At age seven, Libby Clymo’s doctor told her she was the youngest person he’d ever known to present with a fully ruptured ACL. It was a simple skid off her bike during a family holiday that caused the injury and set the course for the Northern Victorian’s passionate pursuit of physiotherapy.

Libby grew up on a dairy farm in the rural town of Calivil with her parents and younger brother. Calivil has a population of around 200 and is situated 60 kilometers north of Bendigo. It was here where the 18-year-old experienced firsthand the difficulties small communities have accessing allied health.

Libby and her younger brother

“Living in Calivil, I know how difficult it is to access physiotherapists, and knowing this, I would like to one day open a practice locally as I feel driven to empower local communities,” Libby said.

“It is not uncommon to hear farmers complaining of their ‘aching lower back’ or ‘kinked neck’ while not seeking any further treatment to address the issue. A large proportion of farmers are not properly educated about the impacts of their work environments on their muscles and bodies.”

“My hope is to strengthen farming communities by providing access to top-quality healthcare ensuring some of our hardest-working individuals are kept fit and pain-free.”

In 2024, Libby was awarded the Shirley Harlock Tertiary Scholarship from the Gardiner Foundation. The scholarship provides $10,000 annually for three years, which will support Libby while she studies her Bachelor of Physiotherapy at La Trobe University in Bendigo.

“It’s daunting moving from a small town to a big city. I don’t know many people, but I am excited to make new friends and explore new opportunities.”

“I think it’s important to step out of your comfort zone, especially if you come from the country. Where I live, you tend to stay around the same people your whole life unless you move away. It’s very lovely but also means you don’t get the chance to meet new people – I plan to start uni with an open attitude.”

Libby attended East Loddon P-12 College, a true example of a rural school with around 260 students and situated in the middle of a paddock. Libby said it was a great environment to form personal connections with teachers and students, “without this support system, I would never have applied for the scholarship or gotten into physiotherapy, I’m forever grateful for the teachers there.”

Libby at East Loddon P-12 College

At a very young age, she was involved in local sport including the Calivil United Football and Netball Club and Calivil Tennis Club, Libby also swam competitively for a number of years. At age 14, she completed the 1km swim leg of the Noosa Triathlon and at 16, ran the Melbourne Half Marathon.

“I’m still very much involved in the football and netball club back home, and given Bendigo is only about an hour away, I plan to come home so I can continue to play and be part of it as much as I can. Our local sporting clubs are the backbone of farming communities,” Libby said.

“I am fortunate to be part of such a diverse, strong and caring community. I know people from all ages and backgrounds and feel a strong sense of connection within the Calivil and wider community.”

While sport and physiotherapy tend to go hand in hand, Libby was also inspired to follow her career aspirations because of her experiences on the farm. She is hoping to use her skills, once she completes her studies, to strengthen rural communities and help them thrive.

“While physiotherapy isn’t involved in the dairy or agriculture industry directly, I believe it is an integral component of the rural healthcare system. A combination of long workdays, isolation in rural areas, and stigma prevent farmers from obtaining quality health care.”

“As a rural health care worker, I would advocate for equal distribution of high-quality, safe, allied healthcare throughout Australia. With the goal of making a difference in some of our country’s most remote areas,” Libby said.

Having lived her entire life on a dairy farm, Libby had experienced the ups and downs of dairy farming. She said impacts of both the pandemic and floods over the last few years have significantly impacted the dairy farmers in her region, with many unable to obtain workers. Libby and her brother had to step up on the farm more often while juggling schoolwork.

“While it was tough, the experience demonstrated the resilience of many farmers in the area and grew my appreciation even further for the industry. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, the constant poo, dirt, blood, sweat, and tears aren’t pretty at times, but the strength, courage, and work ethic dairy farmers hold is something I believe all individuals should take throughout life.”

“Farming will always be part of who I am, but I have found there are other ways to support farm communities, and that I can play a role in helping people on a different level.”

One month out from starting her studies, Libby secured a job as a receptionist at a Bendigo physiotherapy center. She is hoping by getting her foot in the door early, it will lead to a job in the industry once she completes her studies.

“I’ve always been into health, as it is really motivating to know you are having an impact on people’s quality of life. I could never work in an office all day – dairy farming is like healthcare, it’s really hands on and you’re seeing the work your putting in pay off.”