The somber side of sports

Countless Gaels athletes have been sent for rehab at the ARC after major injuries cut their seasons short

Athletic therapist James Sawchuk works on track and field athlete Shane Kelly at the Athletic Therapy department.
Athletic therapist James Sawchuk works on track and field athlete Shane Kelly at the Athletic Therapy department.
Photo: 
Vicky Wiltshire, head of the Athletic Therapy department, said that the clinic is busy all year with injuries as the Gaels train throughout the seasons.
Vicky Wiltshire, head of the Athletic Therapy department, said that the clinic is busy all year with injuries as the Gaels train throughout the seasons.
Photo: 
Fourth-year wing Christine Wallace suffered a tough injury in an exhibition match against the McGill Martlets.
Fourth-year wing Christine Wallace suffered a tough injury in an exhibition match against the McGill Martlets.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

Injuries hit Queen’s athletes hard this year. The men’s volleyball team had to cope with the absence of key veteran players all year, the men’s soccer team often struggled to field an 18-man roster and the men’s hockey team watched a parade of forwards join the disabled list. This continued throughout the year as athletes from many other teams fought to stay healthy.

Athletes sidelined by injuries are faced with a unique set of challenges. Most of them will tell you that there is nothing worse than being stuck in street clothes while their team competes. The inability to compete physically, combined with the psychological pressures of not contributing to the team, makes for a very unpleasant experience.

Dan Rosenbaum, a fourth-year player on the men’s volleyball team, spent most of 2010 struggling to combat a nagging hip problem. After surgery last April, he faced a long recovery process, and missed much of the season. Rosenbaum explained the long road to recovery.

“It was a tough time. Having had surgery last spring, I wasn’t sure about the timeline for recovery,” he said. “I had expected to be ready for the start of the season, but in hindsight, that was not really a reasonable expectation.”

The desire to get healthy and return to the team can lead athletes to push themselves too hard and too quickly. Rosenbaum said an impatience to rejoin the squad only led to further setbacks to the recovery process.

“I suffered from trying to return too quickly,” he said. “It was a stupid mistake because I had been told not to rush back into things. But I struggled so much with figuring out whether it was good to push forward or step back.”

Many athletes with long-term injuries must also learn to embrace new roles on their teams. Sara Buckham, co-captain of the women’s soccer team, missed an entire season because of an ACL injury. She said that her challenge this year was figuring out new ways to help her team succeed.

“Being injured was especially hard, because I have always been so used to contributing on the field,” she said. “So this year, it was all about finding a new niche on the team. Even though I wasn’t being a leader in the way that I have been in the past, I worked hard to find a new role off the field.”

They may not be competing with their teams but injured players are not exactly on holiday. Buckham’s season did not end with a gold medal in PEI last November; instead, she was only just getting into a long recovery process.

“I got started on the rehab program in September, after the knee surgery,” Buckham said. “After two weeks on crutches, I started off with physiotherapy to get a range of motion, and then moved to a strength program. They say that it takes six to nine months to come back, and I’m coming up on five months now.”

The masterminds behind the recovery process reside in the Athletic Therapy department, where Vicky Wiltshire heads a group of professionals and students. The staff consists of three certified athletic therapists, a physiotherapist, a registered massage therapist and 43 student trainers, all of whom work hard to look after athletes.

Brendan Irish, KIN ’11, has been the student trainer for the men’s rugby team for the past two seasons.

“I have had a very positive experience with the program,” said Irish. “Vicky, James [Sawchuk] and Dave [Ross] are exceptional outlets to go to. They teach you a lot, and they also let you figure things out for yourself. It’s a real asset to have the opportunity to work with teams, as it provides great hands-on experience.”

The Athletic Therapy program has continued to evolve in the past few years, and this means that student trainers now undergo an extensive and varied amount of preparation.

“I did a year of training in second year, before I started working with the rugby team,” he said. “I took an athletic injuries course. I met with the other student trainers on a weekly basis to go over additional concepts, and I shadowed current trainers at the time.

In September, Queen’s Athletics started a partnership with the Kinesiology program, and student trainers can now earn an academic credit from their work. Wiltshire explained that this new option has opened the door to many more students.

“In the past, student trainers have only worked for an honorarium,” said Wiltshire. “Now, Physical Education and Kinesiology students can earn a half credit of field placement, and a half credit of clinic placement.”

These days, all the varsity teams have wrapped up their seasons. But that doesn’t mean the Athletic Therapy department closes up shop. The therapy room at the ARC is still bustling with activity.

“It is still quite busy now, there really is no off season,” Wiltshire said. “All the teams train through the year, so we don’t really see a decline in numbers. There are always injuries.”

Based on this year’s injuries, Wiltshire is correct. Injuries are a part of sport, and pose challenges to athletes in various in physical and psychological ways.

Michelle Waintraub of the women’s soccer team has overcome a major knee injury, but explains that it still remains in the back of her mind.

“A major injury is a real mental burden,” Waintraub said. “I am still a bit more careful in practice, especially when I feel my knee hurt. I am as recovered as post-ACL surgery players can be, but it’s always going to hurt a bit. There is always some pain you have to push through.”

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