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An interview of three physios at the Olympic Games by Susan Czyzo (Bachelor of Physical Education and Health, Master of Science in Physical Therapy)

The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, perhaps the most nervously anticipated Games in recent times, are only weeks away. Many physiotherapists, at one point or another, regardless of where our passion lies within the profession, have thought about what it would be like to be a physio at the Games. Well here is a little look into the experiences of three such physios.

Lois Pohlod, BSc(PT), Sport Physiotherapist, K-Taping Canada Instructor – Calgary, CANADA
Sydney Paralympic Games 2000 – Goalball
Athens Olympic Games 2004 – Diving
Vancouver Olympic Games 2010 – Host Medical Team
Rio Olympic Games 2016 – Chief Therapist Canada; synchronized swimming, equestrian

Duncan Reid, DHSc, FNZCP, Associate Professor and Associate Dean of Health, Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences AUT University – Auckland, NEW ZEALAND
Seoul Olympic Games 1988 – All athletes
Barcelona Olympic Games 1992 – Chief Therapist NZ
Atlanta Olympic Games 1996 – Chief Therapist NZ
Sydney Olympic Games 2000 – Rowing, swimming, field hockey

Dinah Hampson, BA, BScPT, FCAMPT, Dip Sport Physiotherapy, Dip Manual and Manipulative Physiotherapy, Certified IMS Practitioner – Toronto, CANADA
Beijing Paralympic Games 2008 – Sailing
Rio Olympic Games – Fencing, sailing, tae kwon do, canoe/kayak



Describe the extent of your experience in sports physio prior to working at the Games.

Lois: Local running and triathlon races, provincial teams, Developmental Games (Canada Games, World University Games x 3, World Police Games), Hockey Canada (U-22 & senior team), Commonwealth Games x 2, Pan American Games x 2

Duncan: Rugby, rowing and athletics locally and nationally (NZ) 1984-88

Dinah: Local sports teams, provincial gymnastics and ultimate frisbee championships, national championships (various sports), Canada Summer and Winter Games, FISU Summer and Winter Games, Youth Olympic Games, Special Olympics World Winter Games, Pan American Games x 2

Describe how you got involved with these teams in the first place.

Lois: My children played ice-hockey so I started with the local teams then progressed to the provincial followed by the national level. For diving, I was first assigned to the team for the Pan American Games, followed by the Commonwealth Games, World Championships then the Olympics. With goalball, my involvement began with the Paralympic Games.

Dinah: I would ask my patients if they needed coverage for their team/sport or would look for postings through the provincial Sport Physiotherapy body.

What do you enjoy the most about being a sports physio?

Lois: The challenge of keeping the athletes fit and in the game and being an important part of the success of the team.

Duncan: Being part of a team that helps athletes win on a world stage.

Dinah: It’s fun; I get to travel and stay active.

What’s the most challenging part about being a sports physio?

Lois: Making the decision to remove someone from play, especially at important competitions, then telling the athlete that their injury will prevent them from competing.

Duncan: Travel and being away from family, long hours of work, and no remuneration (in the early days) from being away from your own business.

Dinah: Getting older while the athletes always stay the same age.

What, if anything, has surprised you about being a sports physio?

Lois: How important it is to be in the right place at the right time to get the opportunities – the opportunity isn’t always given to the most qualified.

Duncan: The extremes of the demands of athletes – one end has athletes that are grateful for any small amount of help you provide; other end has those that demand everything all the time. Often the latter are the poorest performers; too reliant and less resilient.

Dinah: The emotional attachment to the athlete’s I work with. I experience their successes and failures like a parent would with their child.

What was the process you had to go through to become a physio for the Games?

Dinah: (2008-2016) Canada requires you to have a Diploma of Sport Physiotherapy. Once you have achieved this Diploma, you are awarded points for the sports coverage you complete. The more you do, the higher up the ranking you go.

Lois: (2000-2016) Applications for the Olympic Games are done through Sport Physiotherapy Canada. SPC ranks the applications then recommendations are made to the Canadian Olympic Committee selection group. For Chief Therapists, there is an application and interview process. There must be previous experience at an international level at Games and World Championships, not necessarily with one sport.

Duncan: (1988-2000) In the late 80’s the process involved submitting a CV and having an interview.

What preparation did you have to do prior to traveling to the Games?

Lois: There is a 4-day orientation session called TOPS (Team Operation and Preparation Seminar) held a few months prior to the Games, bringing all mission staff together to review layout of the Games, timelines, logistics, clinic set-up, etc. Medical staff are also invited to the Olympic Excellence Series for information and networking.

Duncan: Pre-Olympic team meetings to discuss: hosting country, language and expectations of the team; behaviour, professionalism, expected team numbers; the pressure points looking after the team, logistics of travel, accommodation and accreditation.

