Two Swift Current physiotherapists have received a provincial award from their professional association in recognition of their contributions towards the success of the 2019 Western Canada Summer Games.
Laurel Schafer and Jodi Williams are the recipients of the Saskatchewan Physiotherapy Association (SPA) Special Recognition Award for 2020 for their roles as medical services co-directors at the Western Canada Summer Games, which took place from Aug. 9-18, 2019 in Swift Current and area.
“It is a real honour to be recognized in this way,” Schafer told the Prairie Post via e-mail. “A lot of blood, sweat, and tears was shed by many dedicated people to ensure the Games were a success. And really, we were only one small part of that, but we appreciate the recognition nonetheless.”
The 2020 SPA award recipients were announced in December. The awards presentation will usually take place at the association’s annual general meeting, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic there was a virtual announcement of the award winners.
The SPA Special Recognition Award was established in 1998 to acknowledge projects or actions of organizations, agencies or individuals that help to support the same ideals as the physiotherapy profession.
According to Williams the award has extra meaning for them, because the recognition is coming from the provincial body for their profession.
“Being recognized by a group of our peers, many of whom are doing incredibly important work and that we admire greatly, is both very special and extremely humbling,” she noted. “We accepted this role to be of service to our community in a way we uniquely could. In all honesty, neither of us is particularly comfortable in the limelight, and we certainly weren't in it for the accolades, but this show of appreciation has all been very nice, for sure.”
The 2019 Western Canada Summer Games was the largest sporting event ever to be hosted in southwest Saskatchewan. Over 1,700 athletes, coaches, officials and mission staff attended the 10-day event in two phases. Athletes participated in 16 sports at 20 venues in Swift Current and surrounding communities.
The success of the 10-day event was only possible due to the dedicated effort of around 2,000 volunteers, who carried out a multitude of tasks.
“Hosting the Games was a huge undertaking for our community and required an amazing volunteer effort,” Schafer said. “We recognized that with our skill set we had an opportunity to contribute in a unique way and really wanted to ensure athletes were provided with the best possible experience, including their medical care.”
The local host organization was looking for someone to join the volunteer board as director of medical services. Schafer and Williams, who are founding partners and owners of the multidisciplinary healthcare clinic STRIDE Physio & Performance in Swift Current, decided to take on this task as medical services co-directors.
“Personally, we both shoulder a lot of responsibility in our daily lives, being the leadership at STRIDE, carrying our own caseloads as physiotherapists, and juggling family life with young children at home,” Williams said. “Neither of us felt prepared to take on the entire role individually and felt that sharing the responsibilities would be more manageable.”
It provided them with an ideal way to contribute towards the Games through the use of their skills and as business partners they found it convenient to share the various responsibilities.
“We work well together, communicate well, and have skill sets that complement one another,” Schafer mentioned.
The provision of medical services at the event required individuals with specific knowledge, and recruiting qualified volunteers was one of their main challenges.
“Not just anyone can perform these roles and we literally didn't even have enough of some of these professions within the southwest to cover our needs, even if everyone had been willing to volunteer,” she said. “We definitely did some shoulder tapping, but we also reached out and advertised with our multiple professional bodies and associations, both provincially and nationally. We had several out of province volunteers, who then had to apply to receive a temporary licence to practice their profession in Saskatchewan. We were able to get this all in place in order to successfully utilize them in these medical roles.”
Williams referred to another important task they had as medical services co-directors, which was to create a response plan for an infectious outbreak at the Games.
“Talking about this again now during our current global pandemic feels a little bizarre,” she said. “It certainly makes us appreciate the work health care providers everywhere are doing for all of us on a much larger scale all the more.”
The creation of such a plan was necessary due to the close quarters that athletes were staying in while they were at the event. The athletes’ village for the Games was located at Swift Current Comprehensive High School and O.M. Irwin School.
This plan provided information for isolating unwell athletes at a separate location, for which a local hotel was used. It included procedures for transporting a sick athlete to the hotel, the provision of meals while they were in isolation, and the arrangements for medical staff to visit them to provide care.
“We did in fact end up having a few sick athletes during the Games and our outbreak plan was implemented successfully by the medical volunteers in these instances,” she said. “The sick participants were successfully isolated and we activated an extensive hand sanitizing campaign that managed to keep any illness well under control.”
A significant portion of the medical services provided at the Games happened behind the scenes, and it required a lot of detailed planning and preparation.
There were three distinct areas that had to be arranged and staffed. These were volunteer and spectator care at sport venues, athlete medical care at sport venues, and athlete care at the polyclinic in the athletes’ village. The medical volunteers at the Games included physicians, nurses, physical therapists, athletic therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and medical administrators.
“As a whole, we as medical directors were responsible for overseeing hundreds of medical volunteers,” Schafer said. “Everyone worked so hard and was really willing to help out, shifting their roles or pulling extra shifts when needed. We can’t thank them enough.”
Schafer and Williams not only volunteered their own time, but also the services of their staff at STRIDE Physio & Performance.
“As physical therapists, we are obviously in the service industry,” Williams noted. “If we aren't seeing clients, we aren't generating income. … Laurel and I were solely dedicated to the Games during that two-week period and saw no clients at STRIDE. Our staff really stepped up and worked both at STRIDE and volunteered at the Games, sometimes being in both places on the same day.”
The STRIDE staff even took some full days away from the clinic to assist at the Games and they volunteered their weekends.
“We were particularly short on physical therapists and athletic therapist volunteers,” she said. “So ourselves and our STRIDE staff essentially filled in these gaps to ensure we could provide the care necessary. We have a great team at STRIDE and they certainly rose to the occasion! In addition, STRIDE was also the event sponsor for wrestling.”
Williams added that other medical staff volunteers made similar financial sacrifices to provide services at the Games.
“Essentially, they all took unpaid time off from their day jobs to come to the Games and perform the usual duties of their typical day jobs, which included carrying the same professional, legal and ethical responsibilities that come with performing those jobs, but were now just doing it for free,” she said. “Our medical volunteers were unique in this way from most other areas, which is a point that I think many have overlooked and it probably warrants some acknowledgement.”
There was a lot of satisfaction for both Schafer and Williams to be actively involved with the 2019 Western Canada Summer Games. It was a good feeling to see the excitement of athletes and to realize they played some part in that whole effort to provide the athletes with that special experience.
“Working alongside so many great people and the friendships that formed, is something I think we will both look back on and remember fondly for years to come,” Williams said. “Intense situations often have a way of bringing people together and I think the Games experience for us was no exception. During the actual Games specifically though, it was particularly great to work collaboratively with medical disciplines outside of our own and getting to watch up close all of us doing what we do best together to provide comprehensive care. It was extremely rewarding.”