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Entrepreneur of the Year: Amanda Dalcourt

"It's just so rewarding to be able to work with a population of people who are willing and wanting to maintain their own independence and to hear your suggestions on how you want to work with them," Dalcourt said.

In Amanda Dalcourt's experience, people decide to study physiotherapy because of a personal connection. For the Hearst resident, that moment occurred when she was in Grade 10.

Her mother was in a serious accident and spent more than three weeks in intensive care, nearly having her leg amputated as a result. But it was when her mother came home from the hospital that Dalcourt had her first brush with the profession.

With the goal of helping her mother walk once again, a physiotherapist was assigned to work with her to regain her mobility. "I just thought it was the coolest thing in the world," said Dalcourt, who hails originally from the Toronto area.

A stint volunteering at her local hospital helped reinforce her love for the profession and marked the beginning of something special.

Dalcourt is now the owner and president of Physiomed Peaks, a province-wide network of physiotherapists who work with seniors to maintain their range of motion, strength and independence. The company has also recently purchased a new licence that provides access to different types of funding, which will allow it to significantly increase the hours of physiotherapy service it offers.

After creating Peak Health Management in 2006, Dalcourt started servicing the nursing homes in the four communities of Hearst, Kapuskasing, Timmins and Elliot Lake. But because of the incredible eight-hour distance between Hearst and Elliot Lake, Dalcourt began to contract physio-therapists from the area to help.

Today, 92 team members provide services in 52 locations across Ontario, reaching from Windsor to Kenora to Ottawa, with the majority of the contracts remaining in the North.

Dalcourt has worked in hospital and nursing home settings, and served as the Northern District president for the Ontario Physiotherapy Association from June 2002 to March 2004.

Though she now calls Hearst home, Dalcourt's path to Northern Ontario was decidedly circuitous.

She was studying physiotherapy at the University of Toronto when she met her husband, Pierre Dalcourt, who was studying to become a chiropractor at a nearby college. After they graduated, he wanted to move to the North, where he was born and raised.

"I said to him, 'I heard about Northern Ontario. You guys have -50 C weather. I find that the winters here are cold enough already,'" she said. "He kept telling me that the winters in Toronto are actually colder than in Timmins, but I said to him, 'Oh, you're full of crap!'"

In the end, they compromised and decided to move to the small community of Hearst as part of what was supposed to be a five-year plan. That was in 1994.

"After we moved up here, I absolutely fell in love with Northern Ontario," Dalcourt said. "I know the mentality of southern Ontario, and Northern Ontario is just so much more friendly and laid-back."

Servicing such a expansive area is challenging for Dalcourt and the company's vision. It's important to her to retain the personal touch the company provides, and she's loathe to see her business become a huge Toronto-based venture.

Awed by the elderly clients with whom she works and the experiences they've had during their lifetimes, Dalcourt is amazed at how many of her clients have reached their centenaries.

Years ago, the presence of physiotherapy services in nursing homes was rare, and if someone fractured a hip, they'd increase their chance of being bed-ridden for the rest of their life.

"Now, it's not a place where people go to die, but a place where people go to live out the rest of their lives," she said.

Dalcourt recalled a story of an elderly man with whom she was working. After being hit by a vehicle, he had broken his hip and could no longer walk or take care of himself. Thanks to physiotherapy, today he can walk on his own and is doing very well.

"It's just so rewarding to be able to work with a population of people who are willing and wanting to maintain their own independence and to hear your suggestions on how you want to work with them," Dalcourt said. "It helps make their golden years truly golden years and not rusty years."