‘Aha’ moments lead to a life of helping people heal
As a high school student with an interest in health care, Donna Gambino was invited to tag along for a series of physical therapy appointments with a family friend who was recovering from a knee replacement. “That was probably the first time in my life that I had an ‘aha’ moment, says Donna. “I walked into the physical therapy gym and immediately felt like, ‘Okay, this is where I belong,’” she adds.
During the following weeks and months, Donna observed as her mother’s friend gained strength, and other patients at the clinic continued to improve, as well. “I think it was the fact that these people were coming in so broken, and the therapists were able to develop a close working relationship with them, to even become friends with them. The therapists would get to meet with these patients frequently, to see their progress, and then to witness them walk out of the clinic stronger than when they came in,” she says. The experience solidified the fact that Donna wanted to become a physical therapist herself.
Finding what she really loves to do
After earning a Bachelor of Applied Science in Physical Therapy from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, Donna married her husband, Chris, and they moved to Cleveland, Ohio. She landed a job as a PT at an acute care hospital, an experience she describes as the utopia of her career. “My managers were open to trying out new ideas and any crazy idea I had, they would give me a chance to try it for six weeks and see how it went.” At the clinic, Donna worked in cardiac rehab and orthopedic rehab, providing both in-patient and out-patient care. “I got my feet wet in many different areas until I could find what I really, really loved to do and what I excelled at,” Donna says.
Donna working with a client.
Discovering a love for teaching
While working in cardiac rehab, Donna worked on a team with a nurse and a doctor, providing rehabilitation care for individuals recovering from heart attacks and bypass surgery. The role required educating patients on fitness and lifestyle changes. “This was another pivotal moment,” says Donna. “I realized that it can’t just be about the body. I’m not just treating a shoulder or a knee,” she says. “It’s the whole thing. I realized that the mind plays a really big part in a person’s wellness, and that’s been a huge part of my journey,” she adds. The role also helped her to discover that she loves teaching. “It’s not my job to do anything for people. It’s my job to show people how to do it themselves,” she says.
In 1993 Donna and her husband moved to Michigan where she started a job at a local clinic providing outpatient therapy services. With 80% of orthopedic patients struggling with back pain, Donna began reading more and more research on the positive effects Pilates had on back pain patients. She realized that her PT knowledge and experience made her the perfect candidate to teach Pilates. “I thought, this is a tool I need to have,” she says.
In 2000 she enrolled in a Pilates certification program at the Professional Health and Fitness Institute—a Pilates school specifically for PTs. She embraced Pilates as a way to teach people how to safely start exercising after injury or illness, without re-injuring themselves. The results? “It benefits everyone who does it,” says Donna. “I have not had one person that I’ve ever trained in Pilates who hasn’t learned something new about their bodies or how to make it work more efficiently.”
Donna educates viewers on her YouTube channel: Infinity Health Pilates.
Taking Pilates to the next level
While seeing the positive results Pilates had on clients, Donna began taking notes for the book she hoped to write, someday when she had more time. That opportunity came sooner than she expected when a company came in and bought the clinic where she was working—requiring all the employees to sign a contract that included stipulations Donna was not in agreement with. “It was another ‘aha’ moment for me,” says Donna. “I knew I wasn’t going to sign the contract. I realized this is my time to go now and I quit that day—it was really freeing. I got in the car and called my husband and said, ‘I just quit my job. I’m going to take this Pilates thing to the next level and I’m going to write a book.’”
Donna’s first book, On a Roll @ Home: Home Exercises for Core Strength and Massage on the Foam Roller was published in 2006. She purchased Pilates equipment, built a studio in her home, and started getting referrals from therapy friends, massage therapists and chiropractors in the area. Her business, which is now called Infinity Health Therapeutic Pilates, began to grow. All of her business has been word of mouth and Donna believes her success has been her ability to help people heal and start doing activities they never thought they could do. “My tagline is Fitness Solutions for Postural Improvement. I truly believe that if your body is aligned properly, then movement is free and effortless. I can help people do that using the combination of my rehabilitation and fitness knowledge,” says Donna.
Donna helping Pilates clients master the magic circle.
Helping people through difficult challenges
In 2007, she published her second book, Age Perfected Pilates: Mat Exercises Designed to Improve Posture, Strength & Movement and in 2014 she published On a Roll @ Home: Home Exercises for Stretch and Massage on the Foam Roller. Donna and her husband recently moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she continues to educate through her books, private Pilates sessions, and her YouTube channel: Infinity Health Pilates. She says she is continually motivated by the opportunity to help people heal. “People can persevere and rise above even the most difficult challenges you can imagine,” she says.
Donna then relays the story of a PT client who she started working with when the girl was only 16. She had been born with a significant leg length discrepancy which caused her to walk with a limp. After a surgical procedure that involved cutting the bone and adding external scaffolding and screws, Donna worked with the girl during her difficult high school years as she worked to recover—including when she finally had the external device removed and was able to walk without it. “We’re still friends today,” says Donna, her voice cracking. “I was there when she walked down the aisle at her wedding—I cried the whole time. That’s why I decided to do this work in the first place.”