Staff Spotlight: Lorrain Ko and Nick Torsitano: Climbing and Physical Therapy

Climbing and physical therapy go hand in hand in this Staff Spotlight. Check out the one and only Lorrain Ko and the spectacular Nick Torsitano on what keeps physical therapists climbing, and what keeps climbers coming back to physical therapy.


Tufas is a Philly climbing gym but not all climbing gym staff members are Philadelphia natives! As the City of Brotherly Love grows – Tufas Boulder Lounge grows with it! Part of our mission is building a community around the bouldering pads, so every month we’re highlighting a member and a staffer here at Tufas! Check out adaptive climber Travis Pollen’s interview with Tufas here. Want to learn a little about all of us? Check out our staff bios here!


Lorrain Ko and Nick Torsitano are two members of our Tufas Tu-Family, and both transplants to Philadelphia. Lorrain and Nick are both matriculated physical therapy students. Recently, they sat down with the Tufas blog to talk about the Combined Sections Meeting, physical therapy and climbing, what their favorite styles of climbing are, and how to properly warm-up for a climb.


Tufas: Tell us a little about yourself!

Lorrain: I grew up in Los Angeles until I came out to Philly for grad school for physical therapy at USciences. Growing up as a kid, I was never in any organized sports. I started climbing back in 2015 after college. Since then, I fell in love with getting in touch with my inner monkey. On outdoor trips, I eat candy.


Nick: I started climbing in 2017 when his older brother took me bouldering for the first time in Brooklyn. I quickly fell in love with the physical and mental challenges the sport had to offer. Shortly after, I entered the physical therapy program at Temple University, which brought me to Philadelphia. My love for climbing and rehab now go hand in hand, using the sport to fuel his knowledge of the body and movement analysis.


Tufas: We heard you were out West for a conference?


Lorrain: Yeah! Both Nick and I moved to Philly for graduate school, but we are in different PT programs. The Combined Sections Meeting is like the who’s who of Physical Therapy in the United States – so even though we’re not in the same school we got to go together!


Nick: Different types of physical therapists have various conferences all over the country – the Combined Section Conference is the one time everyone meets up. There’re people presenting their research and running workshops.


Lorrain: It’s a way for people across disciplines to interact. They have everyone form first-year students to people who have been practicing for decades.


Nick: They even had student career workshops to help physical therapist students plan for a career in a field.

Tufas: Anyone you were especially excited to see?


Nick: As a climber, hearing Dr. Jared Vagy’s talk on a panel was super awesome! Dr. Vagy is the preeminent physical therapist for climbers and also a climber himself.


Lorrain: I think it was a panel for overhead shoulder athletes?


Nick: Yeah! It was a panel on Climbing, Arial, and Circus Acrobatics.


Tufas: Speaking of climbing, did y’all get any climbing done?


Nick: Yes! We went to a bouldering-only location of a gym called Movement Climbing and Fitness.  This place was – off the chain!


Lorrain: Yeah. It was definitely movement-oriented. They had a weightlifting area and an awesome yoga studio.


Tufas: What do demographics look like in Physical Therapy in terms of climbing? Are there a lot of PT professionals who climb? Or an especially large community of PT patients who are climbers?


Nick: Dr. Jared Vagy actually asked for a show of hands and almost everyone at the talk was a climber. Second most was physical therapy professionals who treat climbers. And the least amount of hands went up for physical therapists who treat climbers and themselves were climbers. Most of the physical therapists in attendance were climbers, circus or areal art fans themselves.

Lorrain: I think in the greater scheme of things because Nick and I climb – we’re just more likely to know who the climbing PT’s are. But even at the conference, climbing is not as popular as other sports, like basketball, or soccer.

Tufas: In his interview, Travis Pollen, climber, personal trainer, biomechanist, and international man of mystery, mentioned how climbing included a lot of novel movement which made it different from other sports – like soccer and basketball and, notably swimming. Would you agree?


Lorrain: With any sport, it’s about working in line with their specific goals. So with climbers, you could treat their climbing-specific movement, like flagging for example. In the same way, you would be treating a 80 year old in line with their goals, and a D1 college athlete in line with theirs.


Nick: The biggest thing I would say is the mentality. Climbers want to climb. Athletes want to continue their sport. In general, you want to meet your athletes where they’re at. I feel like you can treat runners and climbers similarly in terms of getting them back into their sport gradually.


Tufas: To quote Travis, “If you don’t run all week and start running every day leading up to the 5K – by the end of the week you already have shin splints.”


Nick: As much as I’m psyched to climb, I have to police myself. You can’t just climb, climb, climb, climb. You gotta go about it smartly – I mean – intelligently.

Lorrain: When I was starting out, I wish I knew three things: 1) good warm up, 2) training antagonist muscles, and 3) how to deal with injury. An appropriate warm up mimics your movement for the workout – because climbing is so physically demanding, we have to do climbing-specific, dynamic warm ups: things like Flying-V’s or Crawls. It’s also important to train the muscles that climbing doesn’t load frequently – like the chest and other interior muscles.

Tufas: And in terms of injury recovery in climbing?


Lorrain: I’ve seen my friends with finger injuries and shoulder injuries often just want to rest the tissue. But once you rest, are you going to go back and do the same thing? Or are you going to progressively strengthen it past the point where it was injured last time?


Nick: In that regard, climbing and running are very similar. You kind of have to go back to square one and ramp up, appropriately and progressively after injury.


Tufas: Any parting thoughts for our readers?


Lorrain: Come climb with me if you see me around!


Nick: Follow me on IG!


06/28/2021 UPDATE!

Lydia Yang is a Singaporean travel blogger who reached out recently to show us her article titled A-to-Z Ultimate Guide To Climbing Injuries after reading this interview. Her guide goes over common injuries, prevention techniques, strengthening exercises, warm-ups, and different training methods that will keep you healthy and active.

Check out her article here, and make sure you poke through the other articles on her blog!