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What is an Athletic Therapist?

Elite Sports Medicine's Dr. Galbraith interviews the athletic therapist for the Lethbridge Hurricanes, Marty Palechuk. They chat about what an athletic therapist is and their role with the team, some of the training it takes to become one and Marty give some tips to up and coming hockey players on optimizing performance. You can view the full transcript of the video below. Enjoy!

Mike Galbraith (MG)

Marty Palechuk (MP)

MG: Hey guys, how you doing? Mike Galbraith here, I'm a family and sports medicine physician. I have a special guest today; this is Marty from the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Do you want to say hi Marty?

MP: Hi everyone!

MG: That was great, I thought it would be great since we work with the Lethbridge Hurricanes and see lots of athletes, Marty is a really key part of the medical team for the Lethbridge Hurricanes so we wanted to interview him, we're going to grill him, ask him lots about his job and he's going to inspire us today. No pressure.

MP: Perfect

MG: So first of all, I've got a list of real questions this time. Marty, can you tell us what is an athletic therapist?

MP: So an athletic therapist, I deal with all the medical issues with the hockey team. We do a lot of the rehab, assessment, strength and conditioning and the overall safety of the players on the ice. So I'm the first responder on the ice. I coordinate all the doctors’ appointments, get them into my favourite doc of all time

MG: Where? Oh. But I often think of him and I don't want to put words in your mouth but kind of like the dad of the players, takes care of everything especially medical right.

MP: Exactly, it's kind of a man of many hats but it’s a fun job, you're in the trenches as I call it every day.

MG: So how long have you been with the Hurricanes then?

MP: This is my fourth season with the Hurricanes, fifth year in the Western Hockey League

MG: Four years though, wow time flies

MP: And twentieth season as a trainer

MG: That's crazy, so where did you do your schooling for athletic therapy?

MP: I did my schooling for athletic therapy at the University of Manitoba and I did a previous degree at Augustana in Camrose. So two bachelor degrees and a national certification in athletic therapy.

MG: So maybe, outside of let’s say the Hurricanes, what other types of teams have you worked with and what other types of environments and avenues have you worked as an athletic therapist?

MP: Well hockey has been my passion so I've been fortunate enough to work with many levels of Hockey Canada. I was a student intern with the Manitoba Moose in the American league, I've worked junior A and university and college right down to minor hockey. But I’ve worked track and field, football and a little bit of baseball, anything that there is a sporting event at. Oh and I guess one of the highlights was a cheerleading event that was kind of out of my element but definitely an eye opener. It was pretty crazy and lots of injuries

MG: Ya, cheerleading, fun fact, did you know, one of the most dangerous sports. A lot of serious injuries in cheerleading.

MP: Ya, there was some flips that were coming pretty close to the backboards that were pulled up in the basketball courts. So ya it was high level athletes, I didn't realize it but it was a fun event to work.

MG: So that's one of the cool things I think about the field of athletic therapy is that it's so diverse. You have a great background in medical knowledge especially dealing with injuries and then you can work all over the place, university, minor leagues, professionals, etc. So Marty is with the team, maybe I'll let you explain. But talk a little bit about you're role with the team, what you do on the road, here in Lethbridge, etc.

MP: So a game day, we have a morning skate, we bring players in. Do pre-game stretching, we have a skate that I'm on the bench for. We're making sure that all the first response stuff is available. If there is an injury whether that's practice or a game. myself and another athletic therapist coordinate an emergency action plan that we have various pieces but we want to make things run as smoothly as possible. So that's one of the most important parts of the puzzle. But I travel with the team. I'm dealing with giving updates to the coaches, to the general manager. Relaying information back to the doctors and my medical team here in Lethbridge so we can coordinate stuff on the road to have things run smoothly back here because we want the players off the ice as little as possible. They're a valuable asset on the ice, so that's important. Aside from that, I book all the appointments. We coordinate doctors’ appointments, massage, chiro.

MG: But other than that you're really not that busy. I'm just kidding

MP: 16 to 20 hours is usually minor on most days.

MG: His off season is like two months in the summer, if that

MP: It's awesome. I always say it’s the next best thing to playing, being in the trenches and being with the team. You know that hockey atmosphere is something that I love and have a passion for.

MG: How about maybe two more questions. So maybe one is let’s say you have a young person maybe high school, university they want to be an athletic therapist. What are some things they can do to help them reach that goal?

MP: Well I always say that, you know, volunteer or reach out to medical personnel in the field I've had some great students come through here and I grew up with the learning environment of teams and mentors and I really feel that is the way to start. I'm a big believer of giving back to where you came from and remembering your roots. And you know, hands on experience is second to none. So that's the number one thing. Other thing is, make sure you have a good base in the sciences in high school, and strive for high academics. Because it is competitive to get into the field of athletic therapy or physiotherapy and you know, once that competitive stream happens, they have so many candidates and there is only seven schools in Canada for athletic therapy. And there's usually only 20 to 25 students per program per year. So the people that have the passion are the ones that get far. Because early on you do it for the love and the money comes but you definitely don't do it for a big pay check starting out

MG: Ya, you know it made me think and I apologize this is going back thinking about you're role with the team and things you do with your team, you talked about hands on. You mentioned earlier that you were the first responder so a lot of times, if you're not familiar with athletic therapists if you're watching, let’s say you’re watching an NHL team, maybe you're watching an NFL game and you see an injured athlete down on the ice, down on the field. Usually the first go to person is the athletic therapist and then maybe more athletic therapists and then the one strolling kind of arrogantly might be the doctor. Kind of like if you need me right. Alright, let’s say last question, that was kind of a little side bar sorry. So last question, let’s say you have some up and coming hockey player I don't know maybe 12, 13, 14 years old and you want to give them 3 tips on how to improve just general performance in hockey. That's a big question, but as an athletic therapist, what do you think are like 3 key things to help them reach good performance?

MP: I think flexibility and mobility is key. A lot of players as they grow as an athlete and grow as a person. Their body is catching up with them so body mechanics and that with growth spurts can kind of be awkward. And we run into problems with hip flexor injuries, core injuries and shoulder injuries for the most part. So we want to make sure that flexibility and mobility goes hand in hand and have a good pre and post stretching program is important. Having a good cardio because the pace is at this level and pro is fairly high and the other thing is nutrition and sleep, it's huge it's a 68 game schedule regular season and pre and post tack on so I think they say we travel across Canada 4 times total in the league, there and back on the bus so you have to optimize sleep and nutrition.

MG: So that's interesting that you say that, so Marty didn't know I was going to ask him some of these questions. So I had an athlete in my office yesterday. A 14 year old pretty high level hockey player, big kid. And he spent a lot of time in the gym bulking up but he was easily three times my size. I'm sure he could beat me up in a back alley. But when we were talking about 3 key things to improve his performance, guess what three things we talked about I said, he was tight as a drum so I said number one for him was flexibility and yoga, number two I said nutrition, number three I said sleep. Isn't that interesting and we didn't even know that we were gonna be on the same wavelength

MP: We normally are.

MG: We try to be, that's the goal right. Well Marty thanks so much, appreciate you joining us. Thanks for teaching us

MP: Thanks for having me

MG: We might have him back and we'll grill you some more so thanks for your time and thanks for your time guys. Have a great day.

Check out the following link for all your Lethbridge Hurricanes news, schedules and to buy tickets.

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23. 11. 2023

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