QUINCY -- The most fitting piece of advice Toko Nguyen ever received came from am older brother who could see both his strengths and weaknesses.
Being headstrong and determined was both.
An all-area wide receiver and defensive back for the Quincy Notre Dame football team in 1995, Nguyen could have followed his brother, Hac, to the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., had it not been for one tricky detail.
"Hac was like, ‘You don't listen to anybody, Toko. There's no way you're going to do well up here,'" Nguyen said with a chuckle. "He told me, ‘You need to find your own way.'"
So he did, following a path to being a business owner and one of the most respected physical therapists and consultants in the Houston market today.
Nguyen is the owner of the Institute for Athlete Regeneration, which is a post-professional program training rehabilitation clinicians advanced clinical reasoning and treatment techniques.
"I knew I wanted to eventually do something on my own," Nguyen said. "I just don't make a good employee."
Maybe not, but he is an astute businessman, a well-respected boss and one of the leading authorities on manual therapy. In fact, the Houston Texans reached out to Nguyen and asked him to assist their physical therapy team.
"I really want to set the standard in this town for sports and manual therapy," Nguyen said. "I think athletes have a lot of potential that they don't get in a normal training room. We can share with the trainers the advanced techniques that make things better for everybody, especially the athletes."
A 2000 graduate of Truman State University where he played defensive back for the Bulldogs, Nguyen knew two things at that point.
He wanted to become a physical therapist and Midwestern winters weren't for him.
So when his brother was stationed at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, following his graduation from West Point, Nguyen applied to nearly every PT school in Texas.
"I wanted to get out of the cold," Nguyen said.
He decided to attend Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, and moved to Houston once his graduate studies were complete.
"The whole goal was to get the family to Texas, get my mom down to Houston," Nguyen said.
To make that possible, Nguyen had to establish himself in the PT community. Six months after joining a growing company, Nguyen became director of a clinic.
"I was beginning to learn a lot about the business side of things, while also going through a manual therapy fellowship," Nguyen said. "I didn't want to get rusty because the goal was to be the best I could be from a clinical standpoint as well.
"At that time, manual therapists were seen as the most prestigious clinicians in the physical therapy field."
Sixth months later, the owner of the clinic sold his shares of three clinics to his partner corporation, U.S. Physical Therapy. That's when the biggest door to the career Nguyen wanted opened up.
The corporation allowed him to continue to run the clinic with a caveat. If he could meet certain benchmarks in numbers of patients and revenue, they would make him a partner.
"I was like, ‘OK, done,'" Nguyen said. "From there, I had to get out there and hit the pavement and drive as much business to the clinic as I possibly could. I was working 12 hours a day to drive the numbers up."
Nguyen's success doing that led his corporate partners to ask him to open another clinic, which served patients with general orthopedic needs. For the five years that followed, he ran highly successful clinics.
"I felt my passion start to go in a different direction," Nguyen said. "I wanted to get involved more in the educational side of my profession of physical therapy. There were a lot of post-professional training programs being developed during that time and a lot of buzz about physical therapy residencies and fellowships.
"Things really started to boom. I felt that was the direction I wanted to go."
So Nguyen sold his shares in the clinics back to the corporation and joined a sports performance facility that incorporated physical therapy.
"I was able to focus on a certain niche and pursue my passion in education," Nguyen said.
A year later, Nguyen struck out on his own. He worked as a contract physical therapist who connected with large hospital systems in Houston and private practices.
"I was able to learn a lot about the community of Houston in the medical field, in the physical therapy field, in the educational field," Nguyen said. "I was able to learn a lot about the needs and where I fit in. I was able to build my network in the sports arena as well."
That network led to Nguyen partnering with Houston Methodist Hospital to create the first residency program for orthopedic for sports and athletic training. It grew to include the hospital's satellite locations.
At the same time, he created a fellowship program through IAR.
"It was mine," Nguyen said. "I owned the program."
It gained a national reputation and connected Nguyen with professional athletes as well as professional sports franchises and collegiate athletic departments. He provided education for staff trainers and therapists and spoke at clinics, seminars and conference nationally and internationally.
The Texans, among other franchises, kept asking what it would take to get him to come in and work more hands-on with their staff.
As busy as Nguyen was, he initially shied away from such requests. But the Texans asked again last year, and with some encouragement from his wife, he found a way to make it work.
"It's been a heck of a ride," Nguyen said. "It's always been in me to be an entrepreneur and try to really focus on doing my own thing."