It’s a pioneering concept — and it came to James Dulkerian in the middle of the night about seven years ago.
An avid mountain biker, the 38-year-old is used to taking risks. But starting a business was one of the biggest he’d take in his life. Back in 2016, he needed a change. Knee-deep in a physical therapy practice and seeing 20 clients a day, he was burning out on this kind of rushed health care.
He and his wife took a vacation, driving a Volkswagen Vanagon through California, camping and hiking along the way — and thinking about the future. “I knew I couldn’t do the same kind of physical therapy anymore,” he said.
In what he describes as a “light bulb moment,” Pioneer PT was born. The small business brings physical therapy and wellness services to your location — whether you’re hiking, biking, running — or to your home so you can move the way you want to again.
Operating on an out-of-network, fee-for-services basis, Pioneer PT is able to help people stay healthy while they live their life’s best adventures.
“I wanted to treat people before they have something serious — before they’ve wasted years of their life,” said Dulkerian, who added that his family has always been involved in small businesses in one way or another.
His first step was building out a van to turn it into a mobile PT unit. “I worked on it every night and every weekend while I was still holding down my full-time PT job,” he recalled. “Then I quit and took a part-time job as I launched Pioneer PT.”
Equipment inside the mobile studio includes a functional trainer for strength training, foam rollers, manual therapy tools, table, bands, myofascial cupping equipment — and the list goes on.
Operating a startup is the hardest thing he’s ever done, Dulkerian said, but his timing was excellent. By the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., he had a steady stream of clients that only grew as people spent more time in outdoor adventures.
In fact, the business grew enough for Dulkerian to distribute an email ad for a new part-time PT position. Out of hundreds of people, he chose 28-year-old Gabby Mace, who is now operating out of a new mobile PT studio based in Howard County.
“I hired Gabby because of her attitude,” said Dulkerian. “I feel like skills can be taught — and that she knew how to treat people like people. She reflected my values.”
Mace said taking this job meant taking her own big risk, as she’s still building up her clientele. She sees more runners while Dulkerian sees more cyclists. Both already have clients who are business owners and hire Pioneer PT to come to their offices and offer a proactive health day.
For an individual, each session is $175 — and that includes having the same physical therapist every time at your home, workplace, or even at the park or on a bike course. “Our clients have more time with us, less travel time, and proactive health care,” said Mace. “We truly listen to your performance goals and work to help you meet them.”
As for the future, Dulkerian said that, someday, he’d like to have Pioneer PT hubs across the country. “It would be really cool to have a hub on the west coast,” he said, “and a brick-and-mortar space with a gym, where we can park the vans.”
Meanwhile, Dulkerian and Mace find new adventures with clients almost every day.
Pioneer PT served as the mobile PT service for Rupert Guinness, an Australian who was the only person over 60 to finish the 2023 Race Across America, an ultra bike race and one of the longest annual endurance events in the world.
Bicyclists race about 3,000 miles from the west coast to the east coast. Guinness was the eighth Australian to ever finish.
That’s the kind of on-the-job experience Mace has always wanted, and she’s ready for more. “It was a crazy 14 days — and I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Mace said.