Going for the Gold: Natalie ('17) & Chris Meinhold ('20) Make an Impact Through Physical Therapy

As sneakers skid across the gym floor and the basketball is passed from player to player, physical therapists Natalie (Peterson) ’17 Chris Meinhold ’20 watch closeby—ready to provide critical on the court assistance as needed and cheering on the players they’ve trained with over the course of the past two weeks. The basketball swishes, and their team—the USA men’s deaf basketball team—wins the 2023 World Deaf Basketball Championships in Heraklion, Greece as the crowd erupts in cheers. The USA women’s team follows suit.

Their story traces back to their days studying and training in Azusa Pacific’s Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. Several years before they met, as Natalie considered her post graduate options, she was struck by the workplace excellence of her colleague—an APU alumna. This pushed her to visit campus to see just what the DPT program was all about.

“It was an emotional experience when I went to visit. I felt like I was supposed to be there,” said Natalie. “There’s no other explanation other than God orchestrating that.”

She enrolled in the program and began developing the same excellence she noticed in her colleague, soon finding herself in a hands-on orthopediatrics residency with Kaiser Permanente which continued on into a career post-graduation.

“APU not only set me up for success in the field, but how to look at the patient as a whole—not just their injury or diagnosis,” said Natalie. “This is really what sets apart their graduates.”

Her ties with APU remained as she served as an adjunct faculty member, giving what she had learned to up-and-coming physical therapists, including DPT student Chris.

“When I had my first visit at APU, the faculty I interacted with were unlike those at other schools, specifically associate professor Michael Wong, PT, DPT,” said Chris. “I knew he would not just give me what I needed to pass the boards, but encourage me to reach above and beyond. This passion for the field captivated me.”

Chris and Natalie crossed paths briefly during his time in the program, but went separate ways—with little idea as to how God would bring them together again. Several months later, both living in Orange County, they reconnected over their love for the coast at Huntington Beach. “The rest is history!” said Natalie, and the couple got married in September of 2022.

Both advancing their career in Southern California, the two felt a nudge to take on a new opportunity, so they packed their bags and moved overseas to Germany in 2023. Natalie settled into a role as a physical therapist for a professional tennis player, and Chris dove into working remotely as an adjunct professor on PhysioU, an online educational platform created by Wong. Because they didn’t work a traditional 9-5 clinic job, both were open to whatever endeavors God brought to them—in this case, serving as the physical therapists for the USA men and women’s deaf basketball team at the World Championships.

“I have an aunt and two cousins who are deaf, as well as a foundation in sign language, so this community has always been close to my heart,” said Natalie. “I knew immediately this is something I wanted to do.”

They began preparing for the two week event, drawing on their APU education and professional experiences to design an effective training program from scratch. When they arrived in Heraklion, Greece, the two hit the ground running—working directly with players, sharing meals together, providing emergency assistance, and attending over a dozen games. Whether tending to a hamstring strain one-on-one or participating in team workouts, both Chris and Natalie drew on what they learned at APU, taking the time to learn the athletes’ stories beyond that of a patient.

“Since we spent such a concentrated amount of time with the players, we were able to learn their backgrounds,” said Chris. “As I provided my physical therapy services, they taught me so much about the deaf community and gave me a new sense of understanding. It was really special to be a part of that.”

Both teams walked away with gold medals, but this was not the only marker of success for Chris and Natalie.

“Working this event as husband and wife really showcased our ability to work as a team and bring about effective results,” said Natalie. “As the first time working together in our field, this was an exciting realization for us.”

They hope to combine their skill sets again in the future, but for now are cheering one another on in whatever opportunities God provides—such as Chris' most recent work as part of the USA Olympics ski and snowboard medical pool. If a trip opens up, he is able to travel around the world to various events, including the winter world cup, providing care and cultivating relationships with athletes along the way.

“Being a difference maker for me looks like giving back what I’ve learned from the field and how I’ve been impacted by my professors, whether that is teaching physical therapy students online or providing resources for athletes and clients,” said Chris.

Beyond the exciting olympic opportunities around the world, and the gold medals won, Natalie reflects on the daily impact of physical therapy in all types of settings.

“It’s important to remember it’s a successful day if you’ve helped even just one person,” she said. “You made an impact in their life, however small. That is one way we can be called difference makers.”