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Mending Sport's Stresses and Strains

Ten-year-old Jennifer King hopes to be back dancing soon. The troublesome Achilles tendon which has kept her from the dance floor (jazz, ballet and tap) these past few months has been showing remarkable improvement, and the pain has almost disappeared. It shouldn't be long now ... and Jennifer couldn't be happier.

Jennifer's mother smiles. The thrice-weekly drives to the University from their home in St. Albert have been well worth it, says Wendy King. The important thing, she says, is that Jennifer is showing improvement—that wasn't the case until they started coming to the Glen Sather Sports Medicine Clinic at the University of Alberta.

She goes on to explain that when Jennifer's injury had failed to respond to conventional therapy, her physiotherapist had suggested that she return to her family doctor. From her doctor's office she had been referred to Dr. Jeff Robinson, a family practice physician who has office hours twice a week at the Sather Clinic. After her visit to him, Jennifer began a therapy program under the supervision of one of the Clinic's resident physiotherapists. Improvement was almost immediate.

Since it opened its doors in 1988 the Glen Sather University of Alberta Sports Medicine Clinic has treated thousands of people with athletic injuries. A number of the patients have been highly skilled athletes associated with Edmonton's professional sports franchises-the baseball Trappers, the soccer Brick Men, the football Eskimos, and the hockey Oilers—and a good many others have come from the University's intercollegiate sports teams.

But the Clinic is not just for the elite athlete, says its director, Dr David Reid. "We serve a wide spectrum of recreational users," he says. These include runners, skiers, tennis players, golfers .... Even dancers like Jennifer.

"People often overlook the fact that recreational accidents effect people's ability to earn a living," says Reid. "Its important for people suffering recreational injuries to get better in order to get back to work and support themselves," he says.

The Sather Clinic also works closely with the nearby Rick Hansen Centre for physically disabled athletes and offers a special clinics for the, physically challenged. (This clinc was developed by one of the Centre's participating physicians, Dr Rob Burnham, who commutes to the Sather Clinic weekly from Red Deer). Planning is also underway for a clinic for children competing with asthma, chest problems, or related disorders.

"The Clinic blends very nicely with the academic environment," says Reid, pointing out that, like the University itself, the Sather Clinic has a strong threefold commitment to teaching, research and community service.

The Clinic's director can remember when sports medicine was regarded as "frivolous, a bit of a joke," but it is a field of medicine that has begun to come into its own in recent year, and the Sather Clinic is one of many medical centres which have sprung up across North America to specialize in athletic injuries. What sets the Sather Clinic apart is its emphasis on research and teaching and its not-for-profit nature. "We are one of a relatively few sports medicine centres that do not have a bias to generating profits," says Reid.

Reid, whose involvement with athletic teams at the University of Alberta goes back a long way, is one of the individuals intimately involved in the creation of the Sather Clinic. Another is Dr Gerry Glassford.

Glassford, who recently took a year's leave from his position as dean of the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation to set up office in Athabasca Hall as the University's acting vice-president (development and community affairs) was the Physical Education and Recreation dean when the Sather Clinic was established. He speaks of the Clinic as a dream given birth—but not until a rather lengthy gestation period had passed.

The dream goes back a long way, says Glassford. At least as far back as the late '60s when the athletics department cleared some space in the locker room to enable Ray Kelly to set up office as the resident athletic therapist.

Kelly had worked for the University's Printing Services department, helping out as a trainer with the University teams whenever he could, before gaining certification as an athletic therapist and turning his avocation into a vocation.

During the two decades in which he served as the athletics department therapist, Kelly's first commitment was to the University athletes. Soon after he set up shop in the physical education building, however, Kelly began putting in long days, fitting in, where he could, others bothered by athletic injuries—for these people there was really nowhere else to turn.

Around the work that Kelly was doing there began to coalesce an informal community of interest, one which eventually led to the introduction in 1972 of athletic therapy as a program route towards the BPE degree at the Universitv of Alberta.

Glassford identifies a number of individuals who were part of the growing interest in sports medicine at the University: Reid, who began as a physiotherapist, went on to earn his master's degree in that field and then went on to medical studies, emerging as an orthopedic surgeon; Gordon Cameron, team physician for both the Edmonton Eskimos and the Edmonton Oilers and one of the first surgeons in the world to put artificial ligaments in knees; Brian Sproule, a medical professor specializing in pulmonary medicine; Steve Mendryk, who played for the Eskimos in the '50s and developed an interest in sport injuries as a U of A professor of physical education; Harvey Sternberg, an Edmonton physician and distance runner who developed an expertise in running-related injuries; and numerous others.

Glassford recalls that when he became dean in 1981 one of his first initiatives was to speak to Dr Frank Cookson, at that time head of the University's Health Services, about cooperating in the establishment of a special clinic to treat athletic injuries. While Cookson was quick to recognize the merit in the idea, he had no space and limited resources to contribute. Then, too, Health Service's eastern campus location placed it away from the action. There just didn't seem to be a base from which to work.

The dream refused to fade, however. About two years later Reid and Sternberg came to see the dean. Their message was simple, Glassford remembers: "We have to find space for a proper clinic close to where the action is." Eventually, with the cooperation of other University deans and with the support of the senior University administration, the provincial government and private donors-chief among them Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington—they would.

"One of the great things about this University," says Glassford, "is the tremendous working relationships that exist between the faculties." And it was this spirit of cooperation which was key to the establishment of the sports medicine clinic, he believes.

