By Hayley Wickenheiser, Assistant Director, Player Development, Toronto Maple Leafs
A year prior to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, I took a slap shot off my foot in practice with the national team. My foot was sore, and it ached for a while, so I went to see a sports medical doctor. They did an x-ray and it was negative. The advice I was given was to not load the foot, there may be a small crack and let it heal with no impact but playing should be ok. The injury kept nagging me and finally I went back to a different doctor, who did a CT only to find I had a crack in my navicular. First lesson here, suspected Navicular Fx needs a CT not a X Ray!! Don?t mess around with the feet.
There?s currently no set standard of care for whether a board or scoop should be used to remove a player from the ice. The method used for SMR is usually determined by the City, State, Provence, Fire Department, Ambulance Company or a local Authority. As healthcare providers in sports we can still pre-plan for injuries and have what we need ready to treat them. We can also take advantage of some of the differences between treating patients in the field and treating our players on the ice.
By this point, the crack was not going to approximate, and my frustration was through the roof. I played through the Sochi 2014 Olympics in a lot of pain, modifying my training and surviving thanks to the Incredible medical staff on the national team. After the Olympics finished, I went to see renowned foot surgeon Dr. John Lau at Toronto Western Hospital. Dr. Lau decided I needed a screw in my foot to try to pull the bone back together. 3 months later and doing everything I was told to do and I returned to the ice. Two games back, I remember taking a sharp tight turn and my foot literally crumbling under the screw. I went from one crack to a navicular that was in 4 pieces and my career in jeopardy. I don?t think anyone realized the amount of torque a foot undergoes, even in a hockey skate.
Back to Dr. Lau I went, who had to do a complete fixation using a bone graft from my hip, with a plate and 8 screws. He also gave me strict orders that if I touched my foot to the ground for even a moment before 4 months, I may never walk right again let alone skate. I took his advice to heart and went back to Calgary to begin my rehab.
I started rehab on day 10 post-surgery with a plan led by my amazing friend, and trainer Dr. Syl Corbett. Syl devised a plan that would see me work backwards from the day we projected me to skate again. Day one for me started with a garbage bag taped around my giant cast I had on, so I could start swimming. Ever seen a hockey player swim? It is not pretty, let alone with a cast on. That is where I lived for the first 2 months, in the pool! Fast forward to 4 months later and 10 months before I was playing again, I came back with personal bests in almost every area of my fitness testing and with more drive and appreciation of being a pro-athlete and what my health meant to me. To this day, it has been a long road to say the least, but without Dr. Lau?s great hands and Dr. Corbett working 5 hours every day with me, I?m not sure I would have ever played again. Dr. Lau would tell me it was one of the top 3 worst breaks of the navicular he had ever seen. Great!!
Today I am happy to say he saved my career, I am back to running and training normally and I am able to stay on the ice, this time in my role with the Toronto Maple Leafs. There were countless days I wasn?t sure I?d be able to do either. Here is what I know from that experience that may help all of you when working with any athlete, whether it be a pro or weekend warrior:
- Every athlete is an individual case: there is no box or timeline for certainty in recovery and athletes will do remarkable things in healing and recovery that defy all ?normal people? rules. In saying that, your job more often than not, is to pull the reigns back, but keep in mind how driven athletes really are.
- Start with a goal of return to play and work BACKWARDS from that date to formulate a plan. I always felt better when I knew where I was going and the plan to get there. Yes, swimming sucked but I knew I would be fit and strong and keep progressing for when I hit land. I slept better, had less anxiety and felt calm knowing my team had a plan and believed in it.
- It?s about who can keep their head on: much of injury rehab is physical yes, but once the physical rehab is over, the mental rehab of return to play is more crucial. Even though I couldn?t play hockey, I could watch it, visualize it, and continue to work on my game when not on the ice. Within my rehab I incorporated game simulations as much as I could so when I stepped back on the ice, I felt less behind. Athletes will often want to stay close to their sport.
- There will be THOSE DAYS…when either you or your athlete want to choke each other out! Stay Positive. Rehabbing injuries, especially big ones are very scary and uncertain for maybe both of you. Be honest with them, talk about the valleys and plateaus they will hit, let them vent and don?t fall into the dark black hole when they do. Remember, it?s not about you, it?s the fear and uncertainty that grips so many and makes us all crazy at times.
- Find the silver linings in every day: there is always something that can be worked on ?always a way forwards. Stay creative and be prepared when your athlete comes to work with you. The best way to keep athletes following your plan and on side with you is to show you are as committed and invested in their rehab as they are.
