From karate kid, to prison officer and now a physical therapist

She made history by becoming Ireland’s first female Chief Officer in a men’s prison... CHRIS DUNNE caught up with Cork woman Teresa McCormack, who has now carved out another career
From karate kid, to prison officer and now a physical therapist
Teresa McCormack, former prison officer now neuro-physical therapist.

FOR years. former prison officer and the first female Chief Officer in a man’s prison, Teresa McCormack, was known as the ‘karate kid’.

“I loved karate since I was a young girl and it became my passion since I was about 12,” says Teresa, who is now 55, from Midleton. “And it has stood to me my whole life.

“I think my interest in physical and mental health stems from a life-long love of that one particular martial art,” adds Teresa, who is mum to Niamh, 22. and Conor, 18.

“Karate gave me a real understanding of the body.”

Her strong body and her strong hands serve her well in her current career as a Neuromuscular Physical Therapist (NMT) —which she took up after she retired from the Prison Service.

“The day I retired from the Prison Service after 27 years, working in Portlaoise, Roscommon, Arklow, and Cork Prison, I saw an advert for a Physical Therapy Course and I signed up there and then,” says Teresa.

“I wanted to help people and I saw this as the perfect opportunity.”

The Midelton woman, a 4th Dan Black Belt and Irish champion, representing her country at International level, is now a Neuro-Muscular Physical Therapist and known in Midleton as ‘the girl who sorted me out!’

Now her clients come to her willingly, don’t they? Teresa laughs.

“Yes, they do. As an NMT, I work with people of all ages suffering from all levels of pain and discomfort, both in the long term and in the short term.”

Why do so many people suffer from pain these days, and particularly from back pain?

“The pain can be from soft tissue damage, injury, or repetitive strain damage,” explains Teresa.

“Back pain can occur from general wear and tear. Most treatments give special attention to trigger points in the body that develop because of overuse or injury to the muscle.”

What about the painful knots that can develop on the neck and shoulder muscles?

“Knots form because of oxygenated blood flow to the area,” says Teresa. “That results in pain.”

She believes that we can be pain free with the correct treatments and by simply moving our bodies more.

“Pain is something none of us should have to live with. Often, it is caused by stress, anxiety and tension,” says Teresa.

“When the muscles are restricted, the tightness causes pain. I work on the body’s muscles, releasing knots and easing tension to build up more function and to lessen pain.”

She likens tight muscles to a knotted up necklace.

“Think of it like a necklace with a knot in it,” says Teresa.

“You have to work it slowly and ease the knot out, but if you throw it back in the jewellery box, chances are it’ll be knotted up again. Freeing up the tangled links takes time.”

In today’s technological world, we can be more sedentary.

“Our lifestyles aren’t conducive to good physical wellness,” says Teresa. “Pain is the body’s way of telling us that we need to make a change, even by moving more. But years of neglect and bad posture doesn’t go away in an hour.”

What’s her expert advice?

“You have to maintain muscle wellness to see the benefits,” says Teresa.

“Experiencing the benefits will mean less pain and discomfort, less fatigue; more flexibility and more mobility.”

Teresa never suffered from fatigue. Her first job was delivering milk when she was 13 years old.

“As a teenager, I stacked shelves in Quinnsworth on Midleton’s Main Street.”

Her dad wanted his daughter to get a pensionable job.

“I was too young to join the gardaí after leaving school so I applied to the Prison Service,” says Teresa.

“I loved it,” she says.

And as she rose through the ranks, Teresa made history by becoming the first female Chief Officer in a men’s prison.

What was it like being a woman in what was predominately a man’s world?

“You know, at the end of the day, people are people,” says Teresa.

“Care and wellbeing are important in every walk of life.”

Teresa is a people person.

“I’ve always enjoyed helping people to be the best they can be,” she says.

She excelled at work and in the sports arena. Teresa was European Karate Champion in 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1990. She held European, National and Munster titles from 1984 to 1994.

“When I started karate, there was no such thing as speciality training or aftercare,” says Teresa.

“I learned how to sort out my own injuries, discovering an awareness about what was going on in my body. There was no googling back then.

“I was fascinated about how the muscles worked and how they could self- heal with the right approach.”

After qualifying as a Neuro-Muscular Physical Therapist in November, 2016, Teresa found the ideal premises at 6, Main Street, Midleton, to treat people, ranging from a 13-year-old show-jumper to an 85-year-old with lymphedema.

Does she ‘fix’ them all?

“Each client is different,” explains Teresa.

“So each treatment is different. There’s no such thing as a fix-all cure.”

But now a lot of her clients are pain free?

“Yes, with the correct treatment and the right advice, changing old habits; people can be pain free. After all, who says you have to live with pain?”

Looking around Teresa’s therapeutic softly-lit soothing surroundings, one would feel uplifted and stress-free straight-away.

Old habits might die hard. She doesn’t lock the door does she?

For more, contact Teresa on 087-4141454.

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