Who We Are

Dr Mariel Novacek

Dr. Mariel Novacek, PT, DPT

Founder and Owner

Dr. Mariel Novacek is an educator, physical therapist, and founder of Optimal Function Physical Therapy and Wellness. 

Athletics have always been a part of her life, from competitive swimming, cross country skiing, track, collegiate rowing, triathlons, yoga, pilates, to CrossFit. She was introduced to Olympic lifts as a rower at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and honed her lifting skills when she joined a CrossFit gym after PT school at the University of Mary in Bismarck, ND, then again at Hotova CrossFit when she moved back to her hometown of Buffalo, MN. During this time, she realized the importance of strength and mobility for optimal functioning of the human body during both athletic events and day-to-day activities. 

Dr. Novacek also worked as a personal trainer for multiple years, and it was during that part of her career that she realized the need for a deeper understanding of how people move and, more specifically, how they can move pain-free, and went on to get her doctorate degree in Physical Therapy at the University of Mary in Bismarck, ND. She has worked in different settings from orthopedic care in a critical access hospital in rural ND, skilled nursing and outpatient orthopedics in WI, outpatient orthopedics in Alexandria, MN and most recently outpatient orthopedics, neuro, and inpatient hospital physical therapy at Allina Health Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute in Buffalo, MN. 

Above all else, Dr. Novacek cares about each of her patients and understands that each person is a sum of all of their experiences. Her goal for each patient is to teach them that pain is not permanent, and the body is amazing at healing when we create the right environment, utilizing primarily manual treatments, mobilizations, and corrective exercises. She believes the body and nervous system have the ability to recover from injury and adapt to nearly any stressor with the right movement and exercise. She also believes that education and movement are the first line of defense in treating the body of disease and disability.

We are told too often by medical practitioners of our limitations and the things we can’t do. Dr. Novacek is on a mission to change that. She believes that you should be able to perform basic maintenance on yourself while taking an active role in your rehabilitation and performance enhancement. She has a passion for finding the root cause of an issue. 

When not working or working out, she enjoys an active lifestyle with her husband Steve and their daughter Gabby, going for walks, biking, paddle boarding, and playing on the beautiful Minnesota lakes.

Education and Credentials

  • Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Mary in Bismarck, ND, 2013
  • Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, MN, 2004
  • Kinesio Taping Specialist (K1, K2, K3)
  • Smart Tools Certified (IASTM)
  • Functional Dry Needling® (FDN) Level 1

Steve Novacek

Steve Novacek, PTA

Owner, COO

Steve is a coach, physical therapist assistant, educator, and co-founder of Optimal Function Physical Therapy and Wellness, while keeping everything working behind the scenes.

Steve was born and raised in Buffalo, MN and moved back in 2016 with his wife and daughter after a 15 year career in collegiate volleyball coaching. Through their travels, Steve and his family realized there truly is “no place like home”. After many discussions and much reflection, Steve still wanted to be part of training people, continue being able to make a difference in someone’s life, and have the benefit of helping people enjoy life to the fullest, so he returned to school to become a Physical Therapist Assistant. 

Steve also continues to have the desire to coach so he became a CrossFit – Level 1 trainer and primarily works with the Teen program through Hotova CrossFit. Through coaching and realizing his passion, Steve continues to learn about the human body, how it is supposed to move and how to help someone if a move is painful or if their movements are potentially harmful. With Steve’s coaching background he has a great talent at finding faulty mechanics and helping people fix those faults. 

Steve specializes in sports rehab, strength training, and injury prevention. He is also a great PTA as he has learned a lot about the human body through schooling and hands on training. Other than sports rehab, Steve enjoys spinal mobilizations, gentle joint distractions and getting joints to slide, glide and roll how they are supposed to along with stretching and strengthening. 

Steve has a deep-seated belief that the body has an amazing ability to heal itself from most health problems through movement and nutrition. 

When not working or working out in the CrossFit gym, you can find Steve enjoying an active lifestyle with his wife Mariel and daughter Gabby, boating, water skiing, snow skiing, and hanging out with friends and family.

Education and Credentials

  • A.S. Physical Therapist Assistant, Rasmussen College, 2018
  • M.S. Sports Administration, St. Cloud State University, 2007
  • B.S. Physical Education and Health Education, minor in Coaching, 2005
  • CF-L1

The Optimal Function Physical Therapy and Wellness Difference 

With experience ranging from corporate physical therapy centers to the mat of the CrossFit gym, we have seen it all, and we know what works for our clients. We are excited to be back in our hometown of Buffalo to offer whole-body treatment to eliminate pain and help your body function the way it was meant to function. 

We never look at a person in pieces, but instead take the time to get to know each of our clients, their lifestyles, and their pain points so we can get to the root cause of any physiological problem and find a long-term solution. 

Cash-Based Model

to Provide Better Treatment

In order to treat the whole person, we need the freedom to spend enough time with each client. By providing a cash-based model, we can create our own rules for how we work with you.

What the Cash-Based Model Means

Each time you come to Optimal Function Physical Therapy and Wellness for treatment, you will know exactly how much your service costs. We never try to hide costs from you or add on surprise charges. 

Instead of providing an insurance card, you will pay us at the time of service. Without directly involving the insurance company, we can work with you one-on-one and provide our professional recommendations for treatment. Since we do not have so many administrative costs, your treatment will sometimes cost less than it would if you paid through your insurance.

A lot of insurance companies will even reimburse you for part or all of your physical therapy sessions. We also provide itemized bills that you can send to your insurance company, and we will help you however we can with this process. At this time, we are not providing physical therapy specific services to patients with Medicare, Medicaid, and some HMOs, however, you are welcome to inquire about our wellness services. 
Our clients only come in for the number of appointments they need instead of scheduling appointments to fill a quota set by a third party.

What the Cash-Based Model Does not Mean

You do not have to pay for your sessions with cash. While we do accept actual cash, we also take checks, a credit/debit card, or your FSA or HSA card.

In most instances, you may also personally file for reimbursement from your insurance. We are able to help you with this process as needed. 

Cash-based treatment does not mean you will pay more for your physical therapy. In fact, long-term cash-based treatment often comes out less expensive than paying through a third-party payer (like an insurance company).

Please contact us to learn more about our cash-based model.