Kia Smith, owner of Reactive Sports Therapy, feels strong empathy with clients who have painful injuries. She has vivid memories of a dislocated right knee that she suffered while dancing at the age of sixteen and the lengthy recovery process that followed.  

“My knee popped out and popped back in again,” Kia, 25, recalled. “I had to go for therapy at the hospital and then continue with rehabilitation exercises—it took months. Before that I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but that experience sparked my interest in this field.”

The Bermuda Institute graduate decided to study for a Bachelor of Science degree in sports therapy at London Metropolitan University and graduated with first-class honours in 2019. As she prepared to search for work, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. She returned to Bermuda in July 2020, on the first flight from the UK after L.F. Wade International Airport’s three-month shutdown. “I reached out to different physio businesses and kept getting the same response: we’re not hiring,” Kia said. During a six-month internship at Island Rehab Hub, she gained valuable experience. To keep alive her sports therapy dream, another option remained: “I decided to create my own opportunity and start my own business.”

As she started to tackle the multiple challenges of setting up a new enterprise, she took on a full-time role in August 2021 as spa coordinator at Ani’s Nail and Beauty Lounge. The savings she put aside from her wages enabled her to launch her business without taking out a bank loan. One of her issues was that few people in Bermuda understood how sports therapy differs from physiotherapy. In the UK, Kia is accredited by the Society of Sports Therapists, which describes sports therapy as “specifically concerned with the prevention of injury and the rehabilitation of the patient back to optimum levels of functional, occupational and sports specific fitness, regardless of age and ability.”

There is some overlap — both physiotherapists and sports therapists assess injuries, create exercise plans and administer soft tissues treatments, such as massage and manual therapy. Both are trained in musculoskeletal conditions, but physiotherapists are also trained in neurology and respiratory and cardiovascular areas, and so can work in hospitals.

Reactive Sports Therapy, based on the third floor of the Trott & Duncan building on Brunswick Street, Hamilton, is licensed as a healthcare facility by the Bermuda Health Council. Kia offers a wide range of services, including sports massage, injury rehabilitation and prevention, joint mobility, Kinesio taping, pain management and corrective exercise. Her clients include Southampton Rangers Sports Club, whose football team has hired her as their therapist for the season. While athletes of all ages and abilities make up much of her customer base, she welcomes non-sporty types too. “I have people who sit at a desk all day and have back or neck pain,” she said. “Some just call and ask for a massage, and I also have teenagers who do what teenagers do — like jumping off the cliff at Admiralty House Park and hurting themselves!”

Kia has a packed routine. She gets up early to exercise at 5 a.m. before starting her full-time job at Ani’s and working through mid-afternoon, after which she sees her sports therapy clients, including some who cannot come in until after 5 p.m. She also opens up the clinic at weekends. Kia’s boss at Ani’s, Anna Burns, was one of the people who encouraged her to start her own business, along with her parents, Kim and Mark Smith, her boyfriend, Antonio Bailey, and her godmother, Maria Medeiros. “My goal is to become comfortable enough with how well my business is going to leave my full-time job and focus on what I went to school for,” Kia said. “I know that day will come.”

“As well as growing as an individual, I want to help Bermuda athletes and non-athletes appreciate the value of sports therapists and show younger people that they can pick any career path they want. You just have to be motivated and go for it.”