Interview with Sophie Vowden, founder of West Essex-based SV Sports Therapy

Sophie, 2nd from the right, with some of the SV Sports Therapy team

Sophie, 2nd from the right, with some of the SV Sports Therapy team - Credit: Stephen Pover Photography

With sports back on the agenda, it’s the perfect time to catch up with West Essex sports therapist, Sophie Vowden

What career advice would you give to your 16-year-old self?

To surround yourself with inspirational people, volunteer and put yourself out there. I’m a big believer in the “Feel the fear and do it anyway” quote from author Susan Jeffers. Also, when you hit a ‘road-block’, take a moment and identify why this has occurred and what steps you need to put in place to overcome it. And make sure you are having fun, while having faith in yourself and remembering what you do today will, and can, improve all your tomorrows. 

What steered you to your profession?

I was a competitive netball player and unfortunately sustained a significant knee injury. My coach advised me to see Andy Taylor, a local sports therapist based in Coopersale. I had no idea what a sports therapist was as I had never heard of that profession before. I walked into his clinic room and there were all these London Marathon certificates and medals hanging on the wall, so I was immediately impressed! Andy taught me what my injury was, explaining in simple terms to a 14-year-old. I was inspired by this intelligent man. He got me better and back playing to a high level of netball. I will be forever grateful. 

As a result of this experience, I started researching what A-levels I would need to embark on post GCSE and which universities offered the Sports Therapist Degree programme. In 2006, I commenced my Degree at The University of Hertfordshire and ‘the rest is history’ as they say!

Who has inspired you along the way?

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Of course, Andy Taylor, the sports therapist, and also my dad and his work ethic. My dad had a difficult childhood and minimal education, but his work ethic is something else. He works six days a week, still at the young age of 72-years-old, running his shoe repair shop: Ron’s Shoe Repairs in Chingford. 

Why do you consider yourself to be good at what you do?

Quite simply, I love helping people. I love getting people out of pain and improving the quality of their lives and that of their families.

Also I genuinely care about people and empowering them to improve their health care and reach their goals. We only have one chance in this life, one precious chance, so why not use this gift in the best possible way. We need optimum health care for this, and I teach people how to look after their health care.

What has been the biggest professional hurdle you’ve had to overcome to date?

What a fitting question during this present situation. The hurdle is now: coronavirus. On March 20, I closed our three SV Sports Therapy clinics just before lockdown was announced by our Prime Minister. I felt I had a moral duty to protect my team and our clients. At the time of this interview, we are currently in week five of lockdown and the clinics have been closed throughout this period and will continue to remain closed for some time. On March 1 this year – just 20 days before official lockdown was revealed – I opened my third SV Sports Therapy clinic in Waltham Abbey. What a time to open a new clinic!

We are a very small, private health care business and will endure a lot of financial disruption from the coronavirus. Cash flow is tight and we do not qualify for small business grant funding. I am, however, positive about the loyalty of our clients and they know we are always there to help them and welcome them back with open arms once our beautiful clinics reopen. 

For now, though, the question is how can we best continue to serve our clients remotely? So we have moved our treatment services to online live video appointments, showing our clients strengthening exercises, stretching exercises and self-release techniques. They are proving successful and it’s a pleasure to continue to work with clients during this time when they remain in body pain and have also transitioned to working from home. Within three days of physically closing the clinics, I made this transition to online video appointments as I was determined to continue to serve our clients, offer them expert sports therapy treatment and continue to move their health care in a both positive and progressionist direction. 

Of course, I am missing serving our clients via manual treatment very much. My hands have never had such a break from treatment! However, we need to ensure our society and world is protected and beat this virus.

What aspect of your career are you most proud of?

I worked with the Team GB sprint team during the London 2012 Olympics from 2011 to 2014, travelling and working in the USA and Europe – such beautiful, talented human beings and what an epic privilege to be part of such inspirational athletes.

I also embarked on Challenge66 in 2011. Ultra-endurance runner Andy McMenemy ran 66 Ultra Marathons (31.07 miles) in every 66 official UK cities to raise £1 million for ABF The Soldiers’ Charity and establish a new Guinness World Record. I was Andy’s lead and only sports therapist and had the honour of working with this awe-inspiring athlete, travelling 5,000 miles across the UK. Andy successfully completed Challenge66 and I will cherish these memories forever. 

How do you deal with work stress?

Running, CrossFit, meditation, inspirational podcast listening, reading and socialising with friends (now temporarily on hold).

Can you describe your business style?

Heart-centred, creative and wanting the best for my team.

What about your organisational skills?

I write lists. Yes, I am organised, but tend to try and manage multiple tasks at the same time, where often some things do not get finished in the time frame originally planned. At least I’m honest!

Are you a natural networker?

I thrive on meeting new people. I love the whole domino effect of meeting a new person and having endless possibilities – how you will both be able to help each other, not just in business, but in all aspects of life. When you have two ears and one mouth, use them wisely!

What would you like your career legacy to be?

I want people to remember how precious their health care is and confident enough for them to go and reach their goals, however big or small. I also want to open a charity in the future, either in England, Thailand or both. The aim is to empower young women who have had a difficult childhood and who would like a career in health care, but face difficulty due to a lack of academic achievements. I want to work with these women and guide them along the correct pathway, showing them they can dream big and achieve big, regardless of their past. 

In an alternative universe, what career would you be doing and why?

Either a midwife, owner of an animal rescue centre or a vet!

Can you tell me three qualities that you deem to be essential to being a successful businessperson?

To be able to listen; to treat people the way you would like to be treated and to be brave.