Physical Therapy Puts Instructor Back in His Happy Place

Stephens meets his match after shoulder surgery

Bill Stephens
Bill Stephens, an instructor with the University of Missouri Extension's Law Enforcement Training Institute, teaches future officers during a session at the Green Valley Rifle and Pistol Club near Hallsville.

Bill Stephens’ devotion to his job during a five-decade career as a police officer and academy instructor is beyond question … and at times beyond logic.

For example, there was the morning about 12 years ago when he was leading his students in an exercise called Combat Range Day.

Obstacles and targets were set up across the Green Valley Rifle and Pistol Club near Hallsville, and Stephens hustled close behind each student as he or she negotiated the course. One otherwise fine future officer got a little excited and fired at a metal target from close range. The shell casing ricocheted off the target and hit Stephens in the jaw underneath his gum line, snapping his head back. One end of the casing was inside his mouth, and the other end was outside.

The recruit didn’t realize what happened and continued to charge through the course. Stephens continued his pursuit until they reached the rest of the students waiting their turns.

“The blood is really starting to spurt,” Stephens recalled, “and one of the students yells, ‘Mr. Stephens, you’ve been shot!’ I said, less than politely, ‘I know I’ve been shot. I was the first one to know it.’ ”

Not one to overreact to being shot in the face, Stephens hopped in his Jeep and drove to University Hospital’s emergency room. Doctors removed the casing, sewed up the wound and gave him a tetanus shot. After filling out the necessary paperwork, Stephens ignored all medical advice and drove back to the range for the afternoon session — at least until his wife got wind of his whereabouts and ordered him home.

Lindsey Colbert
Lindsey Colbert

With that as background information, consider the task that faced Mizzou Therapy Services physical therapist Lindsey Colbert, DPT, who had to convince Stephens that returning to work after rotator cuff surgery would require months of dedicated rehabilitation. Colbert had the right approach for the job when she met Stephens in the operating room before his surgery on Dec. 9, 2015.

“My wife and I started laughing because within about three to five minutes, this young lady had me all figured out,” Stephens said. “She knew who I was and what kind of person I was and what it was going to take to make this work. My wife said to Lindsey, ‘Boy, have you nailed him.’ ”

Stephens and his wife, Jane, moved from Hawaii, where he was a detective with the Honolulu Police Department, to Columbia in 1982. He landed a job at the University of Missouri Extension’s Law Enforcement Training Institute.

Soon thereafter, he volunteered to write a manual, “The Missouri Criminal Code: A Handbook for Law Enforcement Officers,” which became the source document all state police academies are required to use. The book is now in its 33rd edition.

His contributions to the education of crime fighters goes way beyond words on a page, though. Stephens also enjoys the physical aspects of training, including teaching defense tactics. That is how he wrenched his right shoulder.

Stephens, 71, lived with the pain for years because he knew surgery would cause him to miss work. It wasn’t until he retired in November 2015 that he decided it was time to have the shoulder fixed. He uses the word “retired” loosely, as he reapplied to work as an adjunct professor a month after his last day as a full-time instructor. He was eager to get back to business after the Missouri Orthopaedic Institute’s Matthew Smith, MD, successfully repaired the shoulder.

Stephens began rehabilitation with Colbert and physical therapy assistant Chelsea Harrison a month after surgery. Colbert said that after a patient gets out of the sling — usually four to six weeks after rotator-cuff surgery — the first exercises are designed to regain range of motion. A big early step is raising the arm overhead. Then the patient has to train and strengthen the nearby muscles, eventually doing weight-bearing exercises.

At each step, Colbert and Harrison reinforced how the work Stephens was doing would apply to the physical skills he needed to be a well-rounded academy instructor.

“He was a little bit antsy in the very beginning because he wanted to make sure he could get back to doing things and didn’t want to sit around doing nothing,” Colbert said. “He was very motivated and was very willing to do whatever it was I told him he needed to do. If I told him, ‘I want you to do this,’ I knew that he would be doing just that when he got home. I also knew that his wife would make sure that happened.”

By the end of July 2016, Stephens was back at the academy. He has been at it ever since, doing pushups during early morning physical-fitness sessions, demonstrating judo moves and, yes, hustling around the obstacles with the students on Combat Range Day. He also tells the recruits that interpersonal skills are more important than physical talents.

He was reminded of that while rehabbing with MU Health Care’s Mizzou Therapy Services.

“In my line of work,” Stephens said, “we tell academy students, ‘We’ll teach you the basics of how to be a professional, well-trained law-enforcement officer. But what you have to understand is that this is a people profession, and if you don’t like people first, if you don’t want to interact with people when they’re at their worst and you have to be at your best, then you need to do something else.’

“Of course, the same thing is true here with Lindsey and Chelsea. If you don’t like people, you’re not going to like this job. They do. And they know just how to push your buttons and just how to challenge you that little bit extra to make you do what you need to do. How could you not love that?”

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