After 23 years in business, one of Taranaki’s longest-serving physios says the past three “pandemic years” have been his most challenging yet. But a top international job opportunity and an unwavering passion for his local work, has seen Todd Wolfe bounce back into a positive position for the future.
The founding owner of Bounceback Physiotherapy was recently appointed as the lead physiotherapist for Basketball New Zealand, and the upcoming Tall Blacks World Cup campaign to the Philippines. He’ll travel with the team for warm-up matches throughout August, before they set up camp in Manila to take on the world from August 25 to September 10.
Drawn in Group C alongside USA, Greece, and Jordan, Wolfe’s expertise will be critical to the Tall Blacks’ preparation and recovery as they face some of the world’s most relentless basketball heavyweights in pool play.
“It’s going to be the highlight of my physio career for sure,” he says.
While the opportunity to stand on the same court as LeBron James or Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks is a mind-blowing prospect, it’s the chance to build on his experience at the elite level that also adds to the excitement for Wolfe.
“FIBA (International Basketball Federation) is a huge organisation where there’s a lot to see and do – there’s lots of rules. Players have to wear the right strapping tape, or skins. You have to make sure all your i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.
“I’ll learn a lot from the other countries too, like USA. They’ve got about 20 support staff all doing something different, so I’ll be there soaking it up. It’s all very interesting.”
While his sports-specific physiotherapy has historically been rugby focused, including 20 years with New Plymouth Old Boys and a continued support of New Plymouth Boys’ High School 1st XV, Wolfe has worked with a number of athletes from a multitude of sports. It was current New Plymouth deputy mayor, David Bublitz, who gave Wolfe his first taste of international basketball when they travelled together to China and Argentina with the New Zealand men’s U17 World Cup team in 2018.
A year later, Wolfe went to Greece with the New Zealand U19 team for their World Cup campaign. The upcoming trip won’t be his first with the Tall Blacks either, after travelling to the Asia Cup in Jakarta last year. That in itself, was an experience, he says.
“Half the management got Covid over there. So me and the strength and conditioning coach had to be the managers too which was an eye-opener.”
He says while his skills are easily transferable from sport-to-sport or person-to-person, there are some minor differences when it comes to working on basketballers.
“They have the same ankles, knees and backs as everyone else – just a whole lot bigger.”
When Wolfe steps away from the day-to-day running of his three Taranaki clinics for two months in August, he knows he’ll be leaving things in capable hands.
With locations in New Plymouth, Bell Block, and Waitara – the last of which he shares ownership with fellow physio Jacinta Harrison – the Bounceback team is made up of some of the most experienced physiotherapists in the region. Together, they’ve been treating people in Taranaki for 23 years. The last three of those have been some of the most difficult, says Wolfe.
“Since the pandemic there’s been a real change in business. There’s been a lot of challenging times that have tested our resilience, much like many other businesses around the region.”
An influx of national physiotherapy franchises descending on the region, underfunding, trying to recruit professional staff and competition for the health dollar have all brought challenges to the industry landscape.
“The market has changed dramatically and it has been quite hard for us smaller, local players.
“You’d think after 23 years you’d have it sorted, but you don’t. We’re always at the whim of ACC – that would be 80% of our business. We’ve gone from days where there was no surcharge for patients, and ACC would pay us higher fees, to now having our fees stagnate and us having to charge our patients a surcharge, just to cover basic costs of running a business.”
He reflects back to the early years of business when his dad, Neil, was a key support and mentor for him.
“You don’t learn all the business stuff at physio school, so I did lean on my dad when I first started off. He had that experience and knowledge with accounting and things, which helped me a lot.”
While he now solves most of those business riddles himself, or alongside his business partner, Wolfe hasn’t let the administration pull him away from his craft.
“I’m still on the tools and really enjoy it. A lot of people think I don’t treat anymore and just swan around running businesses, but I would still see my share of patients a week, on top of running the three clinics.”
Despite this story relating heavily to his passion and success as a sports physio, Wolfe treats anything and anyone thanks to his long list of qualifications and experience. He recently became a qualified specialist in men’s cancer rehabilitation, through the Pink and Steel Cancer Rehabilitation Foundation – an endeavour he pursued shortly after losing younger brother, Brooke, to the cruel disease in 2019.
With the support of wife Suzy, and two energetic children, Samara and Josh, Wolfe continually sees the bright side of life as he pursues his passion to get outside and exercise in Taranaki’s unmatched playgrounds.
The time he spends treating the local community is what has pulled him through the tough times and kept him focused and positive about the future.
“All I’ve ever done is physio in my home town and I’m proud that we’re a good local business that has stood the test of time. All I want to do is keep building on that.
“We’ve come through the pandemic, we’ve endured some of the tough economic conditions, the increased competition, and now I’ve picked up this basketball role which is exciting.
“There’ll no doubt be more challenges to come, but we’ve survived, and we look forward to helping the people of Taranaki bounce back to their best for years to come.”