What goes bump in the night

In Features, Sports /

By Signa Butler

It’s two hours before tip-off and Jennifer Collins, the athletic therapist for Ryerson’s women’s basketball team, is making sure she has everything she needs to get her athletes ready to play. She sifts through her boxy black medical bag making sure it’s stocked with Vaseline, massage lotion, scissors, tensor wraps, and lots of tape. Then she scoops ice into the mini-cooler, fastens on her emergency fanny pack, and waits for her first player to come into the athletic therapy clinic.

If Ryerson athletes have any bruises, sprains or tears from the perils of sport, they head to the clinic beside Kerr Gym on the second floor of West Kerr Hall. Inside the clinic’s baby blue wall, two therapists and five student interns administer TLC with a good sense of humour.

Collins makes sure the queens of the court are ready to play in every practice and every game. Her day starts with 8 a.m. classes at Sheridan College in Oakville and ends around 10 p.m. after basketball practice is over at Ryerson.

“Jen puts in extra hours that she doesn’t even need to put in,” says second-year guard Eva Ain. “She’s the best trainer we’ve ever had.”

First-year centre Mandi-May Bond is the first player in the clinic. While Collins helps her stretch out on the floor mats, other players file into the clinic for taping or a light massage.

For the next hour, Collins casts ankles in tape and stretches out backs one ofter another. The calloused feet, swollen joints and bruised pieces of flesh don’t seem to phase her. In all, she treats nine of 13 women on the team even before warmup begins.

Today, in a light-hearted moment, therapist Brett Nagata tosses a small rubber frisbee over to colleague Andy Romanelli. Normally, these “frisbees” are pads used on patients to relieve pain and swelling.

There’s nothing wrong with an occasional game of catch, or teasing an athlete. Therapists are serious about their work, but they also take the time to make their patients comfortable.

“We like to have a friendly atmosphere [at the clinic],” says head therapist Geoff Harrison. “The athletes that come in are already down because of their injury, so why make it a place where they don’t enjoy themselves?”

But don’t ask the therapists about the worst injuries they’ve ever seen. You’ll get the crew comparing the most grotesque situations emaginable. Deep wounds, dislocated shoulders and kneecaps, spinal injuries — just name it and they’ve seen it.

“One time this guy was hit and his ankle broke in two different directions,” one therapist says while crossing his fingers to illustrate the fracture.

“That’s a good one, but once I saw this player being carried off after being sandwiched in football. From he knee down, his leg was swinging like a pendulum,” responds another.

While the therapists enjoy this injury forum, their patients cringe at the details. “I guess you need to have a stomach for some of this stuff,” says Romanelli.

As the girls filter out of the therapy room, Collins hoists her 25 pound medical luggage over her shoulder, and grabs the mini-cooler. It’s game time.

Collins sits at the end of the bench and watches the game as intently as any other coach or player. In the split second when an athlete gets injured, she has to be able to pinpoint the area that’s hurt. But, thankfully it’s a quiet night in the gym. Collins only has to snap on the latex gloves for a small cut on a player’s knee (therapists are required to wear gloves when dealing with blood). Ryerson beats York and that means less work for Collins.

“They don’t feel the hurt as much when they win. The pain always feels worse when you lose,” she says.

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