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Some real hands-on international experience

A couple of Woolwich’s own have been lending their talents to the Parapan Am Games this month.

Sheila Forler Bauman’s role as lead physiotherapist with the women’s wheelchair basketball team led her to the Parapan Am Games once again, where the players won silver.[Submitted]
Sheila Forler Bauman’s role as lead physiotherapist with the women’s wheelchair basketball team led her to the Parapan Am Games once again, where the players won silver. [Submitted]
Katie Mitchell and Sheila Forler Bauman of Woolwich Physiotherapy were selected based on their experience in the field, through an application process.

This marks Mitchell’s first time at the Parapan Am Games. Bauman is practically a veteran, having been involved since 2007.

“I’m in Mississauga at the Hershey Centre and I’m a physiotherapist and an athletic therapist. So I do a lot of clinic here, but I also work in the community as an athletic therapist. I work field of play for wheelchair rugby, powerlifting and goalball, which was pretty interesting. We actually got to play goalball last night,” Mitchell said.

She applied to the games from the Canadian Athletic Therapists Association last year, and found out she was selected in November. She was chosen for one of the higher risk venues for the more contact sports, due to her experience with rugby in Waterloo.

She explains what it was like to play goalball.

“It’s for visually impaired. If you think of a court, the net is as wide as a court. So there’s three people on each team and they wear these shades that are like a ski goggle kind of, but they’re completely blacked out, so you can’t see anything. They have a bell inside a dodgeball, so you pretty much have to throw it as hard as you can, and then dive and save it,” Mitchell said.

Teams from more established countries have a therapist that travels with them, Mitchell says. Countries like Guatemala or Chile don’t, which is where physiotherapists like Mitchell come in handy. They have a treatment room set up in the sports complex where she’s treated soft tissue injuries, minor concussions, muscle strain, and joint mobilization.

“A lot of the things we’re running into though are the rugby players,” Mitchell said. “Some of them are amputees or they don’t really have hand function, so they get such awful blistering either in the stumps of their amputation or their hands from the gloves. They’re wheeling their chairs the whole game, plus they wheel all day, so they get awful wounds in their hands and the elbow area.”

She knocks on a wood table as she says she hasn’t seen any catastrophic injuries yet. The running joke at the games has been if your limb is still attached to your body, you’re good to go, she laughs.

“Sometimes they may have one intact limb and they don’t complain. Some other athletes are a little more picky, they don’t like their tape jobs. It’s like is it still attached? You’re probably good,” Mitchell said.

She notes the motivation she gets from seeing the athletes is one of a kind. Mitchell applied to volunteer at the games because you can’t pass up an opportunity to attend international games when they’re basically in your backyard.

“It doesn’t happen very often and it is quite competitive to get onto core medical teams in Canada to travel to these types of games around the world. So you have to climb the ladder and start somewhere. I’ve done provincial games before. So this is the biggest game I’ve done as a certified therapist,” Mitchell said.

She hopes to work her way up to traveling for international tournaments and attend major national games through her work with the Waterloo rugby club.

“Everyone wants to go to the Olympics, but it’s a long ladder to get up there because everybody wants to do that stuff. So it’s a bit of a journey, so everybody kind of works toward that goal,” Mitchell said.

When it comes down to it, volunteering at the games is all about the people you meet. She enjoys being able to bounce ideas off of different practitioners and see how they assess injuries. It’s not every day you meet a physiotherapist from Brazil.

She adds the level of skill at the Parapan Am Games is something she’s never seen before.

“The abilities of the athletes are almost extraordinary based on what they are capable of. It’s almost above and beyond. When you’re actually on the courtside it’s more evident of how extraordinary their abilities are. The sport might look like it’s not fast or anything but the actual tactics and things that go behind it, it’s like I could never do this. The energy it takes to wheel a wheelchair is crazy,” Mitchell said.

Bauman’s role as the lead physiotherapist for Canada’s women’s wheelchair basketball team has led her around the world and now back to Ontario for this month’s Parapan Am Games. She’s been at the games since August 2 and finished up last Sunday.

“What I did was get in with wheelchair basketball which then led me to have the opportunity to attend my first Parapan Am in 2007 in Brazil,” Bauman said on the line from Toronto. “That was the first international event I attended with wheelchair basketball. I had connected with the sport on a couple levels, one being Katie Harnock plays on the women’s team and I had known Katie and followed her basketball career to that point.”

They also hosted a Rick Hansen Wheels in Motion event for eight years at Woolwich Physiotherapy, which Bauman owns. They invited the Twin City Spinners, who came with nets and taught kids how to shoot from sport wheelchairs.

“I love the sport. It’s a great sport. It’s fast, it’s exciting. It’s very strategic. It’s a sport that involves amazing athletic ability. It’s the sport itself and then of course the people are the biggest reason. I’ve met all kinds of fabulous people. I’ve had great opportunities to travel all over the world with the team,” Bauman says, as to what draws her to continue with the women’s wheelchair team.

Common wheelchair basketball injuries include repetitive strain in the shoulder and elbow, finger and thumb sprains, concussions, and neck injuries.

She says Paralympic sport has come a long way, even since she started in the field some 30 years ago. It’s also encouraging to see the profile of wheelchair basketball rise.

When asked what her favourite place to travel with the team has been, she’s quick to decide.

“You can’t really beat being at home,” Bauman said. “They’ve done a great job with the village. They played a game last night and the crowd was fabulous.”

She notes Beijing was special too because it was her first time attending the Paralymics, and the culture was so new.

“In all honesty every big tournament that I’ve been to brings its own kind of special touches. It’s really fun to just see what different countries do when they’re hosting,” Bauman said.

The next big stop for Canada’s women’s basketball team, and Bauman, is Rio for the 2016 Paralympics.

“I would love to go to Rio with the team. They’re already qualified. Certainly I’m excited to hopefully be involved in the road to Rio,” Bauman said.

Canada’s women’s basketball team took the silver medal.

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