You have to strive to fail,” said Malia Tallett (P.T., D.P.T., T.P.S.), owner of Ke Ola Kino Physical Therapy in Hilo. “You don’t learn from being successful. I have failed a number of times, but failure doesn’t mean you’re done. You need to ask yourself ʻhow much do I want it?’”
Tallett’s journey to opening her physical therapy clinic in Hilo has not been easy. After graduating from Kamehameha Schools Kapālama, she enrolled at the University of Sacramento to study economics. There, she discovered her passion for pre-med and orthopedics but the university would not allow her to change majors.
So she transferred to the nearby University of the Pacific (UOP), which is known for its sports medicine program.
At UOP, she had a rigorous schedule attending classes, playing Division I water polo, and working a midnight shift stocking inventory at a nearby department store. In the middle of this, she was seriously injured playing water polo and had to go through surgery and rehabilitation.
“My injury actually solidified my interest in physical therapy (PT). I experienced PT as a patient and appreciated how physical therapists become closely involved in guiding a patient on their road to healing,” recalled Tallett.
She decided to pursue a doctorate in physical therapy, and it was more academically grueling than anything she had previously experienced. After she nearly failed a class, the dean of the school told her she should reconsider her career track – but that only furthered her determination to complete the program.
“There are going to be haters along the way, but you need to believe in yourself,” Tallett said. “You’re not going to get to your dreams by sitting on a couch or playing on your phone. You get there with blood, sweat, and tears.”
She completed the doctoral program and went on to acquire a wide range of internship experiences at Shriners Hospital in Spokane, Wash., and later at Merced Community Medical Center in Marin, Calif.
Her first paid position as a physical therapist was at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland, Calif. A short time later, Tallett got married and had her first child. Her long working hours and commute were not conducive to motherhood, so she and her family made the decision to move home.
She worked as a therapist in Hilo for eight years before deciding to start her own clinic. “I cashed out everything I owned – my retirement plans and savings – and told myself that if I fail Iʻm still in my mid-30s and will have enough time to recover and rebound.”
It was a tough journey with lots of red tape but she persevered with support from her parents, mentors, and start-up financing from friends and from The Kohala Center.
“During that time, I also went through the perfect storm of getting divorced and almost losing my home. It was humbling, but my love for my kids got me through the hardest times.”
In August 2017, Tallett opened the doors to Ke Ola Kino Physical Therapy – the only outpatient rehabilitation center on Hawaiʻi Island with both physical and occupational therapy.
She spends an hour with each patient, working with them, listening to them, and coaching them on their journey to healing. “I tell people when they come into my office that they have a free pass to complain. It’s important to address the psychological piece of physical limitations,” she said.
“In my profession, I meet people at their absolute worst. They are depressed, angry, sad, and in pain from a traumatic event or from something that they have been enduring for years,” explained Tallett. “It’s my job to help them find themselves again.”
Until 2020, Tallett ran her business on her own. But as the pandemic progressed, her business grew and her patients were having to wait up to six months for appointments.
With the help of an Office of Hawaiian Affairs Mālama Loan, Tallett was able to move Ke Ola Kino from a 400-sq. foot to a 1,000-sq. foot facility and expand her team of therapists.
And last fall she started the Hoʻoikaika Kino Foundation to support community members without access to physical therapy. “It’s never been about money for me. It’s been about providing services to my community that are not otherwise available. It’s about taking care of people.”
In addition to serving on the boards of the State Health Planning and Development Agency and Hui Mālama Ola Nā ʻŌiwi, Tallett is also an instructor for Hawaiʻi’s first doctor of physical therapy program at Hawaiʻi Pacific University.
“There is a huge provider shortage [in Hawaiʻi] in every discipline of medicine,” Tallett said. “So I will teach and share wherever and however I can. I want to teach our kids to give 100% of whatever it is in their tank. We all have bad days but give your all and don’t be afraid to fail.”