The 'team behind the teams' stays busy during the pandemic

(L to R): StFX Athletic Therapists Tara Sutherland, Diane Ouimet and Babila Mohanarajan
(L to R): StFX Athletic Therapists Tara Sutherland, Diane Ouimet and Babila Mohanarajan

Story courtesy of Sophie Hadley

Athletics at StFX is a point of pride for many Xaverians and those in our community. It is obvious at every Homecoming, when numerous alumni return for football games, and more recently in 2019, as we championed the X-Women Rugby team as the feature for the traditional Saturday afternoon Homecoming game.

On game day however, as we watch the athletes on the field, many of us take for granted the work that goes into ensuring these athletes remain safe in their sport. Some of you may recall hearing the familiar cry of "trainer, trainer, trainer!" being echoed across the field when a player remains down for an extended period of time. The people who rush onto the field to aid these players also deserve a round of applause, as they are constantly behind the scenes, ensuring that players remain physically safe and game ready. These people are athletic therapists.

The 'Team Behind the Teams' is lead by long-time Head Athletic Therapist and Human Kinetics instructor Tara Sutherland. Sutherland first came to StFX in the summer of 1996 where she then spent just over 22 years in a small 400 square foot therapy room. A new therapy clinic opened in 2019 with the ongoing StFX Saputo Centre facility renewal program. The new space has two fully equipped private exam rooms, five treatment tables, eight taping tables, three tubs, an ice machine, fridge, and two pairs of washer and dryers, compared to the previous space with only tubs and three tables for treatment and taping.

Sutherland notes, "The new room is a luxury to me and even though it is very nice to be in our new facility, the small room brought many wonderful athletes and people through the doors and many memories for me, my staff, and my students."

These fond memories are not just for Tara, as I've spoken with many former student therapists who were trained and began their new roles in that very tiny room. With the new facilities, and the room for a greater capacity of athletes and therapists, there will be no doubt be a new generation who will have fond memories of their time in Athletics and the athletic therapy program.

The athletic therapy program has the support of a few doctors within the community, including Dr. David Cudmore and Dr. Alison McGlashan who have been kind to assist, and without whom Sutherland says it would be much more difficult to care for athletes. As it stands, the StFX athletic therapy team consists of three certified Athletic Therapists including Sutherland, along with Diane Ouimet and Babila Mohanarajan. Under their supervision and guidance are numerous student therapists. Sutherland says, "I try to stress how important these students are to myself and my staff, and especially to the student-athletes. They are a crucial part of our program and their respective teams."

Student therapists are chosen both through grades, which Sutherland says is the most important aspect of the evaluation, as well as practical skills. The minimum course requirement to apply to be a student therapist is Human Kinetics 222. Once chosen to participate in the program, it is understood that you will be dedicating an additional 20-30 hours a week on top of your schoolwork. Teams are assigned a student therapist based upon need, preference, and best fit.

Current student therapist Allie Scott, was assigned to both women's and men's hockey this year. Scott, who has played hockey since she was seven years old, says that her understanding of the sport definitely helps make her job as a therapist feel more enjoyable. She notes that athletic therapy has shown her "how you can still be a huge part of the team while not playing the sport." Scott will be continuing on with her BSc Human Kinetics degree next year, and she hopes that the athletic therapy program will remain part of her journey at StFX.

The program itself has gone through its own challenges this academic year due to the pandemic. Masks must be worn of course, and the team is following all other Nova Scotia Public Health guidelines. The therapy team has also suffered due to the loss of games, but teams have been practicing regularly so the therapists still have a lot to do. Sutherland notes that many of the students have "taken on major roles in screening and contact tracing for athletes."

As always, the safety of the general student body, including the student-athletes is of the utmost importance, and the team has been following protocols and pitching in where they can to help with the transition. 'The Team Behind the Teams' is a warm reminder that there is a great deal of work being done behind the scenes to make what we love, see and do here at X possible. During the pandemic, I think it is important to appreciate all the extra work that is done, and to remember that everyday there is more going on than what we can see ourselves.

For anyone who is thinking of applying to the therapy program, just know that it comes highly recommended, and there are plenty of people on campus who would love to chat with you about the possibility.