Building on the informal and ad hoc relationships that already existed Glassford and his cross-campus counterparts Martha Piper, dean of Rehabilitation Medicine, Gordon Thompson, dean of Dentistry (many sports injuries involve the teeth and jaw), and Douglas Wilson, dean of Medicine, were able to put together a proposal for a comprehensive sports medicine centre.

Impressed by this coming-together of the four faculties the senior University administration-Glassford particularly mentions President Myer Horowitz and Vice-Presidents Allan Warrack and Peter Meekisonadded its support.

All of this support was certainly welcome, but it would take dollars to transform the dream into a reality. With this in mind, arrangements were made for a talk with Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington and the team's general manager, president and (at that time) coach, Glen Sather. This was facilitated by Dr Cameron, the Oilers' physician, and Art Quinney, the U of A professor who had done considerable work in establishing fitness regimes and testing for the Oilers.

The vision presented to Pocklington and Sather was a sports medicine clinic serving all of northern Alberta-not a facility just for University athletes and elite competitors but one to serve recreational participants of all skill levels.

The discussion resulted in a $300,000 donation from the Oilers owner. (While the donation was originally to be spread over five years, Pocklington later agreed to compress that to get the Clinic operational sooner). A hope that Pocklington expressed in making the gift was that the clinic would be named after "my best friend, Glen Sather."

The suggestion was not an unwelcome one, says Glassford, whose regard for Sather is in much the same vein as the tribute payed to the Oilers general manager in a Clinic publication printed before Sather relinquished his coaching responsibilities: "The name of the Sports Medicine Clinic recognizes Glen Sather's dedication to the principles of sports medicine and science with the Edmonton Oilers hockey team. He employs leading edge technology and sports psychology, probably to a greater extent than any other coach of a professional team in Canada, using innovative pre-season testing, safe playing devices and techniques, preventative philosophy and psychology to improve player effectiveness and minimize injuries."

Around the Pocklington contribution other donations were assembled, and the provincial government added its support by agreeing to match the private gifts. Altogether a total of $750,000 (including the government matching) was raised to make the Clinic a reality. To date the Clinic has realized over $1 million from donations.

Glassford and his colleagues had originally envisioned housing the Clinic in the Universiade Pavilion; however, more-detailed planning showed that a Pavilion location would be less than ideal, and the decision was made to remodel a gymnastics area on the lower floor of the Van Vliet Centre west wing, enlarging the space by expanding outwards into space that had previously been occupied by two little-used outdoor handball courts.

In this space the Glen Sather University of Alberta Sports Medicine Clinic opened its doors on October 8, 1988.

The Sather Clinic is operated on a self-supporting basis and is organized in such a way that it is a legitimate medical centre capable of billing all of its services to Alberta Health Care. At the same time, care is taken to distinguish between pure research, community service and the treatment of medical or surgical conditions in a manner which ensures that competition with private physicians or therapists is minimized.

The Clinics's two senior staff members, Dr Reid and assistant director Nancy Jette Chisholm, hold University appointments. Reid is an associate professor of medicine and also serves as Medicine's director of continuing medical education. Chisholm, who has training in both physical education and physiotherapy, is an administrative professional officer in the Department of Athletics. Working with them are five physiotherapists attached to the Clinic full-time and a variety of medical practitioners -up to a dozen at a time; family practice physicians, orthopedic surgeons, and otherswho have office hours at the clinic each week. The schedules are organized to provide extensive coverage for University athletics.

Among the centre's medical associates are physicians taking part in the Clinic's fellowship program. Two fellowships of six months duration are available at a time—one for primary care physicians, another for specialists in orthopedic surgery.

Patients are seen on a referral basis only. "We are not a walk-in clinic," says Assistant Director Chisholm. "We do, however serve as a first aid station for the physical education complex, stabilizing the patient and then arranging or recommending follow-up as required."

The Clinic's clientele is extremely varied, says Chisholm: "from the six-year-old gymnast or dancer to the senior citizen golfer." Many of the problems are seasonal, she adds.

Recognizing this seasonality, certain of the Clinic's educational initiatives are scheduled accordingly. These include such things as public injury prevention forums held prior to the rush to the slopes at the beginning of ski season or before the running onslaught in the spring. Also as part of its educational commitment, the Clinic has established lines of communication with coaches and sports governing bodies.

Chisholm stresses the Clinic's vigorous multidisciplinary approach, embracing as it does health specialists in pharmacy, psychology, dentistry, nutrition and orthotics. Even the engineers get involved, contributing to the research to do with the design and testing of protective equipment.

In its two years of operation the Clinic has been such a success that it is already bursting at the seams. "We could use twice the staff and twice the budget, says Glassford. He and the others involved in the Clinic acknowledge the continuing support of Edmonton's major sports franchises and are grateful that another fund-raising initiative is planned for early next year.

In 1988 the Oilers and the Eskimos, through the direct involvement of Glen Sather and Eskimo general manager Hugh Campbell, staged Edmonton's first Carnival of Champions, which featured the participation of players from the Eskimos and Oilers, champions in their respective leagues. The proceeds from the frivolity which took place in the Universiade Pavilion—pie throwing, dunk tanks and the like-went towards the purchase of equipment for the Sather Clinic.

The second Carnival of Champions was recently announced. It is scheduled for 10 February 1991 in the Northlands Coliseum. The money raised will be split between the Sather Clinic and the "Kids with Cancer" fund. Among those already planning to be in attendance is young Jennifer King. She may even do a dance step or two.

Published Autumn 1990.

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