MADDIE SMALL HAS REAL WORLD EXPERIENCE TO OFFER HER PATIENTS AT RANGE PHYSICAL THERAPY & WELLNESS
Article by Chelsea Lyn Agro
Photography by Erika Spaulding
Doing Big Things as a Small
Outdoor Recreation Rehab
She’s a fifth-generation Missoula business owner, and that’s only half of what makes her impressive. The other life fact about Maddie is that she was diagnosed this May with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), right after opening up Range Physical Therapy & Wellness in April.
“It’s one of those things where it’s a time-based disease to diagnose,” said Maddie, who speaks rather matter-of-factly about her disease, but then also welcomes her emotions when they pop up. In the wise words of a friend, she was encouraged to “feel the feels.”
Maddie woke up one morning being unable to see out of one eye. On Christmas Eve of 2020, Maddie had a brain MRI and was told that she had optic neuritis. And then in the beginning of 2022, Maddie had a relapse occur with symptoms that included numbness, tingling, and burning sensations in her legs and arms, neuropathy, and fatigue, along with another flare of optic neuritis. With the inevitable diagnosis looming in the future for Maddie, she didn’t let the days leading up to it take away her drive for her business, or take the business away from her community. If anything, maybe this diagnosis would strengthen it.
“I’m in a very unique situation now where I get to be the patient and the provider,” said Maddie. “As physical therapists, we are medical providers who can take your whole medical history, your story, and the reason of what you're coming into PT for, and construct an individualized care plan. As a PT, I have a good idea of which questions to ask during my own medical visits, so I've been embracing that to advocate for my patients and making sure that my care toward my patients is equally as full of effort."
The gratitude Maddie feels mainly pivots around this opportunity of being in a good place at a bad time. “I feel very lucky because with everything going on, they’re such big life events, but at the same time I have the best situation I could have, whether that’s in the business aspect or the MS diagnosis, too,” said Maddie. “I have knowledge, I have support, I have family and friends, I have love.” And she’s right, perspective is everything, which is something she probably has said to her patients as they navigate a body they aren’t familiar with. Learning is best done in a place with unlimited resources and support, and Missoula is a safe place to land after the free fall.
This perspective is possible because of the path paved before Maddie. With a family of business-minded people to rely on and put her trust in, she has a certain pride when she talks about those who have always had her back.
“My family is just awesome. I wouldn’t even have this business opportunity if it wasn’t for my family. They’ve always been the parents who have sacrificed everything for the success of their kids, and that even comes down to helping us through school, supporting us, making sure anything and everything happens with us to make sure we’re set up individually to be independent,” said Maddie. “Especially with my parents being such hard workers and business owners, I kind of knew that at some point I would own my own business. I didn’t think it would happen this soon.”
But timing has a strange way of giving us exactly what we need, when we need it.
Over the summer, Maddie went on a 20-mile hike in Glacier National Park with her boyfriend, Jake Leininger. “I never in my life thought that I’d be 29 years old and nervous for a hike because I wasn’t sure what my body was going to do with that,” said Maddie. There’s a humbling note to what she does for a living that bleeds through to her patients now, and that can-do attitude slips in, too. “You’ve got to just keep plugging,” she said. With a long list of experiences in the oncology field, Maddie specializes in this type of rehabilitation. But she also treats people just like herself, with MS yes, but her deeper self—the goer.
“I do treat the general orthopedic clientele. What we’re really trying to push for Range is—we call it outdoor recreation rehab. We try to reach out to the outdoor athletes. The trail runners, the hikers, the bikers, the skiers,” said Maddie. “Some of the foundation that Range sits on is just the health and wellness of our community, and giving back to that community that I grew up in.” Being an active person in the community and also carrying this diagnosis, Maddie admitted to riding the learning curve just like some of her patients, furthering that bond in business that is only born through shared experience. She’s had to recognize and accept her fatigue symptoms as they come, and she’s also learned to stay active amongst the fluctuation of symptoms. “I finally learned to practice what I preach.”
But back to that 20-mile hike. With a family as supportive as Maddie’s, we have come to expect that Jake would be capable of leading and supporting Maddie as a life partner. After all, the best relationships are those that are cross-stitched with troubled times and triumphant climbs, side by side of course.
“When we showed up to the neurologist, we knew we were pretty much going to talk about the plan of action after reading my report saying that I did have MS. He just goes, ‘Remember, you’re the same person when we walk out,’ and it really stuck with me,” said Maddie. She has taken his kind and truthful words to heart and continues to live bravely, not for a second letting her diagnosis be the definition of who she is.
“To expand our community’s range of movement, health, and wellness to enhance the lives of Montanans through comprehensive and exceptional care.”