Talk to any long-time employee, and they will tell you that there is something special about Craig. It gets in the blood.
For Sharon Blackburn, who retired in 2015 after 40 years as a physical therapist, her connection to Craig remains strong.
“It was incredible to have a job where you can make a difference in someone’s life,” she says.
“I loved every second of it, and how many people get to say that?”
Born and raised in Florida, Sharon initially went to school to become a physical education teacher. An anatomy professor pointed her to the field of Physical Therapy.
“My dad was a WWII paratrooper in the 101st Airborne, and he was shot and paralyzed from the knees down, so he had a lot of therapy,” she says. “The more I looked into it, I realized that this is something that I would love to do, and that there is always a need for good therapists”
After graduation and a stint at a general rehabilitation facility in Arkansas, Sharon learned about Craig and moved to Denver. She was hired in November 1975.
Craig in the 70s was a “loosey-goosey place” with lots of shenanigans and fun, according to Sharon. She fondly remembers wheelchair races, field day, pie-eating contests, and roving ice cream carts.
“The doctors would write orders that ok’d patients for the pool, beer, and a pass,” she says. “We’d take patients out for pizza and a beer, but the rule was if you brought them back after 10:30 p.m., you had to get them ready for bed yourself.”
It was the personal relationships that she developed that meant the most to her. According to Sharon, her whole goal was to find a connection with a patient in order to motivate them. She found that if the patients knew she cared about them as a person, they would want to get up and work hard.
“Everybody came with a different story, and if you listened to them and found out what was important, you could work with that,” she says.
Sharon often bonded with patients over her love of sports. “I’d find out what their favorite teams were,” she says. “If the Philadelphia Eagles were their team, I made sure I knew how the Eagles had done that weekend.”
Over her career, Sharon worked on both the spinal cord and brain injury floors, in the Outpatient Clinic, and even left Craig for a few years to work at other facilities. “But even then, I knew that I was always going to come back to Craig,” she jokes.
In August 2014, Sharon moved to Grand Junction with her married partner, Terry Chase, the founder of Craig’s Education program. Together the couple enjoy an active lifestyle of biking, hiking, camping and paddleboarding.
In their retirement, she and Terry visit former patients and, pre-COVID, returned to Craig frequently “to get hugs.”
Sharon has also joined the Frank Craig Society, a Craig Foundation group of donors who have designated the Hospital as a beneficiary of their estate plans. Sharon has designated her estate to go to the Therapeutic Recreation department.
“They expose patients to all the things that are out there, the things they can still do and new things they can try,” she says. “The department doesn’t charge for their services, and they need to have money to buy equipment and do what they do.”
Sharon says that Craig is a gift to the patients and families that need it, bringing positivity during the darkest times of life.
“Whatever money I have, I want Craig to have,” she says. “I want patients to be able to have the opportunities they need to have a successful life.”