Last summer, Dr. Jon Carlson proudly attended the London Olympics where two of his client athletes made the podium. The 30-year old chiropractor works alongside world class wrestlers from Team USA and Team Puerto Rico at the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club in State College, Pa. He was contracted by Team Puerto Rico to go to London after his success at the 2011 World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey. “My goal was to work with an Olympic wrestling team. I never expected it to happen so quickly,” he says.
Maybe there are lingering what ifs from his own injury-laden career as a wrestler that make the young doctor’s success so hard for him to believe.
What if he hadn’t torn his MCL in his sophomore year of high school?
What if his shoulders hadn’t separated and his rotator cuff hadn’t torn during a match his Sophomore year in college?
Whatever the reason, there came a point when the Lycoming College biology grad developed a career-defining aversion to prolonged cycles of rehabilitation and decided to get into the business of injury prevention. “As an athlete, I knew there were benefits to treating injuries before they occurred,” he says.
It was with his goal of working with the world’s most competitive athletes on its biggest stage that the small town chiropractor built his modest practice. In 2009, a month removed from completing his tenth and final trimester at the Logan College of Chiropractic, the newly minted doctor opened All Star Chiropractic and Sports Rehabilitation on a side street in the small downtown area of Emporium, Pa., where, according to the 2010 Census, the median income across 956 households was just $32,468.
Many would be quick to dismiss Dr. Carlson’s business address as the perfunctory move of a doctor that lacks the common business sense to succeed. But Emporium’s extremely low rents have given Dr. Carlson the financial flexibility to take his work around the world. “If I take a week off work, my business won’t go under,” he says.
Keeping costs low is a key part of Dr, Carlson’s success. For now, he handles all of his own billing, documentation, and administration. He has gotten the most out of his initial $10,000 small business loan by buying basic, yet pricey equipment used. “My monthly overhead is a fraction of what my other chiropractor friends pay,” he insists. “Basic equipment works as long as you know how to use it correctly. Besides, my focus is on function. My goal is to take care of problems before they become problems.”
While he hopes to return to the Olympics in 2016, Dr. Carlson’s focus has come full circle. To compete with larger health like care providers like UPMC trying to stake their claim locally, he is working with Penn Highlands Health Care to introduce an integrated sports medicine program that mimics the US Olympic Committee’s model to athletes in rural Pennsylvania. His goal is to minimize injuries in high school sports while helping student athletes realize the upper limit of their potential.
“Athletes in the area are somewhat hindered because they don’t have everything that the big cities have,” notes Dr. Carlson. “I have seen what everyone else has and how what they have has been critical to their success.”