What did physio at the Olympics involve?

Lois: Diving/Goal Ball – manual therapy, massage, taping, acupuncture.

Duncan: Everything. Massage, manual therapy, strapping, first aid, warm-up and warm down procedures, as well as moral and psychological support. Covered all the venues.

Dinah: Sports massage, manual therapy, first aid bandaging, exercise programming.

What was your physio time commitment while at the Games?

Lois: 10-16 hours per day, 7 days a week for 1 month.

Duncan: 8am to midnight daily for the duration of the Games.

Dinah: 24/7 for a month.

As a physio at the Games, did you work in isolation or did you have close contact with others from the medical team?

Lois: Always worked as part of the healthcare team. There is a lot of opportunity to work with other health care team members and consult, socialize, etc.

Duncan: We all worked as a team, we were too small of a team to work in isolation.

Dinah: Mostly in isolation as sailing was held at a satellite location.

Did you have a chance to interact with medical staff from other countries? If so, do you recall any memorable experiences (positive or negative)?

Lois: The diving community is small so there is a lot of exchange of ideas between therapists. At the Commonwealth Games, I worked with Team Uganda, teaching them K-Taping. It was fun to share this skill with another country. I will most likely work with the Ugandan therapists in Rio to progress their skills and knowledge.

Duncan: Yes, mostly at the venues. I have made many firm friends. These experiences are always positive. New Zealand physios are well-trained so other countries often seek us out to see what we offer with athlete management.

Dinah: Super positive! I have friends around the world because of the interactions at the Games.

Did you learn anything about the sport you covered that surprised you?

Lois: Diving – the force of the impact to divers as they hit the water from the 10M tower and how this can result in wrist and neck injuries.

Duncan: Every sport is different in its systems and support. Some (e.g., rowing) are very professional, well-supported and achieve consistently. Some of the smaller sports (e.g., wrestling, Tae Kwon Do, Fencing) have no support, no funding, and no medical support. They get a real surprise to see what medical and physio support can offer.

Dinah: Sailing regattas take place over a period of time and results are based on a combined score. There are weather people who inform you of the weather conditions specific to a particular sport.

Was your Olympic experience what you expected it to be?

Lois: Yes, we were all prepared with TOPS (see above).

Duncan: Yes and more. Life changing to see and be part of a NZ athlete winning on the world stage, not to mention seeing all the other superstars of world sport!

Dinah: My expectations are always met because I expect to adapt to whatever is provided. Accommodations, food and transport change every time. Sometimes things are comfortable, sometimes they are cramped, sometimes the food is great and sometimes it’s granola bars. You just go and adapt; that’s part of the fun.

What have been your most memorable experiences at the Games?

Lois: The interactions with the other health care providers – great learning experience as well as making new personal and professional friendships.

Duncan: Watching all the Kiwis win medals. I was particularly close to Rob Waddell as his physio when he won gold – amazing guy and so humble. This is often a trait of great athletes.

Dinah: I love the cafeteria – it’s the only place where people from around the world come together to do exactly the same thing at exactly the same time – like eat breakfast.

What advice do you have for physios who want to work at the Olympics? Or in sport in general?

Lois: In Canada, become a part of Sports Physiotherapy Canada and work with the many great mentors in the system. Gain as much experience at the local/provincial levels, working up to the national/international levels. Take the opportunities that become available to you and be willing to learn from the more experienced medical providers, regardless of their profession.

Duncan: Get involved at a junior level, get good qualifications and be prepared to work hard so you are ready when the very small number of places come up. Also, get mentored by one of the current Olympic physios so you know what is required. It is no holiday!

Dinah: You need a huge tool box of skill because every sport has slightly different injuries and therapy needs. You don’t really know what sport you’re going to get when you apply for a Games so you have to be ready to see whatever sport/athlete/injury walks through the door. Be kind. Be generous. Work hard and enjoy what comes. Stay behind the scenes and let the athletes lead the way.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your Games experience(s)?

Lois: Though there has been very little financial compensation for this work, the experience has added to my skills as a clinical practitioner, and has made my career very exciting!

Dinah: It’s the best goosebumps ride you’ll ever take.

If you’re going to Rio as a physio, what are you looking forward to? Is there anything you may be nervous about?

Lois: Looking forward to being a part of a great health care team for Canada and providing ‘the best in class’ service to the athletes and mission team. Somewhat nervous about the problems in Rio – crime, health issues…but we have been given a great deal of information about the situation and should be fine. Go Canada!

Dinah: Every Games is different. Sometimes I worry about things not being good but if I go with an open attitude and just take things as they come, I think it will be amazing!

Special thanks to Lois, Duncan and Dinah for sharing their experiences. May you return with more fabulous experiences from Rio. Bring on the Games!