Celebrating 35 years in the St. Croix Valley

[Allina Health Newsroom, October 16, 2023] On October 16th, 1988, Courage Center opened its Stillwater location under the name Courage St. Croix. This new location offered a warm water pool for recreation as well as therapy use, changing the lives of clients with disabilities. The site offered outpatient physical, occupational, and speech therapy, as well as recreation programming. 35 years later, this location continues to offer therapy, fitness/aquatics/recreation services as well as many more; including driver's assessments and lessons, physician services, social work, support groups, and neuropsychology.


In 1996, the building underwent an expansion, adding additional treatment space and programming. In 2001, Courage St. Croix started a pilot fitness program studying the effects of exercise on people with disabilities. As predicted, this program was hugely successful and there was a tremendous need for accessible fitness programming in the metro. Fast forward to 2013, Courage Center and Sister Kenny merged under the ownership of Allina Health and became Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute (CKRI). Today, CKRI Stillwater continues to provide invaluable programming to the eastern metro and western Wisconsin. Pictured below is Peter Polga, he was the director of Courage St. Croix. Peter is pictured in 1987 with the architect’s model. Also pictured is the original building in 1988.


There are so many amazing clients and stories to tell, including a few seniors who were here in 1988 and still participate today. We also have two clients who started as young children and are now successful adults. Meet Katie Nelson and Will Hamilton.
Katie began using the warm water pool in 1995 at the age of three to help with muscle strength. Katie was born with muscular dystrophy and exercising in the pool not only allowed Katie to build muscle in a safe way, but she got to have fun and learn to swim at the same time. Katie grew up with Courage St. Croix and even worked at the front desk in high school and college. “The pool gave me the ability to move around more freely, maintain physical strength, and improve respiratory function. It also gave me a community to be a part of”, said Katie. She later was introduced to the fitness center and the benefits of adding land-based exercise with a fitness specialist. Katie took some time away from Courage as she finished college and began her career. Unfortunately, as with other clients, the pandemic affected Katie in many ways. “During the pandemic, I lost a lot of strength and functionality. I came back to CKRI to gain as much of it back as I could.” Katie started back with physical therapy and then transitioned back to fitness and aquatic programming. When asked what Katie’s favorite part of coming to CKRI Stillwater, she said “CKRI offers unique services for disabled individuals, one of my favorites being the heated pool!” Katie is pictured below in 1996 holding a ribbon she won at an adapted swim meet. Here she is today, working out in the fitness center.


Will Hamilton started in the pool at the age of five. Will was born with osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bones). The pool created a safe and fun environment for exercise. Similar to Katie, Will grew up attending programming at Courage St. Croix. Will also expanded his routine to include the fitness center as his passion for wheelchair racing grew. Will shared the following about his programming, “I’ve had a pretty extensive history of fractures, surgeries and pain in my life. By continuing to work on those strengthening exercises and racing-focused goals, it also makes my daily life significantly easier. It has changed my daily life. Seeing these significant improvements has made me feel dedicated to making sure my life is easier to navigate rather than harder.” Now age 28, Will attends college and just returned from a trip to Thailand where he competed in the 100m, 200m and 400m sprints in the T52 para-athletics class for the United States delegation team. He came home with two silver and one bronze medal and bested all of his times.
When asked about his favorite part about coming to CKRI Stillwater, Will said, “I’ve always loved how supportive and welcoming everyone has been for me over all the years. I’ve had lots of great people help me in my journey and I think they also deserve credit for building that base foundation. There are some exercises and sessions that cannot happen for me effectively without the support of the people I need.” Will is pictured in the pool in 2016 and today working out in the fitness center.



Posted on October 16, 2023 in Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute

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