There are over a dozen Sea to Sky athletes heading to the Olympics to represent Canada, but they aren't the only corridor residents who will be hard at work in Sochi.
Mike Conway and Therese Leigh from Whistler's Back in Action Physiotherapy will be joining the para-snowboard cross and ski cross teams as official team physiotherapists.
“It's a little bit different at the Games because you're not only working with the athletes that you're normally working with, but you go as part of a core health team,” said Leigh. “So you may... be called upon to work on other athletes as well. We're there with other therapists, coaches and athletes and some of the other teams don't have physios travelling with them.”
Both Conway and Leigh are have experience working with competitive teams, having been contracted during the Vancouver 2010 Games and regularly travelling with the Canadian Ski Cross team on the World Cup circuit.
“We do work as a team,” said Leigh. “Mike (Conway), Bianca (Matheson), Lisa Kudla and myself, all four of us are integral to working with that (ski cross) group. We share similar skill sets so that makes it possible to rotate.”
Though Conway and Leigh do not travel with the teams full time, they enjoy taking a break from a clinical setting to be on the road with their athletes. “Most people like a bit of a change in their environment, just to hit the refresh button,” said Conway. “At the same time, it's not a bad thing travelling on someone else's dime to a resort that you wouldn't otherwise visit.”
But such breaks from the clinic could hardly be considered a holiday. Athlete injuries inevitably occur during both training and competition with the workload rarely letting up.
“It's hard work no question,” said Conway.“Your days are really, really long and there's some stressful parts to it. Whenever we travel with the ski cross team there's usually something bad that happens, it's just the nature of that sport.”
Leigh was assigned to attend the ski cross team during the Sochi Olympics and Conway was asked to join the para-snowboard cross team after treating several of the athletes and their coach at Back in Action. Conway said his Master's degree was a factor in him being selected, but it was as much the relationships he built up after working with the team over the last year as it was his education.
“At the end of the day, it really comes down to personality,” he said. “Above all else it really is your relationship with the coaches and athletes.”
Leigh has had similar experiences over the last 10 years working with Alpine Canada teams and travelling all over the world. “You're on the road for a long period of time," he said. "When I was full time with (Alpine Canada), I travelled 280 days a year. As a physio, you're in the middle. The athletes will discuss many things with you when you're treating their injuries and the coaches are always looking from (their) perspective. You need to stay unbiased. Our job is to make sure the athletes get what they want. That's the biggest part of going to the Games.”
After a pre-training camp in Whistler Feb. 3 to 6, Leigh and the ski cross team will depart for Europe, arriving in Sochi on Feb. 11. Conway will join the para-snowboard cross team for the start of the Paralympics on March 3.