, get stellar references, write a strong personal statement, and more.

“I was like, ‘all right, Lord, if this isn’t meant to be, there are plenty of doors for you to shut on the way there,’” recalls Van Otterloo. “But I kept working at it and the doors stayed open.”

She also kept up her love for athletics by playing softball at Dordt for a few years. “I can still remember on my visit to Dordt, Coach Zomer had me practice with the team,” she says. “There were several upperclassmen who asked my name and what my major was—they wanted to get to know me. Later, one of the upperclassmen became a mentor to me and was such a resource to me over the years. It was that relational aspect of the team sport that was a catalyst for growth for me.”

Being on the Defender softball team taught Van Otterloo about how to be a servant leader, she says. “Playing softball at Dordt taught me how to show up with joy and gratitude, even when things are hard or when you might not be in the spot you want to be. The Lord showed me how to get outside of my own desires and to put my teammates first, even if that’s at my own expense. That was a big life lesson for me.”

Van Otterloo’s dream of becoming a physical therapist is in her sights: she has been accepted to the University of Iowa’s Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. It’s an incredibly competitive program, with more than 700 applicants for 50 spots. Van Otterloo was able to secure one of those 50 spots.

“Honestly, I cannot take credit for getting into PT school, as the Lord put so many opportunities for service and learning in my life, as well as people who have helped me along the way. He opened doors, and I walked through them. I’m really excited and grateful to have this opportunity.”

Looking back at her Dordt experience, Van Otterloo says some of her favorite moments were spent outside with friends. “I’ve played some good games of Ultimate Frisbee, football, and spikeball out on the lawn between the Squares and Southview. It’s been a great spot for fostering community.”

Those experiences with friends have helped her develop strong relationships. “At Dordt, I’ve learned how to be vulnerable with others, and also to be a safe place for people to be vulnerable with me,” she says. “I have developed some of the deepest relationships in my life with friends at Dordt, and that’s been such a joy and a gift. I know that, when I share things with my friends, they’ll receive me with love and compassion, and they can do the same with me, so that we can encourage each other and pray for each other.”