- Ask for help if you need it. I always had tremendous respect and I do to this day studying medicine, when I work with health professionals who admit it when they don?t know something. We can?t know everything there is to know in rehab, research or the latest and greatest training. If you don?t know, say so! Your athletes will trust and respect you more in the end. This is not a sign of weakness but strength in knowing your limitations. I will be forever grateful to those doctors and therapists who kept me on the ice relatively injury free through my career. My navicular injury was the worst I have ever experienced, but with a great team of folks on my side, I was able to return to the ice and more importantly, feel that I can have a long life after hockey with a relatively healthy foot to live an active life.
Hayley Wickenheiser is the Assistant Director of Player Development with the Toronto Maple Leafs, a second-year medical student at the University of Calgary and a four-time Olympic Gold Medalist with Canada?s Women?s Hockey Team. She has partnered with Dr. Syl Corbett to create an athletic balm, Rock on Clay*. She?s pleased to offer our readers 10% off until Dec 15. with the code: navicular. You can purchase the balm by visiting her site here, http://www.rockonclay.com/
Photos courtesy of Jon Sanderson & Hayley Wickenheiser
* The appearance of advertisements or promotions is not a warranty, endorsement, or approval of the products or services advertised or of their effectiveness, quality, or safety by PHATS/SPHEM.
By Brian Papineau, Head Equipment Manager, Toronto Maple Leafs
Why did the organization choose Newfoundland for their training camp location?
With our ECHL team (Newfoundland Growlers) based in St. John?s and the older AHL affiliation (St. John?s Maple Leafs from 1991-2005), the organization decided it was best to hold training camp there.
Is this the first time your team has held their training camp off-site?
Every year, the Maple Leafs like to hold training camp off-site to give the many fans from all over a chance to watch up close as the team prepares for another season. We have traveled to Halifax, NS twice and to Niagara Falls, ON as well. It also allows the players a chance to get away from our normal surroundings that we spend so much time at during the season and allows them to interact with the community as well as take in the sites and do some team bonding.
How much time did you have to prepare?
Originally, two members of our organization traveled to St. John?s 10 months prior to see the possibilities of holding training camp there. They viewed arena options and hotels and then about 6 or 7 of our staff from different departments went for a site visit around August 1st and that was a chance to meet some of the key contacts at the arenas, hotels, restaurants as well as the head of all the volunteers. We went through logistics and what our needs would be when we arrived in St. John?s.
What was the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge was getting everything out there and making sure that we had enough room on the two chartered planes that we flew on. We pre-shipped many supplies like Gatorade and medical supplies early to free up space on the aircraft. We also ordered some of our supplies (water, tape and pucks) to be shipped directly to St. John?s so that we didn?t have to worry about taking it with us. The day we left, we had our Media Day in Toronto at our practice facility, so we had players wear their practice gear for the Media portion so that we had all the game gear packed ahead of time so that we could pre-load the planes and allow for a timely departure.
Would you do anything different having gone thru it?
I think everything went smooth for the most part as we spent the first three days at the practice facility in Paradise, NL and then moved into Mile One Stadium for three days and an exhibition game against the Ottawa Senators. Our day to day schedule is pretty much the same the past five years, so we kind of know what to expect and that makes planning easier while away.
What surprised you most about Newfoundland?
We have been to Newfoundland a few times over the years and we held a small portion of our training camp there back in 2001 during 9/11. You hear how wonderful and friendly the people are and how much they love their hockey and that was shown daily. The hockey office staff and trainers (Neil Davidson and Andrew Koch) from the Growlers were great hosts and took care of many details leading up to training camp. It also never hurts to have David Roper from Mount Pearl, NL on staff with the Maple Leafs. It didn?t matter what was needed, Ropes got it done.
Did you have a chance to tour Newfoundland?
As I mentioned earlier, we did a site visit previously so I was able to tour around the area and I didn?t realize how beautiful St. John?s is and the many attractions it has to offer. The people, the food and the sites were outstanding.
What advice would you give to an Equipment Manager who?s team is holding their training camp off-site for the first time?
I think the biggest thing is go out ahead of time and check out the arena and hotel and meet the people that you will be dealing with. They along with volunteers will help you in so many ways. Take pictures of your locker rooms and working environment and think about the electrical requirements, the heat and drying of equipment, laundry facilities and more that will be needed to ensure that camp runs smoothly.
Photos courtesy of Brian Papineau.