Bold Growth: Christa Rymal '92 on A New Vision for Wellness
What: An unusual retreat center in Pequot Lakes, MN.
Who it's for: Professionals from all fields, with special retreats focused on those in healthcare as well.
Philosophy: Helping people nurture five pillars of wellness in their lives: nutrition, community, restoration, movement, sleep.
Accolades: It's an intimate, warm setting...When you go into a CME (Continuing Medical Education) you do want to come away with new knowledge, "what can I bring back to my practice; how can I change or improve on the way that I'm doing things?" and with the level of expertise of the speakers, and with the information they give, they (The Point) have that." – Dr. Kristin Lockhart, Family Physician at HealthEast
Leaning In To Awkward Moments
It's the debut weekend at Christa Rymal's '92 new venture, The Point Retreats, and the tension in the air is thick.
Forty hand-picked healthcare professionals ranging from primary care physicians and nurse practitioners to chiropractors and personal trainers are scattered around the main meeting area of Rymal's expansive family-cabin-turned-retreat center. It's been a peaceful weekend so far: each day the professionals work on earning Continuing Medical Education credits (CMEs) and exchanging ideas while relaxing in the North Woods.
In this moment, however, an endocrinologist and a naturopath have locked horns over a hotly contested issue that could be seen as the poster child for the differing approaches of conventional and naturopathic medicine: Adrenal Fatigue.
"A few times people were looking at me like, 'this is getting a little heated, how long are you going to let this go?'"
Rymal has a choice: she can gently move things onto more common ground, or let the discussion continue.
"We know that getting people a little bit uncomfortable is really where a lot of growth happens. We've seen it happen both for people personally as well as in breaking through some barriers professionally."
Rymal decides to wait and watch.
Christa Rymal's shift from nursing and healthcare leadership to entrepreneurship began in 2016: As she and sister Lisa TerHaar '88 walked along the slender Point peninsula, just north of Brainerd in Pequot Lakes, they discussed their disappointment with healthcare in the US.
"We were talking about how we thought things would be in healthcare and how different they actually were once we were inside. It was very rewarding to provide interventions that helped people become less sick, but we rarely felt like we were helping people get truly well."
This former director of diabetes care and endocrinology for HealthEast (Rymal) and nurse practitioner (TerHaar) found their experiences to be dishearteningly similar: hundreds of hours engaged in putting out fires in response to disease and very little time devoted to empowering people to live well.
At some point the conversation shifted to this question: What could we do to be part of the solution? Along with the support of their sister, Stephanie Bardal '86, seeds were planted to start growing in a direction that explored new ways to optimal health and well-being.
"[I wanted to] serve in some capacity to shift the paradigm around how we think about health care; to stop being so reactive [and] to put more emphasis on how we can be proactive," Rymal shares.
I wanted to serve in some capacity to shift the paradigm around how we think about health care; to stop being so reactive and to put more emphasis on how we can be proactive.
The questions they asked that morning initiated an expedition for Rymal. She enrolled in Harvard's Institute of Lifestyle Medicine for advanced training, and then the Institute of Functional Medicine, and then the American Academy of Functional Medicine. She signed up for countless conferences, webinars, and CME opportunities, trying to understand disease prevention and how she might make an impact in the field.
She knew she was wading into waters that some of her colleagues might find questionable: Weren't traditional medicine, alternative medicine, and functional medicine all fringe arenas? What could they possibly offer "serious" medical professionals like cardiologists, neurologists, and endocrinologists?
On the flip side, she recognized that some practitioners in the wellness fields held no small amount of apprehension towards conventional medicine practitioners.
But what Christa saw was multiple streams of expertise held by people who genuinely cared about the wellbeing of those they treated, each with something to offer the other.
And so, in 2017, Rymal and her new business partner—health and fitness entrepreneur Chuck Runyon—launched The Point Retreats. This, they decided, would be a place for professionals across the spectrum to earn CMEs and deepen their understanding of what it means to live well.
Which brings us to that tense moment when an endocrinologist Rymal describes as "phenomenal" and a naturopath she knew and respected seemed on the verge of moving from idea exchange into open conflict.
"I knew them both well enough to trust that it was continuing to be a healthy conversation," Rymal says.
And so she waited, allowing the tension to slowly untangle as the two practitioners parsed through their uncommon languages, ultimately finding deeper understanding and respect for one another.
We had to get comfortable with what happens when you are looking for growth.
The Monday morning after the retreat, the endocrinologist saw an adrenal fatigue patient on her schedule for the day. Later, she commented to Rymal: "Every other time I have seen this, I would roll my eyes. Now I have a completely different perspective...and I could treat that patient without the negative emotions." Rymal shares that since that time, the endocrinologist and the naturopath have begun to refer patients to each other.
Idea exchanges are only one aspect of these retreats. Rymal wants attendees to be challenged mentally and physically (enter CMEs and polar plunges), but she also wants them to deepen their understanding of rest and quiet. She wants them to take walks in the woods, sit in the sauna, and sleep. She wants them to immerse themselves in WellCare that reduces stress while building resilience.
After a recent retreat, one doctor found Rymal and said: "This is like a hospital for healthcare professionals."
Personally, Rymal also continues to put herself in places that feel uncomfortable: From traveling to learn cross-culturally to taking surfing lessons and launching a podcast (Rebel and Be Well), she knows that if she is going to ask her retreat participants to grow she herself needs to keep growing.
"Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart....I just had to really accept that there is so much I don't know. I'll figure it out as I go. I will not have all the answers...I just keep taking it one step at a time."
- Caring Community,