Mallette’s travels lead him to giving back to Shore

February 12, 2024
 |
Zach Mallette

Growing up in the outdoors either wandering the seaside barrier islands while his mother was conducting bird surveys or in the woods cruising timber with his father, Zack Mallette never imagined choosing a career that would involve a 9 to 5 workday inside a building.

But there’s a good reason Mallette, 33, is a Physical Therapist Assistant with Bayside Rehab Inc, spending his days with patients in need of restoring physical function and overcoming injury.

At Nandua High School, Mallette injured his knee playing football and lost opportunities for scholarships in football and wrestling. He underwent surgery and needed physical therapy himself to regain strength in his injured knee. That experience planted a seed in his mind that physical therapy would be a way of giving back for the help he received.

First, however, to satisfy his appetite for travel and the outdoors, he accompanied a church group to an orphanage in Nigeria on a medical mission to aid in disease screening and to assist in the construction of a new school.

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“That experience allowed me to see a part of the world that was seriously struggling and also understand and appreciate the feeling of helping people in need,” said Mallette.

On to college, Mallette earned his degree in biology with a minor in environmental conservation at Old Dominion University.

His choices for his studies were in large part influenced by his parents. His mother, Karen Terwilliger, is a wildlife biologist who has written an authoritative book on Virginia’s Endangered Species and has been the president of the VES Land Trust Board of Directors since 2020. His father, Steve Mallette, owns a forestry company and served on the Accomack County Board of Supervisors for several years. As a youth, Mallette hiked parts of Europe with his father and spent lots of time in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with his mother.

That sense of adventure led Mallette to put off starting a career after college and take on several travel expeditions.

After graduation from ODU, Mallette and a high school friend, Ben Hammer, thru-hiked the 2.200 Appalachian Trail in 2013. It’s a rare feat accomplished by only a few hundred hikers each year. Starting the journey in March from Springer Mountain, Ga., the pair endured 15-degree temperatures, blistering heat and bugs, including a cicada hatch that left Hammer’s feet covered in insect parts.

Hammer and Mallette split up during portions of the walk, but got back together for the final 150 miles before reaching the end of the trail in Mt. Katahdin, Maine, just short of six months after starting.

Mallette says the lessons he learned on the trial have stayed with him. especially the appreciation for the kindness of others. “There was so much of that kindness out there on the trail,” Mallette said, adding, “There was a lot of mercy along the way…The people that the trail attracts, every person I met was very charismatic, very loving, open.”

Mallette to Lead Free Sessions for Seniors to Prevent Falls

Mallette completed other travel adventures after his college graduation, including backpacking thousands of miles through South America. He also hiked the 200 mile Arctic Circle Trail in Greenland with his father.

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He then went on to further his education and spent two years earning his Physical Therapist Assistant License at Tidewater Community College. He wasn’t a typical student, living in a 27-foot sailboat he purchased for $300 that he fixed up and lived in for two years while in school.

“Winters were a bit cold, but I had a small propane heater that kept it at a really warm 49 degrees inside,” said Mallette. “Sometimes you get some pretty heavy storms going through, and it’s not easy reading a textbook when you’re listing at 40 degrees.”

It was at TCC he met his mentor and Department head Melanie Basinger.  She started a nonprofit called Therapy on the Move (TOTM) in 2019 that aims at revolutionizing healthcare by providing programs that help educate and improve the overall wellness of the community. Mallette is vice-president of the group and the only member from the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

TOTM has been breaking ground in Hampton Roads through their Timeless Living Fall Prevention Program which involves a seven-week education/exercise-based approach for anyone concerned with falling either for themselves or for their loved ones.  Falling is widely known to lead to financial and physical hardships.  Statistics show that one in four Americans aged 65 and older falls each year. Every 19 minutes an older adult dies from a fall, and every 11 seconds an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall.

That all adds up to over $50 billion spent in the healthcare system to treat adults 65 and older who are injured in a fall.

Mallette wants to launch Timeless Living Fall Prevention Programs on the Eastern Shore of Virginia and has been given approval to conduct his program at the Craddockville United Methodist Church’s spacious social hall. He hopes to begin sessions as early as February or maybe March.

“These sessions will improve one’s confidence to move freely in their homes within the community,” said Mallette. “It will also teach you to identify and overcome your individualized fall risk and teach proper ways to fall to minimize injury. We also give individualized exercises to improve one’s balance,” added Mallette.

The two-hour weekly sessions are free, thanks to therapists like Mallette who provide their expertise pro bono and would include 8-15 participants.

Mallette said he hopes to schedule sessions in the daylight hours because many seniors do not like driving at night. He also said the sessions would be open to caregivers who want information on protecting their loved ones.

Mallette, not surprisingly, given his upbringing, is an avid fisherman, hunter and waterman who loves exploring the Shore’s waterways. When asked if donating so much time to Timeless Living sessions would cut into his outdoors time, he says, “I will always find time to get outdoors, but it’s being outdoors and from my wanderings that I realized I want to give back to the community. I greatly enjoy the solitude when I am outdoors, but I also love the interaction with people and the feeling of helping people improve their lives.”

An important obstacle in holding Timeless Living Fall Prevention sessions on the Eastern Shore is acquiring funding to sustain the program. While Mallette doesn’t receive any compensation for organizing Timeless Living sessions, paid clinicians who assist Mallette are needed to ensure the safety of the participants, depending on the size of the class.  Mallette has been pursuing funding opportunities on the Eastern Shore but is hopeful for support from the Eastern Shores community.

To learn more about the non-profit or to make a donation, go to https://therapyonthemove.org/ or check out their Facebook page Therapy on the Move.

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