Raj Lalli, physiotherapist in Williams Lake. (Ruth Lloyd photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

OUR HOMETOWN: From an orphan to a physiotherapist in Williams Lake

Sports helped provide an outlet and a foundation for her future

She came to Canada at 10 years old from a rural farming village in India, an orphan who didn’t speak English.

Almost 30 years later, Raj Lalli has her doctorate in physiotherapy, but she can still vividly recall those early memories.

She arrived in Williams Lake in November of 1993, the ground was covered in snow, something she had never seen in her life, and the topography was strange and foreign.

“It took me until spring to realize there were sidewalks and grass and yards,” she recalls, smiling at her 10-year-old self.

Unable to orient herself in the snow-covered landscape and with every door at the school painted the same colour, she was terrified she would get lost if she moved away from the safety of the entranceway during recess.

In the spring, once she could see the environment around the school, she worked up the courage to venture further.

She laughs about it now, but it is easy to imagine how terrifying and disorienting the alien scenery would be to a young child. A young child who had to live through losing both of her parents at a young age.

Lalli, her brother and their grandmother were left with a farm and a home to run by themselves when her parents died. Lalli was five at the time of their death, her brother was 12.

Her grandmother had also lost her husband early on and raised her two sons on her own. When Lalli’s parents died, her grandmother was once again caring for two young children alone.

Nearly five years later, her grandmother brought the two grandchildren to Canada, where the three of them moved in with the surviving son and his family.

Before emigrating to Canada, Lalli’s grandmother had never even been in a grocery store, and she spoke and read no English, so Lalli’s older brother took on the shopping.

“He had to grow up so, so, so fast.”

Her brother started at a weekend cleanup job at the mill and then moved up over the years and purchased a home of his own for the three of them.

Those early days at Nesika Elementary were tough for Lalli, but she found her niche through sports, specifically team sports.

“We all have a common goal. The ball goes in the hoop, the puck goes in the net, you just run around.”

Though she is humble about her role on the sports teams, settling on volleyball and basketball after elementary school, she admits she played hard and used sports as an outlet.

“The things that you didn’t know how to deal with and you didn’t even know were things that had to go somewhere…”

Likely, the effort she put into these sports was also what helped her gain the respect and support of coaches and teachers, who helped her out along the way, recognizing the challenges she faced.

Her athletic efforts and talent lead to scholarships which allowed her to attain a post-secondary education, first with an Associate of Arts degree at Bismarck State College in North Dakota, then with a Liberal Arts degree from Concordia College in Minnesota.

From there, she wasn’t even sure where she would go, but after a lot of questionnaires by career counsellors, and mounting pressure to make a decision, she finally picked physiotherapy out of a scrolling list of professions.

While previous career counsellors had not suggested physiotherapy, it was something she knew a bit about and had benefitted from over the years through various sports-related injuries and two knee surgeries. But she admits she had no idea what it would take to become one, calling her brother after she chose it from the list and her brother responding with a list of practical questions, none of which she knew the answers to at that point.

While it might have been a split-second decision to become a physiotherapist, it isn’t one she regrets.

“I never looked back, never second-guessed the decision,” she says. “It fits.”

When Lalli speaks about her profession, you can hear the passion for what she does in her voice.

“There’s a lot of problem-solving,” she explains. “It’s a science yet there’s kind of art to it.”

Every tennis elbow or knee injury, even though you might have the same diagnosis, you’re still dealing with an individual. There’s just so many variables.”

Lalli returned to Williams Lake, a town she said gave her so much, after she obtained her doctorate in physiotherapy, and practices her chosen profession at Pro Physioworks.

Read more: OUR HOMETOWN: Vibrant senior still active at 88



ruth.lloyd@wltribune.com

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