Ginger Snead always had premonitions to be in the medical field, but her path to a career as a physical therapist was an interesting one.
The Tampa native logged hours at her first job in food service at Busch Gardens beginning at the age of 14.
As a child, she confessed that she was a complete bookworm – “a total geek!” – With tender young ambitions towards becoming a veterinarian. But when she realized that part of the job would include putting animals to sleep, her sights soon changed.
“Plus I would have had a house full of animals, so I decided I wanted to go to medical school,” she remembered.
When she began nursing school, she logged clinic hours in a local hospital. Of course, nursing students were assigned undesirable night shifts, and she remembered seeing a lot of unexpected deaths while she was on the clock.
“One night, this woman passed away unexpectedly, her husband was there…it was horrible,” she explained. “The next day, I went in and just said, ‘I quit’.”
She’d come to a fork in the road of her career, but when one door closes, another opens.
The nursing department told her there was a part time position available in the physical therapy and rehabilitation department, and she decided to check it out.
“I knew right away I’d found exactly what I wanted to do,” she said enthusiastically. “This was something where I could help people get better instead of just watching them die.”
She applied to the Physical Therapy Assistant program at Barry and was accepted in less than two weeks.
South to Marathon
While working for a physical therapy group in Tampa, Ginger received a temporary assignment to relocate south and open Fishermen’s Hospital’s outside physical therapy clinic. She and her daughter Nikki packed their bags for nine months in Marathon, and as Ginger explained, “I guess I just forgot to leave!”
Four years later, the pair would spend their weekends driving up and down the streets of Marathon in search of homes for sale. Armed with only three major requirements – two bathrooms, a ground level home located on the water – the search took quite some time.
It turned out to be a complete fluke that they finally pinpointed a property that met their criteria.
The mother-daughter team of house hunters caught wind of a home for sale on Yellowtail Drive behind the airport and when they went to check it out, an adjacent property for sale by owner caught their collective eye.
“We were like, ‘If it has two bathrooms, it’ll be perfect!’” Ginger remembered, insisting that her teenage daughter needed her own space.
In 1998, Advantage Rehabilitation and Fitness was born, and the woman whose sights were once set on animal medicine said it’s tough to pinpoint a single highpoint in her professional life.
“Every day’s a highlight for me,” she confessed as a past client popped in the door to the clinic.
Recovering from an injured right hand, he lifted his arm and proudly displayed a clenched fist, wiggling his fingers back and forth.
“I said I was going to be better than before,” he laughed, adding that though he’s still wearing a brace, he’s now ambidextrous.
“My highlights, I suppose, are moments like that when people come in and thank me for helping them feel better,” she said firmly.
Becoming More Involved
Like a salon or any other locally owned business in a small community, Ginger’s patients used their time in her clinic for impromptu therapy sessions or venting frequent frustrations about their town.
“It was always a joke in the clinic that I should run for office,” she reminisced.
After weighing her options, she approached two of her closest friends and confidants with a simple request: talk her out of running for a seat on the city council. To her chagrin, they told her she would make a great councilwoman and that she should give it a go.
“I thought the worst that could happen would be that I’d lose,” she laughed. “Now people told me I ran a good campaign, but I’m not really sure what that means.”
After successfully winning her first bid for a political seat, she was nominated the following year by her fellow councilmen to serve as the city’s mayor. She happily shares similar visions with the city’s new manager, Roger Hernstadt.
“Instead of having staff apply for grants to install lighting or build a new park, why not establish a vision for the city, identifying our needs first and then going after monies needed to fund the projects?” she pondered. “Roger feels the same way about that.”
Besides identifying the community’s immediate needs, Ginger said her other major battle cry has been the installation of a light at the intersection of the west end of Aviation Blvd. and U.S. 1.
“I refuse to even make a left hand turn there anymore,” she lamented, adding that a handful of patients found their way to her clinic after one of the many car accidents at the intersection.
Besides serving as a mentor for Florida Keys AHEC and Marathon High School’s Health Program and a member of numerous local business and community service organizations, Ginger also spearheaded the City of Marathon’s 10th Anniversary Celebration last November. This year, she’s chairing the Middle Keys Relay for Life slated for April 9-10.