District 8 Remembers Byron Wildermuth, a Pioneer in Sports Rehabilitation
Byron Paul Wildermuth, PT, a pioneer in sports physical therapy and well-known rehabilitation clinician in the San Diego area, passed away at his home in San Diego on September 17, 2018 after a prolonged illness related to congestive heart failure. He was 84.
Mr. Wildermuth is survived by his wife of 32 years, Kathy A. Wildermuth of San Diego, two children from a previous marriage, Chris Wildermuth of Plantation, Fla. and Rev. Tia Wildermuth of Seal Beach, Ca., as well as two adult grandchildren, Katarina Ada Wildermuth of Monterey, Ca. and Kirk Byron Wildermuth of Corvallis, Ore. Preceding him in death are his father, John A. Wildermuth, mother Helen Wildermuth and brother Harmon Wildermuth.
Byron moved to San Diego from the Los Angeles area in 1977 to open the Sports Injury Clinic, at the time a pioneering rehabilitation center focused on aggressive, hands-on physical therapy and rehab training techniques for athletes. From that time until the late 1990s professional and Olympic athletes of the era would travel to San Diego to undergo rehabilitation treatment at the Sports Injury Clinic and Mr. Wildermuth’s successor clinic, the Athletic Injury Center. His partners and key principals at his rehabilitation clinics included San Diego State Head Athletic Trainer the late Dr. Robert Moore, Ph.D., PT, ATC; former Padres trainer Dick F Dent, ATC, Ric Mcdonald, former Chargers Head Athletic Trainer, ATC and future Padres trainer Robert Day, ATC.
Generations of professional, university, high school and private practice physical therapists and trainers in Southern California were employed and mentored by Mr. Wildermuth. Among the many schools and events where Bryon donated his time and expertise was the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, where he was one of the trainers selected by the U.S. Olympic Committee to provide rehabilitation services to all international athletes residing at the Olympic Village. Mr. Wildermuth continued to practice physical therapy up to his late 70s until he was involuntarily sidelined by spinal stenosis.
Byron was born on June 26, 1934 in Tripp, S.D., the second son of John and Helen Wildermuth. The Wildermuth family had settled in South Dakota in the late-1800s and his grandfather, Paul Wildermuth, served in South Dakota’s first state legislature when it became a state in 1889.
During Byron’s youth his father John worked as a retail hardware salesman and then for a series of newspapers as a pressman, Linotype operator and proofreader. When Byron was 5 his father got a new job that required the family to move from South Dakota to the small Northern California community of Orland, 20 miles west of Chico. Byron attended Orland High School where he was on the honor society, and played several sports including football and baseball. He was also in the marching band, leaving the locker room at halftime to play the tuba in his football uniform.
In 1951 another job opportunity for his father required a relocation to Mountain View, Calif. just before the start of Byron’s senior high school year. Despite being relatively unknown in the area, Byron was named First Team All-Northern California as an offensive lineman. He graduated with honors from Mountain View HS in 1952 and accepted an athletic scholarship to College of the Pacific (now University of the Pacific) in Stockton, Calif.
After some coaching changes and personal issues, Byron decided to leave Pacific in 1954 and enroll in the U.S. Army. He served in the 8th Army at several bases in then-West Germany, as a Staff Sergeant and gunnery instructor in the infantry. He was graded an Expert marksman with several infantry weapons including rifle, pistol, auto rifle, recoilless rifle, grenade and mortar. After completing his Army service, was honorably discharged in 1958.
Byron returned to college, first at Santa Monica College in 1959 and transferring to San Fernando Valley State College (now Cal State Northridge) in 1961. He worked full-time as a hospital orderly while pursing a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education. At school one of his professors was Dr. Richard Enberg – the same Dick Enberg who later became a famous sports broadcaster. After graduating in 1962, Byron entered the University of Southern California Division of Physical Therapy, obtaining a Master’s in Physical Therapy in 1964. One of his USC classmates became his friend and business partner, Robert ‘Bob’ Moore. Aside from his clinical education, he became a lifelong fan of Trojan sports.
In 1964-65 Byron worked his residency at the Kaiser Rehabilitation Institute in Vallejo, Calif, at the time a world-famous cutting-edge clinic led by physical therapist Margaret “Maggie” Knott, the co-developer of an aggressive rehabilitation technique called proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). PNF is a stretching-and-resistance program based on clinical observations and applying neurological principals discovered during the 1940s. PNF is the basis for most of today’s athletic training and rehabilitation exercises and treatment. It was this PNF treatment and years of clinical experience that Byron would apply to the budding concept of Sports Rehabilitation in the 1970s.
Bryon worked as a clinical physical therapist in the Los Angeles area during the 1960s and early 1970s, including having his own practice in Santa Monica. As the rehabilitation profession changed Byron began working in rehabilitation hospitals and eventually relocating to service community hospitals in Oxnard and Port Hueneme, Calif. in the 1970s. By 1977 he took an opportunity to open the Sports Injury Center in Mission Valley with partners Bob Moore and Dick Dent, starting his 35-year PT career in San Diego.
It was in San Diego at his clinic where Byron met Kathy Sanders, a former SDSU softball player trying to recover from a recurring injury. The couple soon became engaged and were married on the rooftop garden of the Westgate Hotel in 1986. They remained a steadfast, devoted couple until Byron’s passing.
A Celebration of Life was be held in memory of Byron on Saturday, Oct. 13 at a private residence. If you would like to make a donation please visit the GoFundMe page https://www.gofundme.com/2jveg-kathy# to offset bills remaining from Byron’s medical and hospice treatment.
Courtesy of FWATA History and Archives Committee