In the world of sport, few occupations are more important to a team and its players than that of the certified athletic therapist (AT), yet the work of most ATs rarely goes recognized or lauded.
June is National Athletic Therapy Month and in recognition of those unheralded but hard-working ATs, the Times spoke with Trail Smoke Eaters AT Angie Hurley who joined the team last season and quickly embraced the Smoke Eaters culture and city.
“When you grow up and you’re part of the team, you just love being part of the team,” says Hurley. “So it’s being able to stay an athlete without being an athlete, just staying in that team environment and having 20 little brothers to take care of.
“It’s an exciting time, and I’m so excited to be part of the (Smoke Eater) organization right now.”
In addition to her AT certification, the Camosun College graduate also has a degree in kinesiology from Memorial University in St. John’s, Nfld., and strength and conditioning certification. As an athletic therapist, Hurley’s duties are multifaceted, but vital to the team’s performance, and its individual and collective health.
“I do prevention, assessment, rehab of all injuries, all the clinical side of things as well, which a lot of people in town don’t really see,” said Hurley. “They see me on the bench, so I do all the emergency care stuff out there and afterwards too during the week I’m responsible to make sure I put them all back together. Timelines are important and you have to do everything you can to get the guys back on the ice.”
The Smoke Eaters hired Hurley in mid-November, and for Head of Hockey and Business Operations, Craig Clare, the addition of the young therapist has been a refreshing and positive presence to the team.
“It’s been great,” said Clare. “She has a great relationship with the players, a good sense of humour, and a hard worker. She is a big part of the team.”
But the role of athletic therapist has taken on even more weight with new concussion protocol being implemented by the BCHL this season. Testing of all new players is mandatory, and rigorous attention to concussion protocol can make all the difference in a player’s career and future health.
“With injury prevention, and especially with concussions, that’s a big thing around the league,” said Clare. “To try to prevent concussions, and in the case when they do (sustain one) is to go through the correct steps that get them onto the ice safe and at the right time. It’s not as quick as it can be, but it’s at the right time so they won’t get that second and third concussion – then you start seeing the real effects of multiple concussions down the road.”
Before coming to Trail, Hurley worked with the Carleton University football team, but also has experience treating rowers, golfers, field hockey, soccer and rugby players. Every sport is different and the types of injury and treatment vary but for Hurley, it’s what makes her job interesting.
“That (football) was a different speed, and different size of boy,” said Hurley. “I worked hockey before but it was a bit of an adjustment to come back after football and kind of get back into the groove of hockey.”
Many people only see the therapists in action when the ATs come onto the field or ice to treat an injured player. But they are also responsible for preventing injuries before they happen, which means everything from diet and nutrition and strength training, to having a game plan before the team goes onto the playing surface. Hurley will even check out the boards when she goes for a skate to make sure nothing is sticking out or unsafe for the players.
“It’s about being prepared, and having that plan in place, so as soon as that plan is in place it takes out a lot of the unknowns,” said Hurley. “So when I get on the bench I have an emergency action plan in place. I have signals for who is going to call if something happens or whose going to come assist me, that’s already laid out. It takes a lot of the question marks out of that situation.”
Athletic therapy, however, is not reserved solely for elite athletes. Anyone can access ATs and get advice on prevention, education about lifestyle choices, or physical therapy.
“Our new tagline is ‘Whatever your finish line,’” said Hurley. “We work with pro athletes, we work with the Jr. A athletes, who are going big places we hope, and then we also work with everyday Joes, the weekend warrior, and – we call them- industrial athletes – so for people at Teck and manual jobs all fall under stuff that we’d be able to help them out with.”
That’s the idea behind the Canadian Athletic Therapists Association’s (CATA) National Athletic Therapy Month. It’s an annual reminder that everyone can benefit from the expertise of Canada’s ATs.
By declaring, “We are all athletes,” CATA hopes to educate Canadians who have sustained an injury to their muscles, bones, or joints that an AT can help get them back to work and play.
“While we’re primarily known for our role in helping athletes recover from injury faster and achieve peak performance, our skills can be used to help anyone with an injury,” said Richard DeMont, President of CATA. “Whether you’re a weekend golfer an avid gardener, or a busy soccer mom, moving without pain or discomfort is an important part of our overall health and well being.”
For the Trail Smoke Eaters, the upgrade to its facilities, including a new AT office and treatment space at the Trail Memorial Centre, can only help improve how effective Hurley can be when it comes to preventing injury, improving strength, and preparing young players for a bright future.
“I try to give these guys as much independence as I can,” said Hurley. “Try to teach them to be independent and take care of themselves, so that when they do go somewhere else, they are not a burden on their ATs, they’re responsible and they’re ready to go.”