A hip injury ended his dreams of being a professional cyclist, but one Chapman graduate realized that his calling in life wasn’t to be an athlete but to help them.
Willis Sutcliff and his wife, Diana, graduated from Chapman in 1998 and, in 2001, opened Impact Rehabilitation Center, a physical therapy clinic on North Tustin Street that uses a variety of programs to assists clients’ recoveries.
Their business celebrated its 10-year anniversary this year.
Sutcliff runs his practice in a nontraditional way by spending abundant time with each patient. He was inspired by his experience with doctors after his hip injury, for which he consulted more than 40 medical professionals, none of whom could diagnose his injury.
“No one cared,” Sutcliff said. “So I thought, if no one cares about me, I’m going to go care about other people.”
He and his wife earned undergraduate degrees from Chapman. While she went to the University of Southern California for her doctorate, he stayed at Chapman to do a graduate assistance program in the anatomy lab and earn his master’s degree. During this time, he also taught anatomy classes at Chapman.
Sutcliff has always had a penchant for helping people. A childhood friend, who was intellectually disabled, instilled in him a passion for life, Sutcliff said.
Sutcliff took four years off after high school to pursue his dream of being a professional cyclist but later realized that he would rather return to school.
“I was an elite athlete but had it in my head that I wanted to be professional,” Sutcliff said.
After his career-ending hip injury, he enrolled in Chapman. Sutcliff grew up playing on Bert Williams Mall while his mother, a Chapman alumna, was in class. He said it was a natural progression that he would attend Chapman too.
Sutcliff said he put the energy and intensity of his cycling training into school. He earned good grades, took advantages of leadership opportunities, was a disc jockey and started a Chapman Bike Club, which no longer exists.
He said he took advantage of all of the opportunities Chapman offered and encourages students who want to open their own businesses to be overachievers.
“It’s a lot of work,” Sutcliff said. “Don’t do it for the ego, but do it for a purpose.”
He interned at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he was given challenging patients and circumstances, but he realized he wanted to open a private clinic.
“He has passion for the industry and for his patients,” said Adjunct Athletic Training Instructor Jack Bauerle, who mentored Sutcliff when he was at Chapman.
Financial success lured Sutcliff to expand his business in the beginning, but he said this forced him to lose personal connections with his patients. Now, the Sutcliffs operate a business that is centered on providing personal attention.
“They contracted their business to a point where they can each spend personal, abundant time with each patient,” said Professor of English Martin Nakell, who went to Impact for his back problems.
Willis and Diana have different specialties and work with athletes, dancers, cancer patients and amputees. Willis said he charges patients for one hour but will let them stay for an extra hour without charge if they need it.
Sutcliff’s treatment center, located at 255 N. Tustin Ave., is a family business and is the personal playground of their two children.
“People take an interest in your family when you take an interest in them,” Sutcliff said.