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Summer Olympian reflects on health and activity

Have been hanging with two 3rd year medical students. One named Jane Thornton (who has worked with me at University of Toronto). She is a Phd in exercise physiology and past world champion/Olympian rower. The other student we met from here and he is also finishing med school in Alberta and did two years as a volunteer in Russia and is fluent. His name is Nathan Carrell. I am a firm believer in these early life experiences leading to more rewarding careers both personally and to the public. They are deciding their specialties and I think back to my wife sending in four different applications in final 1/2 hour.  Dr. Mike

Summer Olympian reflects on health and activity
As a Summer Olympian, I had always wanted to get to know my Winter teammates, but there isn’t usually much of a chance to interact. We train in different seasons and different cities. Sometimes you’ll see a fellow athlete on an external committee or involved in the same charitable organization, but mainly Summer athletes see our Winter colleagues the same way you do: on television. Our rowing team was usually away at a training camp during the Winter Games, and I remember that we would all be riveted to the TV during our precious few hours off between training sessions. I always felt especially motivated after watching the incredible feats our Winter team could accomplish. Naturally, coming to help out with the medical team in Sochi was an immense privilege, and it is hard not to be a little star-struck at times. They are our heroes too!

And despite the body type, training type, and temperature differences, my time in the Canadian medical clinic in Sochi has shown me that there is one thing both Summer and Winter Olympians have in common: we understand the value of taking care of our health and our bodies (our engines!). Basically, we devote considerable time to prehabilitation – preventing injuries from occurring in the first place, by using every resource available.

The most utilized health care practitioners in Sochi, like any other Olympic Games, are generally the massage therapists and the physiotherapists. Some teams and athletes also rely heavily on an osteopath or chiropractor. The health care team includes other crucial services as well, such as sport psychology and a sport dietitian. The physician has an important role in diagnosis and treatment, of course, but it’s a good sign if their services are not needed and he or she gets to stay in the background!

Seeing the athletes take advantage of the services so well in Sochi reminded me of what it was like to be a full-time athlete and the unapologetic way we take care of ourselves. It’s understood that taking extra time for recovery and preventative care is essential. This is perhaps one of the biggest lessons I should have taken with me during my transition from rowing career to medical school. But initially I didn’t. I felt too busy (and mentally tired) to even contemplate hitting the gym or doing yoga. However, over time, I found myself less focused, with lower energy and mood. It was hard to stay motivated.

We health care practitioners, just like many of you out there in the professional world or who are full-time caregivers, are well-intentioned. We prescribe a healthy, active lifestyle but generally overlook the immense importance of taking care of our own bodies and minds. We could all really use a take-away lesson from our Sochi Olympians. Even just a bit of exercise (not Olympic proportions by any means!) can prompt creative juices to flow, improve focus, lead to better brain health. I’ve noticed a difference in my ability to concentrate and my energy levels since I started slowly adding back in some daily exercise and mindfulness… and that translates to better patient care, something we can all agree is a great outcome.

Prehabilitation for better performance – time well spent in my mind, and food for thought. Go Canada GO!

Jane Thornton

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