Experienced Rancho Santa Fe duo at Evolve Physical Therapy and Advanced Wellness focus on comprehensive client care

By Karen Billing

Evolve Physical Therapy and Advanced Wellness wants to help people love every second of living in their body. They see themselves not so much providing physical therapy as allowing a physical transformation.

Evolve is co-owned by a team of Rancho Santa Fe residents: Kate Grace, a physical therapist and orthopedic physician assistant; and Annie Fonte, CEO and Chief Inspirational Officer. Training and transformations happen in a place they aim to make feel friendly, inviting and comfortable—Fonte’s dogs will often come out of her office to happily greet clients.

Evolve offers post-surgical rehabilitation and treatment of sports injuries, back and neck pain, chronic pain, work-related injuries, and knee and hip dysfunctions. Additionally, they offer personal training and small group and team training, as well as F3 (Fun, Functional Fitness) classes, Golf Fit, Fit to Live classes and Fit 2 Run classes with strength conditioning and injury prevention.

Evolve also offers acupuncture and massage and hopes to add yoga soon.

“The opportunity to provide more services to people in a different way is what we’re focusing on right now,” Grace said.

“We want to be a one-stop shop where people know they’re going to be safe and that they’re going to get better,” Fonte said. “We really take good care of people so you don’t have to run around, it’s all right here.”

Evolve has been in its new Sorrento Valley location since January after 19 years in UTC (then known as Kate Grace Physical Therapy). The move marked a big step up in space, going from 2,200 square feet to 8,000 square feet.

The space was transformed from an “ugly warehouse” to Evolve in a quick three weeks and they moved in without missing a day of seeing patients.

The quiet modalities, such as yoga, acupuncture and massage, are in one “quiet” half of the facility, separate from private treatment and evaluation rooms, a main treatment room and a large gym, where music is usually pumping. The gym’s equipment and machines are kept close to the wall, leaving as much space as possible for various forms of training and classes.

“This will never be filled up with equipment because you don’t operate in the world with a machine, that’s not how your body works,” Grace said. “We train people in a functional, realistic way.”

Each training session is individually designed for the client, for their goals and for their body type after a thorough examination

Anything is possible—Grace recently trained a volleyball player who could not bear any weight on her ankle but still wanted to stay in shape. Grace crafted a whole exercise program on balance ball.

“She was drenched in sweat. She said, ‘I can’t believe I could do the whole program.’ It doesn’t matter what condition you’re in, we can do something to help,” Grace said.

At Evolve, there are patients of all ages and abilities, from an 89-year-old working on her balance to Olympic-level athletes.

Evolve has four physical therapists (PT), five PT aides and an Active Release Technique (ACT) specialist on staff, as well as a massage therapist and acupuncturist.  The whole team collaborates to create the best patient care plan.

“Everyone here is relentless in the pursuit of reaching the patient’s goals, whether it’s treating back pain and playing better tennis or to play baseball with their child. Whatever their goal is we will help you get there,” Grace said.

She said helping patients reach their goals starts with a key step that has become missing in many medical practices, where patients are rushed through appointments and sometimes diagnoses are missed.

“We spend an hour to an hour-and-a-half with patients which is almost unheard of,” Grace said. “We always said if we ever have to do anything that makes us spend less time with the patients then we’ll just do something else.”

Grace has been in San Diego since doing her residency and working at Sharp and Children’s Hospital before starting her sports medicine practice in 1985.

She has been a sports nut for life.

“I grew up with four brothers and played every sport imaginable,” Grace said.

She played college tennis during her undergraduate studies at Kent State (she attended Ohio State for her physical therapy degree) and she currently plays on a national golf amateur circuit.

She moved to Rancho Santa Fe primarily for the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club golf course —“I think it’s the best golf course in San Diego County,” she says — and on that course she has been a club champion for nearly 10 years.

Grace still works as an orthopedic physician assistant at Scripps La Jolla, which she finds to be great for the practice as she can sometimes see patients before, during and after surgeries, having a complete and thorough understanding of them.

Fonte also came from a heavy sports background, also growing up with brothers playing sports and “throwing pitchforks at each other” in rural Colorado. She played volleyball, basketball and ran track, and won a basketball scholarship to Friends University in Kansas.

Fonte spent several years working for the founders of Residence Inn before going back to school to get her MBA from Harvard Business School.

“My goal was to go to the top school in the world,” Fonte said, who boldly only applied to Harvard and was one of the “chosen ones” to make it in and survive.

Grace and Fonte met through their parents in 1991—their parents went to the same church in Northern California and found out both of their daughters lived in San Diego.

What started with meeting for coffee and helping out a new San Diegan led to a partnership that has been very successful. Fonte was able to bring her business acumen to complement Grace’s medical field strengths.

They have always shared an office, an invisible line separating the business and medical sides.

“We don’t have to have meetings to know what’s going on,” said Grace. “We trust each other to know what’s best for our patients and what’s best for our team. That’s how we operate.”

Together they have developed the OnTrack System, a unique non-surgical method for the management of patellofemoral dysfunction, a knee disorder that both Grace and Fonte have battled

It’s the only system that realigns the patella and can return the joint anatomy back to normal and is now used worldwide.

The pair also developed OrthoRx, Inc. in 1995, a research, development and orthopedic product company. In 1997, they created OrthoEd, an international medical education seminar company. Together they have traveled all over the country to help teach medical professionals about effective and successful treatment of patellofemoral dysfunction.

“I like what we do. There’s never going to be a hand that comes out of (a machine) to change people’s lives,” Fonte said. “When a patient comes to us, a person who really cares looks them in the eye, asks them how they’re doing today and touches them. The patient knows they’re in good hands, hands that can take them to a whole other level of wellness. They know we’re going to take good care of them. That’s the contribution we get to make every day.”

Re-branding themselves as Evolve was part of their hope to establish a lasting legacy with their facility

“It’s fun,” Grace said. “How many jobs are there where someone comes in with pain and leaves not in pain? How satisfying is that?”

Evolve is located at 11468 Sorrento Valley Road, suite A, San Diego, 92121. For more information call (858) 457-3545 or visit evolveadvancedwellness.com.

The second Wednesday of every month at Evolve is “Wellthy Wednesday,” where a speaker comes in to speak on a variety of topics. On Aug. 25 at 5:30 p.m., there will be a speaker on memory. September’s talk will be “Wine, Women and Hormones.”

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