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Athletes of every age and every skill level want to be on the field and not sitting on the sidelines watching. Sometimes an injury will keep them there and that’s when they rely on working with an athletic therapist to get them back into the game. For Nipissing Lakers athletes, one of those therapists is Mackenzie Daley.
“I was always athletic, played on every team that I could, but was never particularly strong in one sport that I could say ‘I’m going to do that professionally or at the Olympic level,’” says Daley.
“That used to be a goal of mine, to one day get to the Olympics. I realized that I could potentially do that in a different avenue, such as coaching or some sort of support staff position. I ended up taking Bachelor of Physical Health and Education at Nipissing University.”
It was part way through her third year of that program when she began working with the soccer and volleyball teams as a student trainer. Daley says she took a liking to that right away and a professor steered her towards athletic therapy
“At the time, I didn’t know what athletic therapy was. I went home that night, did some research and realized that’s exactly what I wanted to do.”
She finished her undergrad degree at Nipissing University and then graduated with an Advanced Certificate of Athletic Therapy from Mount Royal.
“Within that program, you learn about the different progressions that you have to take someone through,” says Daley.
“If they need to get back to a sport that involves running, they would need to be able to walk, jog, single leg balance – they teach you that kind of specific progression, but it’s the part where they get closer to returning to sport where you have that bigger freedom to just make things up and make things specific to whatever it is that athlete needs.”
Daley says it’s that flexibility and freedom within this field of work that she enjoys and working directly with athletes pushed that passion.
“I had done a couple of placements in outpatient clinics and I noticed a big concern with compliance. So, the patient would not be getting better as fast as what I had felt they should be, based on their injuries. But when I started working with athletes as a student trainer, I realized that demographic wanted to get back to 100% as fast as they could, and they were dedicated to their rehab program,” Daley says.
Daley says since becoming an athletic therapist it’s been very rewarding to see people go through that process.
“I say this to all of the student trainers that I mentor now, ‘all you need to know is how the body moves, and you can make up how to get the athlete back to that level.’ You don’t always have to follow a specific protocol for exercises. If you know that an athlete must land on a single leg when they catch a ball, you know that they need a balancing type of activity in that recovery. So, you can create that activity anyway you want within that rehab program. It makes it fun.”
Daley has been with Nipissing University since 2015 as a Certified Athletic Therapist in the school’s athletics department and is also a part-time instructor in the School of Physical and Health Education.
She says being on the sidelines of the OUA games is one of the perks of her job.
“Most of my job is in the clinic in treating, rehabbing and assessing, athletes that get injured and getting them back onto the field, however, one of my favourite parts about this job , is getting to be on the sidelines of the OUA games the Nipissing Lakers play,” says Daley.
“It’s interesting because you want to watch the game and follow the ball or follow the puck, but in reality, you’re going from wherever the play is and then staying behind and watching what has just happened. If someone is going to get hurt, they are not going to continue going toward wherever the ball or the puck is going, they are going to stay where the play was.”
Daley says an athletic therapist is always scanning to see if they missed something, or if someone is not getting up.
“You really have to have eyes everywhere,” she says.
“Sometimes a game will end, and I’ll know whether our team has won or not, but I will have no idea what the score was because I’m not paying attention to that aspect of the game as much as a spectator is.”
Daley says depending on the sport, there is a different level of assessment you can make on a player that might be injured.
“In volleyball, you can pull a player to the side and there is always extra gym or hallway space where you can have them run or jump. That mid-game field assessment for sports that don’t involve ice is a little bit longer because you have time to ask them questions such as ‘did you feel any pop or snap, do they feel any instability?’” says Daley.
“If they answer no to any of those things, you can rule out fractures and then you can get them into that progressive type of activity. A general rule is that they need to be able to do all the things they would do in a game, but on the sideline without pain or discomfort.”
Daley says hockey is the most difficult sport in which to do this, due to the lack of ice surface available for an injured player.
“You just have to have a little conversation where you are looking for specific buzzwords about how the athlete feels,” says Daley.
“It’s great at Nipissing because I can have a relationship with the athletes, and I see them not just once a week at games, so being able to know their personalities certainly helps in those conversations.”
Daley says the day-to-day work of an athletic therapist can result in long hours, depending on whether there is a game being played.
“The clinic would be open in the morning around 8:30 or 9 am, but on a game day we’d open later to give that flexibility. We would treat a few athletes that aren’t playing or some that need some last-minute adjustments before their game later that evening,” says Daley.
“Then there is a bit of a lull where we prepare whatever game we are working on, so setting up the bench for basketball or volleyball or if we are doing hockey, we’ll head to Memorial Gardens. About two hours to an hour and a half before the game is when athletes will come in for their pregame preparations. So that’s when they’ll do some pregame stretching or taping or wrapping. Then they head out and get ready for the game and that is really the slowest time for us because all that prep work is done. Ideally the game is actually nice and quiet for us and we just get to be a spectator, but sometimes it gets a bit busy.”
Daley says they also rely on other first aid trained personnel to make sure they can do their jobs.
“We also always have supporting staff that work with us at those games. At a home game we’ll have a student trainer, and at hockey we have Dr. Rotondo and Wayne Eyre who is our team trainer.”
Daley, who loves her career at Nipissing University, says if you enjoy helping people, then this a great profession for you.
“It is difficult at the beginning when you are looking to build that client base. Depending on where you’re working you will have to build that yourself; I’m lucky that I get my clientele basically given to me by working at the university,” says Daley.
“It takes dedication and hard work and determination to get through those difficult early years. Most athletic therapy jobs are not full-time gigs based in one place, it’s bits and pieces added along the way. The early you know about wanting to do this, the better because there are only eight schools in Canada that offer this as a full four-year undergrad degree.”
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